Friday, 23 January 2009

It's So Funny, We Don't Talk (Europe) Anymore...

I have a spare hour on a Friday afternoon thanks to a cancelled meeting so I'm thinking about Europe. What's got me thinking about this is or are two things - the prospect of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition after the next election and an interview Nick Clegg gave to the Financial Times earlier in the week which caused a minor ripple in the Tory-dominated political blogsphere.

I've been pretty supportive of Nick Clegg during his first year of leadership and there have been some good signs but, for me, Clegg's Euro-enthausiasm remains a problem. I think the decision NOT to support a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was a major blunder and while some have used sterling's slide to near-parity as an argument for joining the Eurozone, any sober analysis of the Eurozone's immediate economic prospects would rule that out.

My position on joining the Euro is quite simple - if and when it is irrefutably in the best economic interests of the country to become part of the Eurozone, we should join. Saying "Never" to the Euro is ridiculous. That said, I don't see the optimum circumstances occurring anytime soon but that's not to say they couldn't ever happen.

As regards the EU itself, while there are a minority of Tories who basically take variations on the UKIP line regarding a negotiated withdrawal, a more pragmatic analysis suggests we are better off inside the club than outside. That's NOT to say the EU doesn't need urgent institutional reform and a root-and-branch overhaul of how it operates.

The repatriation of powers suggested by many in the Conservative Party is to be supported but it cuts both ways - simply taking powers from Brussels to Westminster is only part of the story and has to be tied up with the repatriation of powers from Westminster to locally-elected authorities.

It may be that on this issue I'm possibly closer to some Tories than I am to some Liberal Democrats but it suggests to me that despite some of the unhelpful rhetoric from the Europhiles and Europhobes, there isn't a lot of difference between the two parties.

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