In vs Out: How did the second EU membership debate play out?
Last week most of us would have seen the lively second round of the TV broadcasted European debate. The debate between UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, has raised key issues on British and EU foreign policy. Both leaders outlined the pros and cons of EU membership which has led us to consider Britain’s overall purpose in EU foreign affairs.
In context, it is striking to know that Nick Clegg had faced a crushing polls defeat to Nigel Farage following the second TV debate on Europe. Wednesday nights (02/04/2014) ICM/Guardian poll revealed that 69% awarded a win to UKIP leader Nigel Farage, while a YouGov/The Sun poll saw 68% considering Mr Farage the outright victor. These statistics reflect somewhat the growing political popularity of UKIP, which has been recently gaining extensive media coverage. Additionally, these polls are reflecting that the UKIP Leader is steadily becoming part of the political establishment he desires, which crucially gives us a better indication of how UKIP will perform in the up-coming European elections. Mr Farage outlined an array of ‘populist’ policies concerning the EU, while Mr Clegg accepted that what he said was not popular as the polls clearly indicated overnight. With UKIP’s staunch Eurosceptic stance and Lib Dem’s ‘in Europe, in work’ ethos, the public were treated to counter-acting views that are polls apart in terms of Britain’s future role in the EU.
Political point-scoring aside, the political battle raised important issues concerning Britain’s foreign policy whilst part of the EU. Many would argue that Britain’s approach to the recent Ukraine crisis is simply shaped around the consensus politics of the EU, especially NATO. However with recent European political instability, British foreign policy whilst under the umbrella of the EU, has been questioned by growing parties such as UKIP. Nigel Farage accused EU foreign policy as a ‘danger to peace’, however this view is open to criticism. With regard to the Ukraine crisis, it is difficult to challenge the EU’s diplomatic and peaceful approach to de-escalate the situation, which has been often reiterated by Western leaders. Throughout modern history, the British public have been bombarded by political and media bodies stating that British foreign policy promotes British interests and is centred on peace, political stability, democracy and national security. Generally, the process of ‘Europeanisation’ is a transformation in the way in which foreign policies are constructed within a complex system of collective European policy making. EU member states can upload their national interests to EU level and this forms a process where European interests become national interests. According to UKIP this process has overlooked British interests and worsened its international position.
Continuing his relentless criticism of the EU, Nigel Farage has also warned of an alleged far-right revolution across Europe. Farage cautioned that there had been a “worrying rise in political extremism across the continent”, particularly the Golden Dawn Party in Greece and the French far-right National Party who had enjoyed alleged surging popularity. Farage also argued that if people could not regain control of their own countries diplomatically, then they would do so violently. In reference to the series of violent protests in Madrid and Athens, Farage called on the end to the EU diplomatically otherwise it would end violently with dire implications. Essentially, Farage is scaremongering by making wild accusations that EU foreign policy has led to a series of crises and the subsequent growth of extremism. These views clearly reflect the core UKIP beliefs and some might find these comments hard to accept. This scapegoated approach employed by UKIP reflects the comforting rose-tinted view that if Britain’s membership of the EU is proscribed, then all political, social and economic issues would be resolved.
Clegg responded by acknowledging that there were undeniable difficulties in the Eurozone which the majority of us can accept. Clegg to an extent, correctly questioned Farage’s predictions of a violent conclusion to the EU. The clear ideological differences had expectedly caused the two leaders to clash, and Clegg seized the opportunity to condemn Farage’s support and admiration for Vladimir Putin. In terms of British foreign policy in Europe, Clegg consistently reiterated that for Britain to work the EU has to work – and this shows the huge differences in priorities from the two leaders. Despite Clegg taking a severe blow in the polls, he continues to justify Britain’s role in EU and subsequent foreign policy. Clegg quoted that he ‘understood the myth making around the EU over the last 20 years and that it is quite a challenge to contest these myths and settled perceptions’. However, Clegg’s pro-EU mission was almost a complete failure to those who voted in the polls.
The debate on Europe represented that both leaders understood that British foreign policy within the EU is a contentious issue amongst British politics. Clearly UKIP are exploiting these ‘populist’ views which shows to an extent the disapproval on Britain’s role in the EU. Many feel the need for Britain to retain sole control over its institutions with its foreign policy better serving the nation rather than the needs of other European nations. On the one hand we can see that UKIP overwhelmingly want Britain out of Europe and have greater impetus of its own foreign policy, rather than that of EU consensus politics. On the other, the Lib Dems have contested that Britain should remain in the EU as its foreign policy clout relies on the collaborative effort of EU members to preserve security and economic progression. So far we as the public have been presented with contrasting ideologies in terms of Britain’s role in Europe; it must be considered in terms of foreign policy that Britain no longer has the previous capability to hold substantial influence of European foreign affairs. Arguably for this reason alone Britain needs to stay in the EU to be able to throw its weight around which gives us a misleading sense of superiority.
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