The Liberal Democrats’ German cousins, the Free Democratic Party, in an attempt to gain votes and differentiate themselves from their conservative coalition partners tried to entice voters by dabbling in a little Euroscepticism in recent state elections. With falling poll ratings and a population increasingly doubtful at picking up the tab for spendthrift Mediterranean states, it appeared to be a strategy that was destined to succeed. Yet in Berlin, they polled 1.8% of the vote.
Sound familiar? Like the FDP, Liberal Democrat members are fretting about retaining their identity whilst in coalition. However, the plight of Philipp Rösler’s FDP has shown that differentiation for the sake of it is risky.
A reoccurring theme in the comments section of this blog is incredulity at how libertarians or classical liberals can support Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. So perhaps LV should persuade our fellow Lib Dems to re-invent themselves as fully fledged Eurosceptics by following these online Cassandras basking in self-congratulation at the demise of the Euro? Like the German electorate’s response to the FDP’s Eurosceptic flirtation, for me it would have to be a resounding ‘Nein Danke’. Being populist doesn’t make you popular.
At its heart, the European Union is a liberal project: the four fundamental principles of the EU are, after all, the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Our purpose should be to make our European partners stick to these principles and the EDLR has a good record in fighting for liberalism in Europe:
“One of the core elements that bind European liberal democrats together is the belief in and strive for an economy that is based on market principles where individual economic and political freedoms are guaranteed as the most effective system for ensuring future prosperity, encouraging competiveness and ensuring longer-term employment.”
And if Bob Crow wants the UK to leave the EU, it must be doing something right…
Nonetheless, I acknowledge that the theory doesn’t always become reality. Like Simon Goldie, I believe that Nick Clegg should flesh out a reforming liberal narrative for the EU. Clegg already has a good template on which to build – his contribution to The Orange Book entitled ‘Europe: A Liberal Future’:
“…it is essential that Liberal Democrats demonstrate that being pro-European is perfectly compatible with the legitimate doubts and quibbles which many people harbour about the EU…to be pro-European does not require an abandonment of basic critical faculties. A true pro-European stance should be creative, innovative and bold…It represents the height of political pessimism to believe that pro-Europeans must automatically cede all ground on the reform and improvement of the EU to the anti-Europeans.”
Thus, our party should be at the forefront at speaking out against expensive interventionist follies such as the CAP and the new EU financial transaction tax which will hit Britain disproportionately. Such an approach is necessary to illustrate that we can be pro-European but not slavish to every policy that emanates from Brussels. A Eurosceptic approach advocating withdrawal would be wrongheaded, misguided and ideologically inconsistent for a liberal party.
The Liberal Democrats can still retain their enthusiasm for the European Union – highlighting the political, economic, social and cultural benefits – though criticising its excesses and mistakes. We don’t need to jettison our liberal, internationalist and European credentials to gain a few crumbs off the table of the Eurosceptics.
Anyway, would we want to share a platform with Peter Obore after his ‘idiotic’ showing on Newsnight?