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

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor