Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

What Has Europe Done for Us?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th May, 2007

eu50_en.gifLast night I was at Orpington Liberal Club, at a dinner arranged by the local party Chair, Grace Goodlad, and her husband, Duncan Borrowman, to give a talk on the benefits of EU membership — one of a series I’m delivering at various local LibDem associations and other, non-party events. They’d laid on a splendidly Euro-meal: French onion soup, Italian lasagne, German apfelstrudel or Italian tiramisu, and a range of continental cheeses, as if to make the point that gastronomy is not the least of our Euro-benefits! But seriously, as the EU celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome this year, we have much to be thankful for. It’s all too easy to forget that the concept of European union was born out of the ashes of war, and in particular the fact that France and Germany had been at each other’s throats three times within 75 years — something which is now unthinkable. Even more astonishing is that countries in central and eastern Europe which were officially our ‘enemies’ during the Cold War are now our partners — with the only real rivalry being the annual extravaganza of the Eurovision Song Contest, which coincided with the dinner.

The single market, freedom of movement and greater consumer choice are all things that even readers of the Daily Mail should be cheering for. But sadly British media coverage has often been negative. Superificially ‘funny’ (and sometimes untrue) stories of excessive Euro-regulation sour the discourse. I am a great Euro-enthusiast, but one who believes that Europe maybe needs to do less but better, not tie people and businesses up in unnecessary red tape, while at the same time promoting consumer interests and wider concerns such as environmental responsibility and international development that can only effectively be dealt with at a trans-national level. We are under-performing as a region and will probably continue to do so until we have a British government which is prepared to be truly at the centre of European decision-making, instead of carping from the sidelines. I know Charles Kennedy regrets that he allowed his Europhilia to be muted by party gurus during his leadership of the LibDems. It is time the LibDems stood up and were counted. Everyone knows we are essentially pro-European, so let’s say so!

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