The Lib Dems have a more unified approach to the EU than either the Conservatives or Labour. Up until relatively recently, there remained a small Eurosceptic rump. However, its weakness was underlined when Nick Harvey played his scepticism down during the leadership campaign of 1999. Similarly, the staff of Liz Lynn are today shocked when told over in Brussels bars that their MEP boss has a Eurocritical history. Outright support of national sovereignty today is reserved for the separate and distinct Liberal Party.
Hence Lib Dem politicians can today be divided into two camps. The first is what one might call the thematic integrationists, who support the European process piecemeal. In many ways, they are ideal EPP members. However, the Lib Dems place more faith in debate and referenda.
The second group are the arch-Europhiles like Andrew Duff, who have a clear end game vision, and whom privately even some Lib Dems rebuff as being too extreme on Europe.
A quick dip into some of the amendments put into the drafting Convention on the EU Constitution reveals a party which backs the Social Chapter, a federal constitution, the primacy of EU law, common defence, coordinated employment policies, yoked economic policies, regionalism rather than localism, stronger MEPs rather than MPs, and a host of concepts in keeping with continental integrationism.
In short, basic LD ideology supports the building of the European Union, provided that it fulfils certain norms:
- Individual and personal human rights must be respected, and
where necessary codified and extended (even where such may override
- The underlying loyalty throughout must be to Subsidiarity, so that
decisions are taken by the regions wherever appropriate. The nation
state is not the building block of choice.
- Theocracy can override economics, to a point. The Lib Dems support
the Single Currency, maintaining their debating points from a decade
ago, but have tempered the message to wait for the ‘right time’ –
meaning a margin of victory.
- Local politicians can be allowed leeway on particular European
issues. The Lib Dem member for Shetland, Alistair Carmichael, for
instance, has something of a reputation for being outspoken on the CFP.
- Ambiguity on the European Union can be maintained, particularly
during elections. In 2001, this writer was shown campaign material his
Lib Dem opponent was handing out, ambiguously suggesting Lib Dem policy
was to keep the Pound.
- Repatriation of any policy means the weakening of the EU, and therefore is anathema.
- Ever-closer Union may be unacceptable as a goal because it suggests
a lack of democracy. But paradoxically, a constant agenda of separate
acts of integration is acceptable.
- A United States of Europe is a good thing, but only if the final
aspects of sovereignty are taken from nation states and handed over to
Brussels institutions to protect individual rights. The sooner, the
This might have suited the Conservative Party of Ted Heath, but the world, and Europe with it, has moved on.