Open Europe was in attendance at a debate on Monday night entitled "An EU 'Fit for Purpose' in the Global age", where the speakers, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, offered their thoughts on policy options for the EU post-2009.
Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Europe Minister, said that "When Eurobarometer asks people in Europe, do you support the idea of Europe, the highest response, yes responses, is in the Netherlands, but this is on an abstract level. As soon as you go to the nitty gritty, you will see that the Dutch have become quite eurosceptical in general about the instruments of Europe, about the workings of Europe, ecetera. So what happens is that when talking about Europe, you immediately talk about the institutions, travelling from Brussels to Strasbourg and all sorts of other nonsense that should have been taken off the table a long time ago."
Ending the travelling circus certainly makes sense, but it would be interesting to know what Mr. Timmersmans is referring to when he says "other nonsense"...
Sir Stephen Wall, Britain's former Permanent Representative to the EU, went on to talk about financial regulation and the report by former Bank of France Governor Jacques de Larosiere. Interestingly he said that, "If you look at the de Larosiere report on regulation, it's a rather timid document, but the Commission document on the back of it is already proposing to go further."
He went on to talk about the financial crisis and the eurozone, saying, "It seems to me that for political and economic reasons, the eurozone cannot and will not be allowed to fail. If for the first time, the eurozone countries are compelled actually to make very large financial transfers from richer to poorer...then that will have big political consequences I believe in terms of political management of the eurozone."
The Foreign Secretary also welcomed the de Larosiere report, and described it as an "important contribution to the debate and a useful basis for further discussions on improving supervision and regulation in Europe. He [de Larosiere] has proposed a new independent European early warning body...a single body to become the source of technical financial rules with a clear mandate to iron out national divergences and closer integration and consolidation of EU financial structures."
He also warned that the European project was under "massive scrutiny as a result of the economic crisis. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Europe's core values and institutions are therefore going to be tested by this economic crisis in ways that perhaps we haven't fully come to appreciate."
"Reform of the European Union, which involves by definition critique of the European Union, should be what pro-Europeans do."
"I think that the economic crisis is a test, not just a policy test, but it is a political test for eurosceptics and for europhiles in Britain. To eurosceptics, to people who fear 'too much Europe', who argue that the European Union should be a single market or a trading bloc and no more, I would have a simple message. Instead of beating up on the straw man of the federal state, help Europe defend itself against the real threat that it faces, for example the fragmentation of the single market which would have a devestating effect on the British economy."
"...You cannot be in favour of the single market but against the very institutions that preserve the rules of the game on which we all depend. That is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the eurosceptic position that says it wants the benefits of the single market but thinks that the European Commission is too powerful. Over the next year, we need to defend the political institutions in Europe if we want to maintain our economic freedom."
Actually, this seems to be a fundamental contradiction at the heart of David Miliband's argument. To be "pro-Europe", you should be in favour of reform of the EU and, by definition, all for critique of the EU. But in no way should this desire for reform extend to critiquing the Commission or the "political institutions of Europe".