A question for all our Euro candidates

October 12, 2012

One of the most impressive chapters in the Orange Book was by a chap called Clegg. It put forward the quite astonishing suggestion that, given our focus on ensuring that the right amount of power is wielded at the right sort of level, we should have a think about which powers it would be best for the EU to have and which areas it would probably be better to leave to member states. His initial suggestions for powers that should be repatriated revolve around social and agricultural policy, while powers that could be usefully shifted up largely focus around foreign affairs.

We’re a Europhile party, even now – especially now, when it’s hardest to be such a thing – but we haven’t really progressed our thinking on Europe for some time. So, I ask each of the candidates who’ve announced that they’re standing for our European Lists today. What single power is it your priority to repatriate from Europe?

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5 Responses to “A question for all our Euro candidates”

  1. A good question. ‘Repatriation of powers’ is, by definition, looking backwards, when instead we should be looking forwards at the type of EU that we want. It’s a good media phrase, though, which suits the Tory/UKIP/media argument that the EU are all-powerful over us.

    If pressed for an answer, I would name the common fisheries policy to be repatriated – which I’ve never been too keen on. It must affect the UK more than any other country and seems pointless while major fishing nations Norway and Iceland stay out of the EU.

    I would like to see some sort of agreement outside the EU to conserve stocks, but, as someone who is very fond of fish and chips, I’d like to see the rebuilding of this historic UK industry.

  2. With the current state of the economy our focus should be on rebuilding jobs. In the EU the majority of jobs, over two thirds of all EU employees are employed in small and medium sized enterprises. When it comes to job creation small businesses have been responsible for around 85% of all jobs in the past 10 years.

    Government should always be conducted at the lowest level to which it is appropriate, so when it comes to small local businesses the EU is not best placed to know the needs of the smaller communities. We should be looking to repatriate powers which would allow small businesses to thrive, to cut the red tape and help grow local businesses, they truly are the lifeblood of our community.

    That said, this question frequently asks what powers should be repatriated, but rarely looks at which powers should be dealt with more at the European level. Working cooperatively with our neighbours we can achieve a great deal more as the EU than as the UK when it comes to foreign affairs and trade agreements.

  3. That is a very good, if somewhat trickym question to ask. The reason why I think it particularly tricky (aside from all the in-principle difficulties with properly grasping the concept of subsidiarity and applying it correctly) is that the temptation is always to cite those areas where the EU has come up with policies one doesn’t like. There is, of course, a whole world of difference between a policy area quite rightly being one which should be determined by the European Union, but nevertheless the EU has come up with something bad; and the EU not being the legitimate place to determine policy in that area in the first place.

    I suspect that many who call for the repatriation of particular powers in particular instances (as opposed to the rabid Euro-phobics who hate EU decision making and want it ALL back!) do so because they don’t like the policies the Union has adopted rather than because there is an in-principal reason why the policy should be determined in Westminster. After all, if they are really concerned with subsidiarity in principle why not call for a debate on devolving, say, foreign policy to Greater London – we have a greater population that Scotland after all, and the latter gets to have a referendum the outcome of which could provide just such an opportunity!

    Anyhoo, flippant digressions into Scottish nationalism aside, I think we have to be very, VERY clear about separating out these two questions. Take the aforementioned Common Fisheries Policy. Given that there are not huge barricades under water which keep fish in or out of individual countries’ seas, I think it is a very good candidate for being a policy area to be decided supra-nationally. However, it’s pretty clear that what the EU has come up with is inadequate in a number of ways. Nevertheless, I take the point that Mr Nevols makes about Iceland and Norway being outside the EU framework; and perhaps this fact amounts to a defeater for the notion that Fisheries Policy is best developed specifically at EU level (since it could be argued that a necessary condition for any common fisheries policy to be effective is that it is genuinely common, i.e. applicable to every nation in the maritime region).

    To return to the substantive question, then: what one power should be repatriated. Well first of all I think we have to be clear on just what policy areas the EU is already deciding. One of the frustrating things about the EU as it is currently formulated is that there are no clear boundaries as to what the EU can do in policy terms – at least not as clear as would otherwise be the case if the Union was genuinely federally organised. In practice there has been a lot of expansion of EU policy making into areas which I doubt many would have originally thought should be its responsibility. For this reason I am immensely grateful that the Coalition Government are commissioning a full-scale review of policy areas on which the EU decision making infrastructure has a bearing.

    So, as on the fence as it may be to say this, I would want to wait and see what the review comes up with before staking my colours to the mast of any one particular repatriation over any other. In the meantime, however, I am going to prioritise getting to grips with those EU policies which I just don’t like since, if and when I succeed in becoming a Liberal Democrat MEP, then I will hopefully be in a position to help change them. Repatriations, on the other hand, are more a question for (would-be) MPs in Westminster since any such move would be a negotiation between the British Government and the rest of the Union rather than an effort led from within the pan-European democratic legislature.

  4. […] Jennie Rigg has been doing some great stuff with the party’s committee elections (in which I’m standing). Over on the public selections front, it’s nice to see questions like this one from Adam Bell being posed and candidates answer. […]

  5. Clegg’s example of social policy is probably the best one, but unfortunately it is politically impossible to make on two counts. Firstly that any discussion of repatriation plays to a polarised debate on a Eurosceptic agenda. Secondly that because most advocates of repatriation of social policy are doing so because they want less of it, any discussion of the appropriate level is likely to be interpreted as code for supporting a Beecroft-style slashing of workers rights.

    What is much more important in reaching moderates (Eurorealists) is Clegg’s other point in his chapter that there is little need or appetite for further deeper integration, that the EU needs to get off the treadmill of constant treaty revision, and get on with using the powers that it has effectively. This has been slightly derailed by the Eurozone crisis and the need for a fiscal compact within the Eurozone. But it remains true as far as treaties that apply to the UK are concerned.

    What we need to be advocating in these elections is not changes in EU powers – in either direction – but the importance of trade with the EU to our economy (and therefore of the single market, and of having a seat at the table when single market questions are decided).

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