The Liberal Democrat Conference on the Future of Europe
By David Chalmers
The Liberal Democrat Conference on the Future of Europe
I hope you managed to have a break of some kind this summer and are now, as we head into the autumn, refreshed and ready for our conference and debating season. For those of us for whom Europe is still the most defining issue of our time - and I suspect that as a member of the Lib Dem European Group (LDEG) that includes yourself - the next couple of months are going to be very exciting. You are being offered the opportunity to have your say.
As you may already be aware, in June the European Union, delayed a year by Covid, launched its "Conference on the Future of Europe", whose purpose is to generate ideas and set out a vision for how the EU should develop and improve in the future.
The Conference, which would probably be better described as a consultation, is the widest process of engagement with its citizens that Europe has ever organised outside of elections. Citizens from across Europe, including those from non member states and that includes us in the UK, are being encouraged to get involved through consultation events and panels, and directly by submitting ideas through a digital platform www.futureu.Europa.eu, which acts as the hub of the Conference
The evidence gathered will be submitted to a Conference Plenary. The Plenary, drawn from European-level, national and regional governments and parliaments and civil society representatives, will consider all this evidence received from citizens, to identify opportunities for future policy or institutional reform. Guy Verhofstadt - a good friend of the Lib Dems - is the Co-Chair of the Conference and the delegation from the European Parliament, which includes 15 Renew MEPs.
The topics for consideration are categorised under the following headings:
Climate Change and the environment
Stronger Economy, social justice and jobs
EU in the world
Values and rights, rule of law, security
Education, culture, youth and sport
By Spring 2022, the Conference is expected to reach its conclusions and put forward ideas to the Commission to provide guidance on the future of Europe.
I can already hear some of your responses - that the EU must be fed up with the UK by now and will not want to listen to the views originating from the country has just left the Union. However, I can assure that is not the case. Over the next few months you are going to be able to hear from numerous European politicians from a range of countries, who will explain to you exactly why it is so important for us in the UK to engage in this debate on the future of the EU. For now we might be outside the EU, but surely all of us in this party hope one day for us to be members again, and the way the EU develops will have a direct bearing on how we go about making that goal a reality. The future shape of the EU and its priorities will also have an immediate impact on its relationship with the UK and other non member European countries.
Already there have been over 25,000 individual submissions to the digital platform - the country with the highest number of contributions being Germany and the country with the most per head of population being Malta. The two most important issues identified so far are the Climate Emergency and Democracy.
Whilst the above list of topics originated from the EU, there is nothing to stop us widening our discussion to include :
- The policy focus of the EU in coming years
- How the institutions should be reformed
- How the EU should work with neighbouring countries including the UK
- the boundaries of political authority between the EU and its member states
- lessons from our Brexit experience about how the EU is perceived
- improving the options for countries who wish to join/re-join the EU
Given the UK's current relationship with the EU, we may want to comment on how open the EU is to enabling neighbouring countries to participate in its policies and programmes. The EU already allows third countries to participate in the single market (EA countries like Norway), Schengen, Erasmus, Research programmes, police cooperation, and so on.
Lib Dem members are going to be able to engage in this important discussion through a series of online events, that will start with the LDEG Fringe Debate at the Party Conference on 18 September, followed by online webinars for each region and nation throughout October and culminating in a day long " Lib Dem Conference on the Future of Europe" on 30 October.
At the same time as stimulating thoughts on the future vision of the EU, this programme of events will engage with the internal consultation with party members, which is being led by Federal Policy Committee(FPC). The Europe motions passed at the Lib Dem Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021 Party Conferences instructed FPC to consult widely in the party to ascertain how best to strengthen the UK's ties with the EU in the short term, whilst setting out roadmaps to rejoin EU agencies, such as the Customs Union and Single Market, with a view to membership of the EU in the future. This consultation will generate our policy in various areas related to Europe At our upcoming Party Conference we shall be debating policies to strengthen cultural and trade links with the EU and an emergency motion on supply chains, if that is selected in the ballot. At the next Spring Conference is envisaged that there will be a motion on joining the Single Market and Customs Union.
FPC is holding a consultative discussion at the upcoming Party Conference for which a consultation document will be issued shortly.
The Lib Dem Conference on the Future of Europe will be formerly launched at the Autumn Party Conference with the LDEG Fringe debate taking place on 18 September at 13.05. We have as usual a hugely impressive line up of speakers - Layla Moran MP Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Henrik Back Mortensen Vice President of ALDE and Lord Andrew Adonis. Chair of the European Movement - reflecting the significance of this consultation to our party, to the EU and the movement to rejoin. So if you have not already done so, register now to attend the Party Conference and if you want to find out more information about this whole process at any time throughout the four days please drop by the LDEG Exhibitor stand.
A series of online events hosted by LDEG will be taking place through October, enabling party members to engage with this debate from the perspective of their nations and regions. We want to hear what is important to you and where you live - how is Brexit impacting on your way of life. For rural areas , farming and fishing issues may be paramount, in others it could be how restrictions on freedom of movement that are are hitting your hospitality and service industries.
The regional events so far confirmed are:
2 October - South East England
9 October - London
12 October - North East England
14 October - East England
16 October - South West England
23 October - Wales
Details of speakers and how to register for the events, which will each likely last up to 3 hours, along with dates for the events for Scotland, the Midlands and North of England, will be announced in the next few days.
The Lib Dem Conference on the Future of Europe will culminate in an all day conference to be held on 30 October - details of which will be announced shortly.
This is undoubtedly an ambitious programme, probably one of the biggest projects that LDEG has ever undertaken to lead, but we felt it necessary that the Lib Dems, as the most pro EU party in the UK, should give our members the opportunity to take part in a project that is happening all across Europe. We are still Europeans ! I can say with complete certainty that none of the other political parties are engaging in this consultation, at anywhere near the level of the Lib Dems. If you believe like myself that the UK should be a member of the EU - then this programme reaffirms the Lib Dems as your party - that Europe and its values remain at its core.
Chair of Liberal Democrat European Group