The Future of the EU – Debate with Guy Verhofstadt MEP, Professor Anand Menon, Emma Reynolds MP, Martin Callanan MEP and Professor Simon Hix
By Liam Murphy
With just over a year to go until the European elections, on Monday 3 June in London, Business for New Europe and the European Parliament Information Office brought together senior policy makers, journalists and economists to look ahead to next year’s European elections, the potential results, as well as the impact on the future of the EU from 2014.
Kicking off the panel discussion, Guy Verhofstadt, Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, said a “new fundamental law for the EU” would be necessary to secure the bloc’s future stability. The former Belgian Prime Minister called for “a more integrated Europe” to address the inherent failure in how it is governed. He warned that in 20-25 years, not one EU country will be a member of the G8. The future of the EU, he argued, must therefore entail a reinvention of sovereignty at a European level if it is to prosper in an increasingly globalised world.
Professor Anand Menon of King’s College London, cautioned against a rushed push towards further integration. The EU, he said, is changing, and members need to change their relationship with it, not least because of the different regulatory requirements of those inside and outside the eurozone. Menon noted that the current political climate presented a golden opportunity for David Cameron and other European leaders to secure valuable reforms such as the repatriation of more powers to national parliaments. However, the PM’s strategy of distancing himself from the forums where decisions are made, while still saying he wants reform, was “barking mad.” He went on to say that though a referendum on UK membership of the EU is “unavoidable,” treaty change will remain unlikely due to the reluctance of EU leaders to go to the polls.
Emma Reynolds MP, the Shadow Europe Minister, agreed with Professor Menon that it was important the UK remains engaged with the EU, describing the constant talk of a referendum as a “distraction.” She argued that both economically and politically, it was in the UK and EU’s interests that the former did not leave the fold, touting Justice and Home Affairs as an example of an issue area the UK could lead to the benefit of all parties. Ms. Reynolds dismissed the most likely alternatives to full membership, describing the Norwegian model as a “fax democracy,” and the Swiss model as being entirely unworkable due to the number of bilateral agreements that would have to be signed. The shadow minister said that what the public really cared about were jobs, welfare, and the economy, and that an in/out referendum should only be held in the event of a significant treaty change.
However, for Conservative MEP Martin Callanan, the crucial issue facing the EU was the lack of a common identity, what he called a “demos.” He went on to say that “democracy means an affinity with institutions, a common space, but that doesn’t exist.” Despite this, Professor Simon Hix, Head of the Department of Government at the London School of Economics, suggested that next year’s European elections could help remedy this. While the election of MEPs usually serves as a sort of mid-term poll for the government, factors such as the eurocrisis, the rise of euroscepticism, and that there will be rival candidates for the European Commission presidency, should increase the salience of the EU in voters’ minds. He went on to say that the elections were an opportunity to change the debate on Europe and give people the opportunity to decide what kind of EU they really want.