Has anyone got the full version of Menzies Cambell’s speech on Britain’s relationships with the EU and US? Because this looks to be the second speech by a relatively minor British politician (with a certain amount of influence) in a matter of a few weeks which is pushing for the kind of more pragmatic, less ideologically-charged approach to the EU that I reckon is needed.
Ignore the guff about how “Britain should distinguish its own foreign policy from that of the United States”, and the standard, oft-repeated line “We can more effectively lead the way from within Europe than we can on our own, whether in carrying weight in the wider world or in influencing our ally, the US”, there are a couple of others in there that seem to echo the line taken by Gordon Brown’s right hand man Ed Balls a few weeks back.
Namely, despite reaffirming the Britain needs to be more involved (standard Lib Dem line for a while now), old man Campbell’s also started publicly saying what many loosely pro-EU types have been saying for decades:
“We need a Powers Audit of the European Union. And that Audit should take place on the basis of a simple principle: only where issues are most effectively addressed by collective action, should the EU act.”
And there, in those two simple sentences, is the single best way for the EU – and Britain’s relationship with the EU – to progress. As I’ve been saying for years, the major problem with trying to defend the EU – let alone press for further involvement – is that nobody can really keep tabs on just what benefits the EU brings, or even quite what it’s responsible for. (Largely due to the difficulty of deciding precisely what “the EU” is, considering the bizarre power struggle between the Commission, Council of Ministers, Parliament and the courts – which part should be blamed and which praised is never clear…)
He also, according to the BBC, seems to have utterly rejected the EU constitution – which would tend to suggest that now all three major parties in the UK are against the thing. Which rather buggers up any plans from some of our more determined continental cousins to push ahead with ratification, as there’s no way it can come in to force without unanimous support from all 25 member states.
Although this is, after all, only the leader of the Lib Dems speaking (and let’s face it, who ever listens to them?), as the party which has been the focus of most pro-EU hopes in the UK for the last couple of decades, if the Lib Dems shift towards a more honest, rational take on EU policy, it’s just possible that other parties might start to do the same, rather than leap to either extreme on the EU (and then act exacly the same way as each other anyway).
Politics.co.uk has more, including the prescient line, “An unpublicised meeting here, a lukewarm press report there. These are no substitute for public recognition of the salience of Europe, and the potential it offers for British leadership and the furtherance of British interests” – which is spot on, considering the lack of coverage this seems to have got, even for a Campbell speech.
He also, again quoted in that Politics.co.uk piece, used the (spot on) line “Europe has lost its focus”. Which is an effective – if possibly accidental – paraphrased translation of French Foreign Minister Catherine Collona’s take, covered back at the end of August, not to mention German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration, back in May, that “Europe needs a new reason for its existence”.
So, the French situation could change come the Spring, but Merkel is going to be heading up Germany for a while. Menzies Campbell will never see power, but his words seem similar to those of Ed Balls, whose boss/buddy Gordon Brown should be inside No. 10 in less than a year. Ignore Merkel’s desire to press ahead with the constitutional ratification process – that’s largely through desperation to see some kind of progress. The important thing is that, within the next year, we could see a situation in which the big three of Europe, Britain, France and Germany, could all be of a similar mind that a genuinely radical rethink is necessary.
And, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome next year, when could be a better time to revise the EU’s entire raison d’etre?