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EU elections: UK looks on from the “outside”

There is something fundamentally depressing about the forthcoming EU elections

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The first that the UK will not be involved with. Yet in a way we will be involved because the outcome will shape our relations with each other.
The first that the UK will not be involved with. Yet in a way we will be involved because the outcome will shape our relations with each other.

by Lord Richard Balfe*

There is something fundamentally depressing about the forthcoming EU elections. The first that the UK will not be involved with. Yet in a way we will be involved because the outcome will shape our relations with each other.

The EU Commission has recently outlined a youth mobility programme but it has not been agreed by the Member States. The UK Prime minister and the alternate Prime minister Sir Keir Starmer have already rejected the proposal out of hand. This is despite the fact that the strongest support for closer relations with the EU is to be found amongst young people.

One courageous Labour MP Stella Creasey, in an article for Labour List, has said we should grasp the opportunity but overall Labour is as dismal as the Conservatives when it comes to seeking closer relations with the EU. A few days ago the UK Government announced the sixth, yes that is right sixth, postponement of the border checks regime.

So the UK looks on the forthcoming elections from the outside. The EU these days is a long way from the body I joined in 1979. Then we had hopes of the “ever closer union”. The single European Act pioneered by let us remember Margaret Thatcher, Arthur Cockfield and Jacques Delors was seen by the Federalists in the EP as a great step forward. Today, the EU seems to be a squabble shop between the richer and poorer countries. There are unhealthy forces in France and The Netherlands that would abandon the whole project. One can only reflect that but for the single currency there is little holding them inside the EU.

I thought the UK should join the single currency as it would help provide cement to keep us in the European Union. I still think I was right but have very few supporters in modern day Britain.

As we look at the reality of the EU today it seems to me that neither Hungary nor Slovakia wants to play by the rules. Many other EU countries are it seems gaming the system and there are far too many stories of corruption and embezzlement of EU funds.

The UK, when in the EU, were bastions of proper financial accountability. When we left, Germany was forced to play a much more public role whereas before they could exert pressure behind the scenes whilst the UK took the hit by calling out excesses. The reality is that you cannot build a cohesive EU on the basis of cupboard love.

If the EU is to survive the Parliament must play a much stronger role in building a vision of Europe. There is far too much point scoring in the upper reaches of the European parliament.

When citizens of the EU go to vote let them adapt the phrase of John F. Kennedy. “Ask not what the EU can do for you but what can you do to build a stronger EU. Without vision shall the people perish.”

*British politician: a Labour Party Member of the European Parliament from 1979 but joined the Conservative Party in 2002, first elected in 1979 and a member of the UK House of Lords since 2013

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