This week I received an e-newsletter from one of my supposedly pro-European MEPs for London. It started off with a rant about MEPs having to travel to Strasbourg followed by an attack on the EU budget proposals as being "out of touch with current economic circumstances".
Now, both criticisms are perfectly valid and deserve to be aired, but when they appear in paragraphs one and two, while a brief mention of the Economist magazine's torpedoing of the case for Britain leaving the EU is relegated to paragraph three, I am left wondering if I have not just read a eurosceptic pamphlet with a fleeting pro-European reference added simply to present the illusion of editorial balance.
Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of a wider reluctance among pro-Europeans to 'out' themselves to their fellow Brits. Instead, they call themselves 'realists' or 'moderates' and refuse to characterise their support for the European project as anything more than detached national self-interest. They certainly dare not talk of a more deeply integrated Europe in the future. Rather, they portray the EU as a necessary evil that we tolerate because of it's importance to British business.
How did this happen? When did it become such a shameful thing to be pro-European and proud in this country? Why do politicians who sing the praises of Britain's membership of the EU in private, retreat in to the shadows in public? Why do the most vocal defenders of Europe's greatest ever achievement warn only of the dangers of withdrawal rather than share their vision of a united and prosperous union with Britain at its heart?
Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, suggested in his Blenheim Palace speech in September that "Britain today is living with false consciousness". Our interests lie in Europe, but we are more euroscpetic than ever. Interestingly, a brief review of the polling data suggests that suggests such hostility is far from endemic and that British public opinion is tied more to the performance of the UK economy than anything else. So, for example, when the Conservative party was tearing itself apart over Europe at the end of the boom period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while European integration progressed at an unprecedented pace with the passage of the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, support in Britain for continued membership of the EU was at a record high.
Tony Blair, on the other hand, asserted last month during an address to Business for New Europe at Chatham House, that the European Union needed to redefine its purpose in the 21st Century, arguing that "the foundation of the pro Europe case was partly the promise of ever upward prosperity. At present that promise is severely in question."
However, he continued, the case for our continued commitment to European unity was greater than ever, proclaiming that "in this new world, to leverage power, you need the heft of the EU. This is true in economics, in trade, in defence, foreign policy and global challenges such as climate change. It gives us a weight collectively that on our own we lack."
The next European elections take place in 2014. The last elections in 2009 saw the most openly pro-European party, the Liberal Democrats, stoop to urging their constituents to vote for them for no other reason than to stop the British National Party. When this is all the country's leading Europhiles have to say about one of the key pillars of the British constitution, then I am not surprised that so many people have flocked to the UK Independence Party.
Similarly, I am tired of hearing pro-Europeans bemoan their rise as if they have somehow broken the rules of modern politics. My advice: if you find yourself blaming a rival political party for all your problems, then the problem is you. I don't agree with UKIP and think (like any political party) they have some truly unsavoury members within their ranks, but I don't think singling them out for criticism is going to convince anyone to agree with me. I need to give them a reason to be pro-European, not just a reason to oppose eurosceptics.
Ultimately, UKIP's record in office will be their undoing with independent watchdog, Votewatch Europe, ranking them as delivering the worst value for money of all the British parties in the European Parliament. in the three years since 2009, their 13 MEPs have pocketed €15.6m of taxpayers' money in salary, staffing and office costs, yet 12 of them have tabled no reports whatsoever, while the average UKIP MEP - who earns a basic salary of £80,000 p/a - has allegedly missed a third of all votes in Parliament, their leader Nigel Farage being one of the worst offenders. Sunlight is a far better disinfectant than negative campaigning.
I hereby lay down a challenge for any candidate and any party that calls themselves pro-European. Don't tell me who not to vote for. Don't beg me to endorse the status quo of bank bailouts, economic stagnation, and political sclerosis. Don't pressure me with apocalyptic prophecies of Mayan proportions.
Tell me what Europe should look like in 20 years and tell me how we get there. Inspire me with a vision of a truly united continent that will confine centuries of war to the history books forever. Lead me towards a Europe that has the power to protect liberal democracy from the rising tide of authoritarianism in the East, and the solidarity to secure an equal partnership with our allies in the West.
I have an ever-lasting faith in the British people that a combination of purposeful pragmatism and impassioned idealism will ultimately prevail over isolationism and xenophobia. So, stand tall fellow europhiles and let me hear you say: 'I am pro-European and proud!'
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