Why Europe is important for the UK: an informal discussion with Laura Sandys and Peter Wilding
On 8 April 2015, The Ambassador of the Netherlands kindly hosted a stimulating evening of discussion on EU membership with Laura Sandys, the Chairperson of the European Movement and Peter Wilding, Director of British Influence. Following her introduction on how she had come to the role of championing Europe, Laura discussed the challenges she has encountered in trying to create an open and fair debate about membership of the EU during the many years that politicians used the EU as an excuse for any bad laws adopted or deals made.
During the discussion it was clear that the debate should not be blind and that it should be accepted that the EU is not perfect and does need improvement and reform which was one area supported by the UK, the Netherlands and Germany. Campaigning for the EU should need to focus on explaining the impact of an exit from the EU in simple terms. One example given was a fisherman who had not considered that if the UK was to be outside the EU, he would no longer be able to easily sell his fish in French ports as he did at the moment. The referendum over Europe would definitely occur in the next Parliament if there was a Conservative or minority Conservative government while even if there was a Labour or Liberal Democrat Government, there was likely to be a referendum at some stage.
It was suggested that if a referendum does occur it is most likely to be in 2016 and that although, at the moment, 60% were currently in favour and 70-72% would be in favour if a treaty adjustment was made, this majority would likely shrink as the referendum nears. The politicians also needed to start influencing people and not to stand back from the fray.
The discussion was then opened up to the floor with some very good points made by NBCC members in attendance. One member pointed out that messenger as well as the message is important. Another member felt that the macro-economic argument had not been made. There was debate over whether this was important to the general population or simply a certain segment as the Scottish Referendum had shown that a lot of people vote on the basis of their gut feelings. There was also debate that the older part of the population tends to be anti EU while the younger ones are more pro. This brought the debate back to the question of the messenger and the fact that the UK media tends to be negative about the EU – an easy target. Therefore the message would be adapted to the audience but also a variety of messengers from comedians to celebrities. NBCC members could provide stories that could be used in the campaign and to communicate to their employees about the advantages of the EU.
The evening concluded with the Ambassador thanking Laura Sandys and Peter Wilding and giving them each a porcelain model of a Dutch house with a candle in it to symbolising the desire to keep the flame of the EU burning in the UK!