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Democracy and the EU

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Nick Clegg Delivers Speech on Democracy and the EU

By Joe Ray.

Nick Clegg, former UK Deputy Prime Minister, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Democracy and the EU’ at the Kloosterkerk in The Hague on 19 November. The event was hosted by the Council for Public Administration as part of the organisation’s exploration of the relationship between Europe and its citizens.

Mr Clegg served as Deputy Prime Minister in Britain’s first post-war coalition government from 2010 to 2015, and as Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015. He has been the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Hallam since 2005, and was previously a Member of the European Parliament.

In his speech, Mr Clegg focused on the reasons behind the EU’s current state of crisis, and what can be done to tackle some of the many problems faced by the Union today. Following a brief introduction in fluent Dutch, Mr Clegg began by outlining the perilous situation in which the EU currently finds itself: “For the first time in living memory, it is not inconceivable that the EU may unravel.” He noted that public support for the Union is at an all-time low, and that this apathy is evident right across the continent – Eurobarometer polls show clearly that “Euro scepticism is no longer solely a British phenomenon.”

In Mr Clegg’s view, there are a variety of reasons behind this unprecedented collapse in public support.

First, the global economic crisis has had “a debilitating effect on faith in government – at all levels.”

Second, the ongoing tension in the Eurozone between creditor countries and so-called peripheral countries has failed to subside.

Third, the post-war generation does not feel the same sense of “visceral emotional attachment” to European integration which, in the 1950s and 60s, bound together the founders of the Union to deliver peace and stability for a war-ravaged continent.

Fourth, the migrant crisis has damaged public confidence in the EU’s ability to provide effective political leadership. Finally, there is “an acute sense of vulnerability in the wake of the horrific recent terrorist attacks.”

How, then, might these issues be addressed? Mr Clegg argued that that to recover a sense of “unity, relevance, and purpose,” the EU must resolve the British question; accept the necessity of a “hub and spoke” membership model in which some states are more deeply engaged than others; have an honest debate about the need for fiscal transfers between countries; and pay heed to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s principle of ‘Europe where necessary, national where possible’. We need, said Mr Clegg, a new union of security and liberty – without it, introversion and populism will win the day.

He proposed three fundamental tasks which must be accomplished if such a union is to succeed. First, properly policed and controlled external borders are necessary if internal free movement is to be safeguarded. In his view, the EU’s current border agency – FRONTEX – is under-funded, under-equipped, and simply not designed to withstand the pressures it faces today. Second, greater police and counter-terrorism cooperation is crucial, and intelligence sharing must be increased. Common measures to combat cybercrime, too, are important, and Mr Clegg praised the establishment of the European Cybercrime Centre in The Hague, although he added there is much more to be done. Third, and hardest of all, is the task of bringing stability to the Mediterranean Basin. According to Mr Clegg, this is the single most important project for European leaders – and its success or failure is a matter not of funding, but of political will. Stabilisation of the region may take years, even decades, but is absolutely pivotal to the safety, freedom, and prosperity Europe and its neighbours.

Following his speech, Mr Clegg took a range of questions from the audience, and discussed in greater depth the forthcoming British referendum. The event then concluded with a reception.

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