European Movement (Sussex branch)

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Europe Day seminar – Thursday 9 May 2013
at Deans Place Hotel, Alfriston

The next five years - Europe versus the UK ?

Since the Europe Day Seminar held in 2012 the volatility of EU/UK relations has continued apace, oscillating between truculent abrasiveness and conciliatory alliance building.  An in-out referendum had now been pencilled in, triggering at least the start of serious debate - timely too for the EP elections in 2014.  The major parties were still divided, and populist media remain fixated on the one-man UKIP message. There was some evidence to suggest the electorate was getting bored with ‘Europe’.

The main themes for the day were:  Where do the UK’s real interests lie? What reforms for ‘Brussels’?  How do we change the hostile perceptions?

Rethinking European Integration

Dr Nathaniel Copsey
Co-Director, Centre for Europe, University of Aston; MA College of Europe; D.Phil Sussex European Institute

Dr Copsey first pointed out the classic challenges for European integration – the question of legitimacy, which implied that co-ordinating action would be found acceptable and gain democratic acceptance. He disputed the first question set out as one of the themes for the day “Where do the UK’s real interests lie?” – if the UK was part of Europe, the focus must be on European interests. The faults perceived in the European Union were largely generated by state governments rather than European institutions. There has been increasing unemployment, but, unlike other global economies, European capitalism included a strong element of social support.

unemployment.gif (18115 bytes)

He suggested that there were two Europes. These were not a contrast between west/east, north/south nor in/out of the €urozone. This picture of two Europes drew a contrast between an elite who gained from European integration (perhaps 10-15% of the population) and the majority who currently gained nothing in particular from integration. While the elite group adopted a wider perspective and tended to support mutual support with problems, the majority were older, less travelled, and focused on national issues. The latter could however be open to persuasion, not just through propaganda but through reoriented policies. A clear illustration has been the Common Agricultural Policy, where subsidies generally benefit only the top 10% of richer or larger farms.

In the context of increasing unemployment, increasing inequality, an ageing population and the implications of climate change, Europe faced complex challenges - among these the structural nature of unemployment in many EU states, the disproportionate benefit from EU policies to the already well-resourced, the implications of ever longer life-spans making increased demands on communal financing. Such challenges were about making European society and the European economy able to withstand the pressures of globalisation; and about preserving its distinctive variety of capitalism and its social models.

Productivity growth
(Source: NY Times)

Europe blue, US green

Growth in productivity - Europe compared to United States

The challenges were difficult but there did not appear to be any serious alternative if what has already been built up in Europe was to be preserved. If Europe is to work politically, socially and economically, the bonds of ‘solidarity between strangers’ need to be extended beyond the 10% elite, making the ‘two Europes’ into one. Of practical benefit along this road would be a successful conclusion to the free trade discussions with the US, growth stimulation of the service industries - and not merely the ‘knowledge based’ sector of the economy, and demonstrating to the ‘other’ 85-90% of citizens that they too have benefited from the social and economic underpinnings created through EU policies.

In the discussion that followed these points were raised:

   There was concern that discontent in EU states would grow and destroy confidence in EU institutions.
   Attention was drawn to the growth of anti-government parties in European states.
   UK political parties seemed ‘feeble’ in their attitudes to EU benefits.
   A problem persisted over how to organise EU economics in the context of global trade, especially the growth of manufacturing in the Far East.

Michael Rider chairs the discussion following Dr Nathaniel Copsey'a presentation

   An example of concern was that richer areas like Kent nevertheless showed substantial support for UKIP. But it was pointed out that the Thanet and Margate areas were notably poorer than other parts of Kent.
   There was comment about the lack of political leadership throughout Europe. One view was that only Germany could, but was unwilling, to take on that role.
   It was asked how redistribution of wealth could be realistically expected if European decision makers lived in the top 10% elite.
   There was a tendency to exaggerate the influence the EU had over global economic policy.
   Replying to concern over the influence of anti-EU media Nathaniel Copsey pointed out that newspaper sales were falling through the floor and print influence was thus inevitably weakening.
   There was a need for a charismatic leader to coalesce support for the European idea.

The UK's real interest
- inside or outside the EU ?

Sir Stephen Wall
Vice Chair, Business for New Europe; Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to EU 1995 – 2000;
EU Adviser to the Prime Minister 2000-2004

Stephen_Wall.jpg (27068 bytes) The long-standing arguments for and against EU membership were deeply rooted, dating from before 1957. He set about a review of the history of the UK relationship with the EU and its predecessors.

The origin of the Common Market had been driven by French economic priorities. De Gaulle had made a hard-headed assessment in 1963 of the best interests of France, particularly focused on support for French farmers. The spectre was seen of failing conservative farm workers migrating to the cities and becoming communist car workers. Hence the French veto. When the UK finally joined in 1970 both Conservative and Labour politicians were split. Edward Heath undertook to join the EEC “only with the full-hearted consent of the British people and Parliament”, implying that between them there was a difference of view. Accession at this point in history was to a process not to a fixed institution. During the referendum campaign there were hints of Europe developing a political union, but no clear definition. The ‘No’ campaign was clear that joining the EEC meant the end of the United Kingdom – ‘Europe’ would be a new country on the world stage. Subsequently Margaret Thatcher was in favour of harmonisation and health & safety regulations, but found the Working Time Directive more controversial. Two interesting points came from her Bruges speech – that the central and eastern European countries were equally “European” and that there was a need to roll back the powers of the state.

continued in right-hand column

The UK's real interest - inside or outside the EU
Sir Stephen Wall

continued from column 1

At the time of entry to the EEC the UK was a net contributor, but economically a poorer member state. The UK was not high in the league table of competitiveness. Figures showed GDP per hour worked to be $60 in the United States, $51 in the EU and $47 in the UK.

Worker migration had recently become an issue in politics. There was in fact a lower EU migrant population in the UK than in other EU states. One million migrant workers had come to the UK, and since then 500 thousand had returned to their home country. Statistics also showed that migrant workers had overall made a higher than average contribution to the UK economy, contributing some 37% more in taxes than they took in benefits. It was not only a matter of migrant workers coming to the UK. Some 700,000 UK citizens live and work in other EU states.

Stephen Wall concluded by saying that in the UK the business community was reluctant to voice its pro-European interests, and the government loath to acknowledge that our foreign policy interests were magnified through the EU. Too often EU structures were exploited by member states solely to their own advantage rather than in the interests of the EU as a whole. The EU’s communal promotion of democratic values had over the years brought increased stability to the whole region, to the benefit of all member states. In contemporary Europe we were all ferociously nationalistic countries held in balance by the EU framework.

In the following discussion

   The queston was asked why David Cameron was pictured as ‘sitting at the feet of Margaret Thatcher’ ? and why had Conservatives in the European Parliament abandoned the conservative European People’s Party?
Replying, Stephen Wall believed that David Cameron was actually finding the eurosceptic members of the Conservative party irrelevant, because it was too unrealistic to leave the EU.
   The general point had been made that UK trade with the EU was too significant to drop, but why was it not conceivable that trade could not continue with the EU after leaving the union? Here the problem would be absence from the decision-making process.
   A problem lay currently in public debate – arguments were not being pursued to any depth. It was thought young people were open to well-argued persuasion.
   Scotland had not yet been mentioned – it was a wild card in the argument. Scotland, if independent, would strive to remain in the EU. David Cameron would not risk holding an “in/out” referendum while the Scottish independence referendum was pending.
   If leaving the EU, what timescale was needed to unravel the existing framework? The Lisbon Treaty has a default timescale of two years. But treaty renegotiation was not realistic within a normal electoral timescale.
   How could the complex arguments needed for a properly informed referendum campaign be financed? In 1975 there had been hidden government funds. It was difficult to anticipate how a 21st century referendum would be financed – privately or from government grants. Access to broadcasting was a significant issue.

How to reach
the man in the street

Stephen Quigley
Team leader - Citizens of Europe and EU4real ;
Training consultant - EU for local government;
Conference Director for Chatham House -
Celebrating EU 50

Stephen Quigley explained that this would be an essentially practical session. The key question was how to bring sensible balance to public awareness. No serious effort had been made to inform the ‘common man’. There appeared to be no European ‘demos’. Throughout Europe policy adopted a top-down approach, yet there was widespread lack of awareness about who were the European ‘leaders’. There were no charismatic figures. There were no pan-European political parties. When MEP candidates go to the polls next May it would be on a national party ticket.

It was less a question being ‘eurosceptic’, rather ‘euro-ignorant’. Europe was not a polite topic of conversation. In the officers' mess, no talk of religion, politics, or women, and now not Europe, let alone toxic topics like immigration and human rights. EU-subsidised projects in the UK have usually not been credited nor publicised.

In schools ‘Europe’ currently comes in the Citizenship syllabus, a good opportunity if the teachers ever get to it. But in the revised syllabus starting next year, the EU, along with migration and human rights, has been axed. The team responded to the consultation on this that ended last month, criticising these omissions. The News section of the school website Citizens of Europe reports what was said.

The common man’s perception of ‘Brussels’ feeds on misconceptions and myths. It is the responsibility of national governments to implement jointly agreed regulations. Sometimes the UK government has been accused of ‘gold-plating’ EU regulations. In practice an analysis of the implementation of EU directives among member states found the UK came about half way down, and could often be late in implementing directives.

This was the context of a proposal Stephen Quigley had made to the European Movement national AGM the previous October. It gained support for a feasibility study on "building a website for communicating to the British public the benefits of UK membership of the EU and the likely consequences of total withdrawal or associate status". The initial study for the EU for real website had recently been more or less completed. The approach had considered four broad tactics:

Scare them (suggesting loss of jobs, loss of UK influence and role, loss of opportunities, loss of security);
Charm them (setting out the fun things - zoos and blue flags; the personal things - pet passport, health cards; the professional things: work, study, living abroad; the health things - water, waste, labelling);
Inform them (EU does the big things - single market, environment, security; how things get decided; Britain’s significant part);
Involve them (the website could go on to build campaigns, launch an appeal, sign up volunteers, confront the media, point to information centres).

A page from EU for real

The technique adopted in the pilot site had been to move from ‘slogan’ headline to presenting simplified, clear information. The pilot was technically modest. A fully public site would cost single figure thousands, combining modern style, ‘screaming’ headers, cartoons, humour. If approved, the question would then be whether to launch now to prepare the ground for the eventual referendum, or to wait until the referendum date was decided.

Points coming from subsequent discussion were

   the site was needed now
   it should be compatible with links to a smartphone or tablet ‘app’
   implementation could be phased, with continuous upgrades and updates.

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