Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June 23rd, 2007

Making Europe Sexy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd June, 2007

blair-baroso.jpgAs dawn broke over Brussels, Europe’s leaders staggered to a compromise deal on reforming the treaties that govern the Union — mercifully abandoning the dreaded word ‘constitution’, which I always thought was a serious mistake. One of the big pluses of the new agreement is that more powers will pass to the European Parliament, thus increasing democratic accountability. National vetoes will be reduced, which will facilitate decision-making (while preserving sovereign rights on really crucial national issues). There’ll be an EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs (not a ‘Minister’, again an unwise word in the original draft, implying that the EU is a government). But the new system of voting within the Council of Ministers, reflecting both the size of populations and the number of countries — which sent the Terible Twins from Poland into a hissy fit — will be postponed until 2014.

Overall, it’s pretty positive, though doubtless some of the Europhobic media here will characterize it as a sell-out by Blair. The continuing negative coverage of European affairs in most of the newspapers is deeply depressing. Summits are almost invariably presented as punch-ups, boxing matches in which politicians have to ‘fight their corner’. And working towards consensus — which is how an institution like the EU must operate — is portrayed as ‘horse-trading’. Negotiating compromises is something most of our continental colleagues are used to, living with proportional representation and coalition governments. But in the UK, both the media and much of the public is frozen in an adversarial political mindset.

The great challenge now is how to sell the realities and benefits of the EU and this latest Summit to the British public — in short, how to make Europe sexy. The other evening, I gave one of a series of talks I’m doing round London on ‘What Has Europe Done for Us?’, in Beckenham. And yesterday, I attended an excellent seminar on Bulgaria and the EU at the European Parliakent office in London. But the problem is that at such events, one is usually preaching to or discussing with the converted. There needs to be a massive effort at putting Europe across to the general public in an accessible, informative and attractive way. This won’t come from a Gordon Brown government, and certainly not from the Conservatives, so a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Liberal Democrats.


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