The Fabians are running an event tomorrow entitled “Britain and Europe: In, out or somewhere in between?” I can’t attend the event as I’m in Austria at the moment, so I’ll raise a few points here instead.

Frankly, the very title of the event makes me annoyed.

Why can we simply never move on beyond discussions about in or out of the European Union in the UK? OK, if you’re UKIP or Bill Cash then maybe you have the incentive to talk about this, but where is the incentive for an organisation linked to the Labour Party to pose a question this way?

For Labour, Britain’s membership of the EU has been a reasonably undisputed fact for a long time, and it’s about time the discourse caught up.

The old pro-European vs. eurosceptic frame is broken (as I’ve previously argued) and while debate is stuck on that issue there’s no way to discuss what those on the left – in the UK and elsewhere – should really be talking about, namely what a more social EU would actually look like, and how the UK can play a role in that.

A related discussion would be about how parties on the left – in the PES at EU level, and nationally – find a compelling message to get themselves back into power.

The two people I know in the UK in Labour circles who could give some compelling answers to these questions – Henning Meyer (of Social Europe Journal) and David Schoibl (chair of Labour Movement for Europe) are not even on the programme…

It is also vital that the debate does not start at the event about whether Labour should advocate a referendum on in-or-out of the EU, a matter I raised earlier this week. Yet with Wayne David on one of the panels, and Sunder Katwala chairing a panel, I fear this issue will raise its ugly head.

On balance I’m happy that the event tomorrow is taking place, and that the Fabians are starting to talk about EU matters. But it’s going to be a long and slow process before that debate in any way becomes meaningful.


  1. Just a late night thought

    In the event, a session is included on – “The skeptics vision: What happens if we pull out?”.

    So where is the opposing session to that on the programme? Isn’t the “federalist vision” or more integrationist vision lacking from the debate?

    If the programme is presented as ‘pro or contra’ and we’ll be getting the extreme contra represented by UKIP, then it would only be fair and good sportsmanship to show the other extreme as well?

    But by presenting a debate which presents the centre and only the one extreme as being balanced, then you hinder a truly balanced debate.

    It’s a bit like having a debate between only a Trotskyte and a Stalinist or only a neo-con and a conservative and calling it balanced. Yes balanced within a self contained environment.

    The debate on EU in EU institutional circles in Brussels is accused of living in a bubble without connection to the real world. But so do certain national EU debates.

  2. Martin Keegan

    You’re saying those on the left should really be talking about “what a more social EU would actually look like”.

    The legitimacy problem can’t be just brushed aside. For the left to talk about achieving a “social EU” is for the left to talk about *illegitimately* achieving its objectives.

    This is basic democratic / constitutionalist potty training. Movements should *not* go about asking “hmm, how can we get what we want without doing it democratically?”

    *Any* discussion of what the EU should do is a discussion of how to avoid proper democratic scrutiny of a policy, and so there should be no such discussion until the legitimacy issues are resolved.

  3. Agree that legitimacy issues need to be dealt with – but as I’ve argued (and you’ve disagreed) I don’t think a referendum accomplishes this.

    I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

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