Denis MacShane: We need to start talking to Europeans

Agreeing with each other about CAP isn't enough. We have to make our case in Europe

Share

Quelle surprise! The French want our money back and we want their cows to stand on their own four udders instead of licking up lashings of CAP lolly from the poor old British taxpayer. Foghorns boom across the Channel and handbags at dawn loom.

Quelle surprise! The French want our money back and we want their cows to stand on their own four udders instead of licking up lashings of CAP lolly from the poor old British taxpayer. Foghorns boom across the Channel and handbags at dawn loom.

Yet absolutely nothing new is being said. The speeches denouncing the CAP are as predictable today as they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Tories and Trots, Oxfam and the CBI, Labour and Liberal-Democrats can all purr in contented agreement that on the CAP pro-Europeans and anti-EU zealots are in unison.

The CAP is outrageously protectionist, although not as hostile to the Third World as the protectionist agro-policies of the United States or Japan. But the CAP should go. Yet this cause is not advanced by everyone in London agreeing with everyone else in London. Europe is a political process, and to change EU policy it is necessary to think and engage politically. This is an art that Britain has not yet learnt.

Three developments could alter this. The first is to accept that, in EU affairs, diplomacy is not enough. The UK has the most admired and professional diplomats working on EU affairs. In the corridors and meeting rooms of Brussels, they find words to build a bridge of sighs between apparently impossible positions over which ministers can walk serenely.

But decisions in Europe are shaped in Europe's capitals and by national political classes. Here Whitehall, with its inbuilt nervousness of anything that smacks of political engagement, fails to promote the policy interests of Britain, which require intense political networking to make friends and influence the policy-makers of Europe.

As in Britain, it is national politicians and national parties that decide policy in other EU member states. Until we shape a British political class that is at ease in debates in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Warsaw and so on, we will not change policy in the direction we want. Making speeches in English in England and expecting anyone in Athens or Amsterdam to take note is naive. Sir Digby Jones of the CBI has written an important pamphlet for the Foreign Policy Centre urging MPs to become more involved in EU policy-making. His ideas should be taken up.

The second development is to encourage British NGOs, business groups, trade unions and even churches to put their arguments to their sister organisations in the rest of Europe. It is no use Oxfam producing an elegant report calling for CAP reform to help the world's poor if no one in Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece is going to read it. Government could help with setting up a European policy foundation to pay for translation and conferences so that progressive British ideas on EU reform could reach a continental audience. British cardinals might talk to their Bavarian and Italian brothers and ask them to see how CAP reform might help the world's poor in line with church teaching. Few British trade unions or business groups have a fully-staffed, multi-lingual European department, able to network effectively across Europe. An office in Brussels is no substitute for active networking and interventions in national capitals.

The third development is the most tricky. For the first half of my 30-odd years of Labour Party membership, the Labour Party was a bit of a joke in Europe. It took the leadership of Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and the Labour pro-European reformers to turn this around. For the last 15 years, the Conservative Party has wallowed in the dirty bathwater of anti-Europeanism which Labour left behind.

Yet today, 19 of the 25 EU member states are headed by conservative parties. None of them has any relationship with today's Tories who are seen everywhere in the EU as irredeemably Eurosceptic. Moreover, 90 per cent of British political energy on EU questions is devoted to out internal feuds mediated by a partisan anti-European press.

Britain will not be able to lead the campaign for European reform until the main opposition party becomes coherent on Europe, and the isolationism of the anti-European press is faced down, in much the same way that Baldwin crushed the newspaper bosses who were trying to run British policy in the 1930s.

The latter may be too much to hope for, but nothing stops Whitehall, Parliament and big players like the CBI and the TUC, as well as our great campaigning outfits like Oxfam and the churches, from making Britain's case for a new EU. Agreeing with each other that CAP should go is not enough. We have to make our case across the Channel.

The writer is Labour MP for Rotherham and was Minister for Europe 2002-5

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager-Alcohol-OTE £90,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum + £50,000 OTE + Car, Mobile, Benefits: h2 Recruit Lt...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£23200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Austen Lloyd: Company Secretary

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: EAST ANGLIA - SENIOR SOLICITOR LEVEL ROLE** -...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Consultant - Helpdesk

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continuing expansion, a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rents in five regions of England and Wales are higher than 12 months ago  

Today was a bad day for renters, landlords, and democracy

Hannah Williams
Christian Bale stars as Moses in Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings  

Ridley Scott, it’s not about casting 'Mohammad so-and-so', it’s about realising you have a duty to make stars of non-white actors

Alice Jones
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game