Friday 18 January 2013

BBC Question Time and Europe

David Cameron's speech may have been put off (for understandable reasons), but Europe was the big topic on Question Time on the BBC last night. It's good to see the pro-European side developing some backbone, even if the arguments could have been put better (it's still strange to see that one of Labour's main issues with the EU is the lack of budget cuts, though).

Norway and Switzerland are set to be the most studied countries in Britain if the debate continues, with both sides raising it for their case - either as the proof of life outside of "Europe", or as evidence of the political enfeeblement of losing Union membership. Given that the in-or-out section of the debate started after a discussion on the free movement of Romanians and Bulgarians, it's strange that Farage was not taken up on the fact that they are more integrated in some respects than the UK (being part of the Schengen zone and also having to accept the free movement of people with Iceland and EU Member States), after he'd spent the last 10 minutes speaking against free movement. The Norwegian and Swiss models are more disputed now than they were before, however.

The biggest challenge for pro-Europeans is changing perceptions of the Single Market - that it's not simply trade, but the movement of people, goods and services, and it goes beyond just free trade. Progressives will have to argue why the internal market is political, and why we should value the political institutions - that do need reform - as a way to act on the environment, etc, in a way we wouldn't be able to otherwise. It will also explain why renegotiation is so difficult: because further British opt-outs would essentially be unravelling the core of the internal market and attacks common social protections.

If Farage - and Eurosceptics in general - are happy to hold up Norway and Switzerland as alternatives (that you can have all the benefits without the political institutions and symbols), then pro-Europeans will have to explain why that position is not just dishonest, but why more democratic EU institutions would be valuable and why they are necessary.

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