Lib-Dem Day of Reckoning Approaches – To seize the rose or admire from afar?

In a dynamic world where the problems change successful political movements evolve, and even where the problems remain similar the conditions of the day often require new solutions. The defining problem for this current parliament is finding the quickest national exit to the global financial crisis, but this blog is about the future, and europe’s evolution beyond that crisis will be what comes to define the next.

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In short:

1. What is our position on British sovereignty; is it necessary or are we better served by a european collective?

2. What is our position on the sovereignty of our neighbours; a choice they must have or secondary to British interests?

The first is a false choice for this is a tale that has largely already been told:

a) there is a referendum lock against further transfers of power
b) government policy is that there should be no further transfers
c) favourable public opinion to the EU, let alone further integration, has largely died a death
d) playing it ‘softly’ might have worked in the good times, but not while the EU is in convulsion
e) the karlsruhr capping german contribution to E190b and forbidding banking license means the crisis will still be rumbling on in 2015

No, it is the second is what will define the coming election and the parliament following.

There is going to be a new treaty on fiscal and political integration within europe, Germany is driving to start the discussion in December 2012 with the probable intention of seeking a mandate to pursue the final treaty wording from the german electorate in October 2013. And then to have the mandate confirmed as acceptable across europe via the EU elections in June 2014. It is going to be Lisbon all over again in 2016, and in reality this process of integration has already begun with the wrangling over how far the writ of European Banking Commission should extend:

“The remaining 10 countries in the EU can join if they wish, but they won’t have voting rights at the ECB because they are not members of the euro.

Swedish finance minister Anders Borg said he was concerned that the eurozone countries could overrule Sweden and other non-euro countries, such as Britain, on broader issues such as imposing new capital requirements on every bank in the EU.

“We can obviously not accept to have supervision in Europe be based on the ECB where we are not members and if we did become members we would not have voting rights,” Mr Borg said. “It is unacceptable to be under supervision from an organization where we don’t have a voting right.”

Mr Borg said he had some “very clear red lines” before he would agree to a compromise deal and that a large chunk of the other ten non-euro countries shared his concerns”

Can the nations outside the post-crisis euro-core remain sovereign nations, or will they merely become Sanjak style adjuncts subject to diktat from the centre?

That this question will define the debate in the lead up to the UK General Election in 2015 is amply demonstrated by Manuel Barroso’s recent intervention in calling for a ‘federation of nation states’:

Section 1 is fine as a description of the symptoms

Section 2 the diagnosis – reads fine until the following: “we have seen time and again that interconnected global markets are quicker and therefore more powerful than fragmented national political systems” for it should finish: “locked into monetary union”
In short, using the EU interchangeably with the Eurozone will not lead to a decent prescription
i.e.
“Yes, globalisation demands more European unity.
More unity demands more integration.
More integration demands more democracy, European democracy.”

– Within the Eurozone, yes.

Section 3 the prescription – in ignoring the existence of non-euro members, and their continued existence into the future, creates ludicrous statements like:
“The more vulnerable countries must leave no doubts about their willingness to reform. About their sense of responsibility.”
Leaving no space for those who might want to leave the eurozone if the newly ‘recognised’ consequences of monetary union are deemed unpalatable.
In short; the moral within the eurozone must knuckle-under and accept further integration, to fail to do so would be to become immoral……………….. despite the fact we are secretly ignoring a shadow group of other nations outside the eurozone who presumably are not immoral. It is needlessly creating victims.

In conflating the EU27 and the Euro17 it reaches bizarre conclusions that do not support each other:

The Commission will shortly present a Single Market Act II. To enable the single market to prosper, the Commission will continue to be firm and intransigent in the defence of its competition and trade rules. Let me tell you frankly, If it was left to the Member States, I can tell you they will not resist pressure from big corporations or large external powers.”

Great, but what has this to do with further integration………………… unless it is the price demanded by those nations less interested in competition and trade rules?

This means making the taxation environment simpler for businesses and more attractive for investors. Better tax coordination would benefit all Member States.”

Sorry, why is this necessary again? Yes, I can see it is desirable to have harmonised tax rates as the quid pro quo for solidarity via a transfer-union, but again, what has this to do with the EU27?

A realistic but yet ambitious European Union budget dedicated to investment, growth and reform. It is a budget that will help complete the single market by bridging gaps in our energy, transport and telecoms infrastructure through the Connecting Europe Facility.”

Hmmm, not sure I agree that a common services passport requires an engorged EU budget for infrastructure spending. Again, is this about bribes to the market-shy?

“No one will be forced to come along. And no one will be forced to stay out. The speed will not be dictated by the slowest or the most reluctant”

Excellent, so there can be a europe with a slow-lane, but will caucusing within the EU17 force changes to the internal market antithetical to British interests, such as has been the case with the social chapter? Is this just the continuation of the insane and poisonous doctrine of no retreat from ever closer union? After all, wiki states: “by definition, the difference between a confederation and a federation is that the membership of the member states in a confederation is voluntary, while the membership in a federation is not.”

A europe where you have to integrate to protect your interests is not a europe of variable geometries with the Commission guarding the internal market for all members. Not one that Britain can remain in anyway.

This is not a question any political party can dodge, particularly not the Lib-Dem’s who are widely associated in public perception with uncritical europhilia:

“The finance of the country is intimately associated with the liberties of the country. It is a powerful leverage by which English Liberty has been gradually acquired … It lies at the root of English Liberty, and if the House of Commons can by any possibility lose the power of the control of the grants of public money, depend upon it, your very liberty will be worth very little in comparison …That power can never be wrenched out of your hands… That powerful leverage has been what is commonly known as the power of the purse – the control of the House of Commons over public expenditure – your main guarantee for purity – the root of English liberty. No violence, no tyranny, whether of experiments or of such methods as are likely to be made in this country, could ever for a moment have a chance of prevailing against the energies of that great assembly. No, if these powers of the House of Commons come to be encroached upon, it will be by tacit and insidious methods, and therefore I say that public attention should be called to this.” William Gladstone

So, back to the two questions and how the Lib-Dem’s must react to them.

Traditionally the Lib-Dem’s soft-pedal europe in General Elections (much to the distress of the committed), and this is because they know it is not a popular position. That was in the good times. Now, trying to deflect via a few veiled references to how effective they were in amending annex “b” in subsection “c” of the bee-keeping Directive is not going to fly:

i. UKIP, a party with no national parliamentary representation, but a huge european presence, is now polling higher than the Lib-Dem’s nationally
ii. The Lib-Dem’s, party with a strong parliamentary representation, but a withered european presence, is now polling lower than UKIP nationally

Are town council positions enough?

How they answer the first question rather depends on their interest in implementing policy in an adversarial electoral system vs acting like a pressure group and clapping politely when opponents occasionally occupy policy positions they hope to see enacted.

Your blogger has seen many lib-dems argue that the traditional left-right axis is irrelevant as politics is in fact much more more complicated than that, and in consequence how it is a mistake to be defined by your opponents. They are both absolutely right, and tragically wrong. Yes, anyone who has looked at the political compass knows there is more than a single axis to politics. This however is utterly irrelevant if your ideas don’t speak to the dilemmas of the age. The previous hundred years have been dominated by the left-right battle between capitalism and socialism………… And the off-tangent lib-dems were quite frankly irrelevant to the great questions of the day. Two poles competing to attract the greatest mass of public opinion, locked in visceral and adversarial conflict with each other. This is the way the British public understand politics, and to ignore that is to become a pressure group. What Labour achieved one hundred years ago was convincing the public that they represented a better pole to oppose capitalism than liberal ideology could provide. By the time this change had occurred union membership had passed seven million, half way to its mid century peak. By the time the next election arrives union membership will have sunk to seven million as it’s ideas seem ever less relevant to 21st century problems. The question is; are the lib-dems determined to convince the public that they, once again, are the most effective polar opposite to the Tories? Worrying about proportionality in the Commons is yesterday’s answer to the party’s marginal relevance in the face of the Labour movement, do you want success or the righteous purity of eternal opposition?

For the Lib-Dem’s the 2015 election is going to be horrible regardless, the parties of austerity government will suffer, and the opposition will naturally increase its support. This is inevitable. But Labour’s bounce won’t be sticky, it won’t be because of their stated positions, so for the Lib-Dem’s the focus must be on 2020. They can only reach ‘nirvana’ if they first get question #1 right, but let’s assume that they do.

Question #2 is where the space can be found to differentiate their party’s position, and it can happily be a positive and pro-european message too. Moreover, it is a ‘crusading’ position that is capable of defining the debate in opposition to Tory negativity over europe.

From whence cometh my help? Why, the Barroso intervention articulating the same destructive doctrine of no retreat from ever-closer-union that has been peddled for forty years and more.

We will know we are getting somewhere when we get the German treaty on political and fiscal integration…………… along with an exit clause for those nations that suddenly find they cannot accept the logical consequence of monetary union.

Britain was never interested in the dream, but we were also big enough to carve ourselves out the necessary exclusions. While we might mock those nations that believed they could both integrate and remain sovereign, they never had a choice. Accession states, even now, still have no choice!

They must be given one, and if that isn’t a liberal vision for Britain in Europe I don’t know what is.

What does this mean in practice? Recognising that accountability and representation pull in opposite directions when you have very fractured cultural components over which to govern, and that legitimacy cannot be fabricated by stamping “democratic” over everything.

Sovereign nation states should cooperate and collaborate where a common viewpoint can breed a more effective solution, but stay away from enforcing lowest common denominator compromises that satisfy nobody. The exception to this being the internal market which needs to be enforced by a supranational European Commission. By all means democratise the many working of the EU, but recognise the value of the Commission to those who won’t accept european governance.

The Barroso position represents the view of the EPP and can happily be campaigned against by the Lib-Dem’s in the 2014 EU elections, and the Tories will continue to oppose, oppose, and oppose some more.

Best of all, it is a decisive position which will leave Labour vacillating in the middle, unable to argue for either pole, and ceasing in an instant to co-define the terms of the debate.

2020 could be fun.

update – 18.09.12 – Jeremy Browne gets it:

“The danger is they see this as a five-year period to be endured before they can get back to the easier comforts of being an opposition party that criticises other people who do things rather than doing things yourself: the politics of the sit-in protest rather than the politics of implementation in office.”

Jeremy for Leader?
update – 26.09.12 – Paddy, the man who will next election campaign, comes out with a pearler:

And he revealed he had told Mr Clegg that he believed a referendum was inevitable after David Cameron wielded the British veto to block an EU treaty change in December last year. He predicted the Eurozone will eventually shrink, leaving just Germany, Austria, the Benelux countries, Finland and France. “I am a passionate European. We have to be passionate. As Europe moves, as it must, towards deeper federalism… this is a dance we have to sit aside from. We need to do it with apologies and regret but the Tories will do it with scorn.”

Sound familiar?

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