An expert panel of Durham academics and politicians spoke at the Union Society Debating Chamber recently to discuss the hot topic of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
Organised by the Durham University Conservative Association (DUCA), the event saw a frank and thorough discussion of topical European issues followed by questions from students.
Timothy Kirkhope, the Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, started the discussion with a criticism of the ‘europhile/eurosceptic’ dichotomy that often characterises debates about Europe. He called for a reasoned reflection on Britain’s position within the EU that involved a balanced consideration of the benefits and drawbacks of the relationship.
Dr Christian Schweiger, a lecturer in Durham’s School of Government and International Affairs, said that the European dream of peace on the continent and a closer union between European people was still alive but could only survive if national populations had greater knowledge of Europe and its institutions.
These sentiments were echoed by Dr Andreas Pantazatos, a lecturer in Durham’s Philosophy Department, who argued that more work needed to be done to explain the rights, obligations and benefits of being citizens in the EU.
Dr Pantazatos also said that free movement between European countries was not sufficient to achieve cultural integration and that support for language-learning programmes like ERASMUS was an integral part of building a stronger Europe.
Charles Heslop, the Vice President of the National Conservative Convention, called passionately for the European Parliament to be seen as equally important as the Parliament in Westminster, arguing that the institution deserved more respect and that it was disappointing to see low turnout in MEP elections.
Mr Kirkhope agreed, saying that the increased power of the EU Parliament since the Lisbon Treaty meant that it was regularly creating legislation that affected all British people and therefore they ought to take more of an interest in its work.
He explained this lack of interest in Britain towards EU politics and the poor perception of EU institutions by pointing to a British media that is ‘massively simple, trite and trouble-making’. Mr Kirkhope said that it was difficult to get any positive press coverage of his work in the EU Parliament and this reflected general attitudes towards the EU in the British media.
In the closing remarks Mr Heslop sounded a warning note about the EU, saying that European leaders needed to better respect individual national cultures and that certain forms of integration, such as the adoption of the euro, had been a step too far. Mr Kirkhope, however, said that any further ceding of powers from national parliaments up to Europe was unlikely.
Speaking after the event, Jonathan Duell, Political Officer of DUCA, said, ‘The DUCA team has been delighted by the engaging response towards our first ever four-guest panel discussion, with many audience members remarking that an elected representative, a veteran activist and two Durham academics made for a unique and refreshing combination in the debate.’
‘As expected, the subject of Britain’s role in the European Union was contentious, but we were pleasantly surprised by the commitment of all to engaging in an open, honest and informed national debate in advance of a possible referendum.’
Published in Palatinate Online, Durham’s Official Student Newspaper, 2nd March 2013 – http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=36940