Boris the Eurorealist?

CEE 2013I think it’s more than 18 months since I last blogged about politics and Europe. But today I found myself almost agreeing with something Boris writes in his Daily Telegraph column on the Tories’ referendum ructions. That doesn’t happens very often. So that got me thinking.

The main point I made back in October 2011 in Finding an antidote to Europhobia was that someone other than Nick Clegg needs to be making the positive case for Europe. And doing it sooner rather than later. If pro-Europeans are coy and wait until we are in referendum season then the atmosphere will already have been so badly poisoned by the radical Right’s outbreak of irrational Europhobia that any sort balanced assessment of the case for the EU will be impossible. That seems to me to hold as true today as it did then. Indeed, it is clear that Europhobia has already spread considerably during the intervening period.

Boris’s piece today has attracted most attention because he draws an unflattering comparison between the “sloth” of the British worker and the productivity of the German worker. I’m sure the use of the word was calculated, but it was rather gratuitous and distracted entirely from the point he was seeking to make.

On the face of it Boris’s column is a call for a more balanced discussion of the pros and cons of membership of the EU. His is a self-styled cool head when all around him appear to be losing theirs. He’s behind Cameron in his bid to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU down to one of “free trade and political cooperation”.  His main point is that the threat of UK exit has to be credible if the renegotiation is going to deliver change.

The piece is perhaps a bit smarter than it first appears. But then Boris is not as daft as he looks. [Read more…]

A Euro-Nightmare before Christmas

Clegg needs to ask himself a difficult question: did he come into politics to be part of perhaps the most diplomatically-inept and Euro-hostile government in modern British history?

John Campfner, The Independent, 10/12/11

The consequences of David Cameron’s refusal to agree to participate in the Merkozy plan early on Friday morning will be many and various, short-term and long-term.

Some of the domestic political consequences are already apparent. Having scented Cameron’s weakness, or a kindred spirit revealed, the Europhobe Right have taken to the airwaves to demand renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU. While, after an initial attempt to toe an agreed line, it appears that senior Liberal Democrats have decided enough is enough. Critics might say that this is coming a bit late in the day – after tuition fees, the demolition of the NHS, the targeted attack on public services and the disabled – and on a topic which will not resonate well with the general public. But Europe is a topic that holds a very particular place in the worldview of many Liberal Democrats. Of course, in response to this the rabid right of the Tory party are goading the Liberal Democrats to walk away from the Coalition, in the expectation that “bulldog” Cameron will be swept to victory after this show of strength.

The longer term political consequences are uncertain. For example, does a Westminster government disengaging from Europe make Scottish independence more likely?

The economic consequences are equally unclear. [Read more…]

Finding an antidote for Europhobia

When doing away with our yearly ritual of moving the clocks forward and back is condemned because a change would mean we’d be using “German” time I think we know we’re in trouble. When Conservative MPs like Julian Lewis feel able to go on record to criticise senior civil servants representing the UK in Europe for being too integrationist while others, such as Douglas Carswell, do so indirectly, it is clear that the forces of Euroscepticism are emboldened. Apparently the UK is sending people to Europe who are too positive about the whole European project. They are not sufficiently unyielding in their pursuit of the repatriation of powers.

Nigel Farage’s performance on BBC Question Time last week was typically monomaniacal. The institutions of Europe were portrayed as the very root of all evil. But you get the sense that, rather than being written off as a cartoon zealot put in the wingnut chair to provide some entertainment, his views increasingly resonate with at least some sections of the voting public. The New Statesman blog yesterday suggested that the Conservatives have more to fear from UKIP than from the Liberal Democrats, given the sentiment in the country. That doesn’t strike me as entirely implausible.

It would appear that the Eurosceptics are making all the running on Europe at the moment. Yet, it is not really helpful to talk in terms of Euroscepticism. [Read more…]