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ConservativeHome’s Platform: Anthony Browne: Time for European localism.

In this article, Anthony Browne, a former Brussels correspondent for the Times,  argues that there is a contradiction in the Liberal Democrat ideology – between Localism and Pro-Europeanism. It seems that if we support centralising powers at a European level, we are being hypocritical in supporting localism. He argues that the debate should not be about being pro- or anti- Europe, but about “which powers are held at what level”. For example, a British space programme works best at a European level, but he claims that working hours control should be national.

I wholeheartedly agree – as does the EU. While Browne claims that pushing the EU principle of subsidiarity did nothing under Thatcher, I don’t agree. It worked, what ruined things was her inability to compromise, with any other level of governance.

Having a strong national government willing to defend national interests, but work with the EU would be the best option for us – Thatcher was strong, but unwilling to cooperate. Her rhetoric and actions at home poisoned us in Europe and ruined our debating position, as Howe’s famous cricketing metaphor shows…

Anyway, I digress into an anti-Thatcher rant. Frankly, the crux of the matter is that I agree, as does the EU. Subsidiarity is still a valid legal principle, and is used everywhere in the EU. For those who don’t know, subsidiarity means that powers should operate at the lowest level which is effective. I would simply argue that cooperating at the EU level makes most things more effective. Not just our space programme (a great success), but economic policy with our closest and largest trading partners, military policy with the only countries which truly have the same security interests, social policy with similar societies. Those are grand examples, and a far off concept, but cooperating, even just a little, on many, many varied issues, could infinity improve efficiency. We could argue that minimum wage should be different according to region – it should be lower in Scotland, Bulgaria and Poland and higher in London, Sweden and Paris, to reflect differing costs of living. OK, I can be tempted by that. Localism, within a European state. If this is the compromise we need to come to in order to solve the European schism in British society then it’s one I’m perfectly willing to make.

Yes, we should have localism. It’s crucial to any dream for the future. I’d argue regionalism is more important, but the concepts are linked enough. But many people who would side with Browne would rather have things on a national level – based on a nationalist assumption. Is it true that Britain knows best about British doctors? Merely because they are ‘ours’? If that is true, then surely Europe knows best about European doctors? The same logic holds – a doctor in France would surely work similarly to a doctor in Britain, what is most pertinent to their situation is that they are doctors, not their nationality. Of course, there is always deviation, but there is also deviation from city to city and from hospital to hospital. To simply argue “Britain knows best” is nonsensical, and solely appeals to nationalist sentiments. Welsh doctors’ hours should be controlled by the Assembly, or European doctors’ hours should be controlled by the European Parliament… both are similarly logical positions to take. I can only see that the pro-British, as opposed to Welsh or European, arguments are based on nationalism, not any form of actual efficiency factor. I, personally, believe that Europe would be the best platform, with large powers devolved to regions, and if the Eurosceptics were truly willing to believe in European Localism, then they would fight virulently in favour of devolution for Wales, and even independence in Scotland. Surely, that’s all that’s logical? That’s what I’d expect… unless, once again, the arguments are predominantly nationalist…

I would also draw note to something – Browne seems to argue that the predominately-Conservative Eurosceptic faction should… well, fight the pro-Europeans, and go on the offensive. I would think it was decidedly more sensible to actually cooperate, figure out together at which level we wish to place each power, rather than degenerating into divisive nationalist.

By the way, the image is of the constituencies in the European Parliament elections. A mix of regional and national. This is the EU I want. A Europe of regions. A local Europe. No pro-European, not even Federalists, imagine a state where every decision is taken in Brussels. We want one where we cooperate intensely on our own local and regional issues. That is the best position. The is a Europe I want…