It was once said that Sir Thomas More's silence echoed across Europe. Ed Miliband's words on Europe, on the other hand, have fallen down into bottomless pit. He is advocating the worst of all worlds. Labour will not give the UK a referendum on whether we continue our current membership of the EU. Labour would only offer a referendum if a new treaty proposed to transfer significant powers away from Britain to Europe, but that would not be a referendum on the treaty itself, rather on our membership of the EU.
In short, Ed Miliband is telling the British people that they are stuck with the EU as it is, and in the future they wouldn't be given the option of rejecting further reforms they don't like, only leaving the EU altogether.
His defeatist attitude to Europe is not only a betrayal of British interests, but also of the growing pressure for reform of the EU itself. Angela Merkel's recent address to both Houses of Parliament signalled the growing desire in Germany to see reform of the EU and its institutions; in tune with the pressure that David Cameron is creating for change. In short, the EU has to find a reverse gear. It has to accept that there are rules and regulations that are holding Europe back; making it less competitive and imposing needless restrictions on businesses and individuals. As in any other organisation, rules that don't work should be removed. But this is something that the European Union has found almost impossible to achieve. We also need to stem the continuous tide of regulations pouring out of the European Commission, and make the EU accept budget restraint, just as every government in Europe has to do. David Cameron's success in pushing for the first ever cut in the EU budget shows that this is possible.
Europe also needs to accept that a viable Union should not require all member states to be part of every agreement. There can of course be core principles and elements of membership, not least of the single market. Britain and other states have shown that remaining outside of the eurozone is a viable and often desirable for some EU members. Whilst the eurozone needs the right governance structures to support its economies, those outside of the euro need to know that their rights and access to the single market will also be protected. There should be similar safeguards and flexibilities with other areas of EU membership as well.
No change is no option. Europe has to change, and between now and 2017 Britain has the chance to make the case for necessary reform. We will then have the opportunity to decide whether or not EU membership is in our best long term interests. For me, our continued membership has to be based on a reformed Europe, not the status quo.
But where is Ed Miliband in this crucial debate for Britain and Europe. He is nowhere.
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