Sunday, 19 June 2016

What more can be done to improve the EU after the referendum? The debate that we are not having.

What more can be done to improve the EU after the referendum? This is the key debate that we should be having that we are not having. That remainers should be having with antis even now - we can disagree, they can vehemently oppose and want out of the EU but we can still find out what they don't like and try to change some of those things (any that are actually real and factual) for the better. This is the debate that Stronger IN and David Cameron have failed to have. SI because the political strategists are only focused on winning the referendum - not how or afterwards - and Cameron because he's hung by the split and hostility in his own party. I hope that after a winning vote David Cameron can be more reasonable with his Ministerial opponents - at least the less nasty ones - than he was with libertarian David Davis after his leadership win.  Conciliation will be needed but so is quick very quick action and results on reform. The campaign group Avaaz sent a survey to their members at the start of June about what more Avaaz could do, I think after the EU referendum to help in the UK on this issue. They are a great movement but they also missed the need for reform to take account of genuine concerns.

 The last question in the survey was:

 "5.  Here is a list of possible changes that could be beneficial to the EU. Tick the 3 boxes that you personally think would make the most difference."

 They listed 11 changes. I agreed with two of them, and ticked those two, I partly agreed with others and disagreed fully or partly with many.

 The problem is that Avaaz hasn't tried to include those who are sceptical about or anti-the EU project. There was nothing in the list to help win those people over. The list in the survey seemed to be about increasing the central coordinating role of the EU, not taking seriously the concerns of people who don't want this. Other measures might appeal to political geeks and those already active in working for NGOs etc. (voting for a President of the Commission, citizens' initiatives and registers of lobbyists and transcripts of meetings). I doubt they would appeal to many who were not already active or paid to work on these issues.

 The language of the Avaaz survey is, like that of Nils Röper in an article in The Conversation*, inherently in support not just of the current political project but further integration. I support the former to a large extent, and the latter a bit. However, the point I am arguing is that real concrete steps need to be taken to engage Antis to feel they have not been cheated by the EU 'project'. This passage by Roper is more helpful

 “Discourse should mean constructive dissent. .. The EU surely depends on grand visions and zealous europhiles, but the sacred pursuit of an ever closer union might have undermined the EU’s cause. Taking deviating voices more seriously and allowing for more skirmishes should be the motto of the future.”

 On Friday 3 June, interviewed on Bloomberg TV Europe 0850 UK, Günter Verheugen (a former Commissioner) concluded that regardless of an IN or OUT vote that significant reforms of the EU are needed that don't need treaty change. Eg more subsidiarity, transparency. Avaaz could usefully ask people for their ideas in support of reform and other improvements - even if some might reply based on misinformation, misunderstanding or lack of understanding, this can all help improve the EU. Avaaz and other independent or neutral organisations (like and 38 Degrees), Liberals, Trade Unionists, can all be having conversations about real reform -from a range of philosophies or ideologies. So could charities if they aren't banned by the Tories from talking about changing policies and 'politics'. But most of all if we have a statesmanlike Prime Minister this is a conversation that he or she should be leading - across Britain and beyond.

 * Why EU referendum voters are like disgruntled commuters in Nigeria, 1 June 2016.

 “According to Hirschman, the appeal of exit not only increases with the level of discontent about the organisation, but also with the creeping feeling you are unable to change it. In the UK we find both growing unease with the EU and a perception of impotency to change it.”

 “Considering the complexity of a system that accommodates 28 member states, EU law making has actually become laudably transparent and accessible.”

 “The nub of the matter for the UK-EU disconnect is an ill-informed public. Britain’s path to European detachment has been paved by a dismissive domestic media.”
 Nils Röper Why EU referendum voters are like disgruntled commuters in Nigeria
 June 1, 2016

 Postscript; what kind of changes in the European Union would I like to see. Really I want a change in emphasis. Less regulation, less law, less attempt to direct from the centre. At the same time it is utterly reasonable that countries can reserve benefits to their own citizens until residency and / or work criteria - timescales - have been met. I'd like Britain to take the work element seriously for its own long term unemployed as well but both of these should be for decision at UK level. I also want to see the EU abide by the principles it claims to be founded on in its foreign policy where they are often ignored in action - with neighbours and further afield. Of course this is hypocrisy of the Commission and the Member States - all our countries. (The much maligned Nick Clegg raised the need for the EU to actually stick to its values in dealing with the Middle East and North Africa countries in a speech in 2011 about the Arab Spring before the term had even been coined). Here is a flavour, what I said in feedback to Avaaz, on that change of emphasis. Avaaz survey responses.

 3. What do you think are the most negative aspects of the EU?

 A desire on the part of some in the centre to standardise unnecessarily and to look for an EU level rule or law when none is needed. Though no Governments say they support this many governments and ministers (or their civil servants) must tacitly do so for perceived economic or security reasons, or they fail to put a stop to sensible sounding but unnecessary standardisation. .. National parliaments could also use their consultative positions to put a stop to unnecessary legislation but they fail to scrutinise sufficiently and fail to do so.

 4. In order to support the EU more strongly, what kind of changes would you like to see?

 After hopefully Britain votes to stay in a clear statement by EU leaders, the European Parliament and especially the EU Commissioners that they will look at ways to reduce any real bureaucracy and unnecessary standardisation and to make clear concessions when so and efforts to engage with those in many countries who feel that the European Union centrally interferes in too much. Leaders of the EU engage people by cutting it back a bit. Show the antis that they are listening and acting by being conciliatory and acting. Give the antis something so they can say "we won that" "we got that".

Can Cameron Do it - Post the EU referendum? What is needed if Yes are Victors.

Not can Cameron win the EU referendum, if he loses then his, and the Tories' reckless gamble with our future will have failed, as it nearly did in Scotland. The official Yes campaign, Stronger IN, have been determined to repeat many if not all of the mistakes of the political campaigning and British establishment class from the Scottish referendum. If we lose, then many of us will be angry and in despair because Britain will not have voted to be the kind of country that we want it to be, it will not have voted for the shared cooperative European future that we want and believe in.

 But if the Remain campaign wins. Then hard work starts to pull the country together, to unite bitter wounds – among the people rather more importantly than among the Conservative Party (and Labour Party to lesser extent, as with the different views within the Greens and SNP also), to show antis and those who genuinely thought a better Britain lies out of the EU, that they are not ignored, that their views are listened to and acted upon, and for Cameron or whoever to achieve a better improved less centralised EU to try and avoid this rift continuing. Can Cameron do this? I'm not at all sure that he can, given his failure to present much vision in the referendum campaign, and given the bitter splits in his party so that if he wins his Eurosceptics will continue to put knives in his chest as they did with John Major. Only in a speech on security has Cameron put a principled and positive vision for Europe, one not based on the Stronger In political hack majority narrative of economics and fear.

 I'm not sure David Cameron can achieve this, but someone has to, and Liberals have to support them. We have to try. Many principled, progressive and educated modern young (ish) Britains from varied backgrounds have worked together on the ground and in the central campaign to keep Britain in the EU because they believe it is better for our future. Those people don't believe – like some of the EU elite appear to – that the EU is perfect, they want a better EU. We mustn't ignore on the anti side that there are reasonable disagreements with EU policies - different opinions - about the CAP or EU fisheries policy. There is no monolithic EU elite - the 'Left' use similar dismissive collective language to ignore anyone they don't like or want to blame - but there are some in positions of power and influence within the EU institutions who are genuinely out of touch and who should listen to ordinary people more.

  That EU elite includes in my experience some starry eyed Lib Dems and some of those with vested interests from the funding (from MEPs to academics – who want to keep their positions or keep the expansion of centralised influence going, needlessly). At the same time experienced Anti-EU membership voters do have a point. They never have been given a vote on the creation of the European Union or on the EU as a political project. Yes the European Community project has always been political. Yes they have had votes for Governments and parties (well not really, though they don't care about that), Yes many democrats are dubious about referendums, but the antis' point made by many older voters is perfectly valid that they voted for a Common Market, they didn't vote for this. As I  wrote months ago "If people feel after the referendum that they’ve not had a fair vote – like in Scotland, or in the previous referendum on membership of the European Economic Community, people feel somehow cheated – then there will be limited acceptance of the result and regular renewed calls for a new referendum leading to more instability in our national political debate of the kind that undermined John Major’s government and has bubbled as a hot and cold war in the Tory party under Cameron. People need to feel they are making a well informed positive choice."
 It has been great to be a part of a non-party and all party campaign on a very important issue instead of the parochialism and self-interest of British local and national politics with its divisive confrontational party political style. Let us put that energy to supporting campaigns for a better Britain in a better European Union. If Cameron wins, if he can vanquish the Johnson Jabberwock, then he has a once in a lifetime chance to build wide support in Britain for working with a wide range of parties from across Europe – especially those in central and Eastern Europe who share concerns about too much central dictat – to make the European Union better. Just because it is this way it does not have to stay this way. Cameron achieved a few small concessions in his negotiations (hardly mentioned in the referendum campaign – the avoiding this hardly being very honest, hiding the issue of reform). If he can lead after 23 June then together a British led coalition can reform a better Europe. We can show the antis, the reasonable moderate Brexiters, that they have been listened to, and we will be Stronger In.