Is Britain on its bike?
There’s nothing like jumping in at the deep end. This week saw me head down to Strasbourg for my first outing as the newly elected Chair of the EU Committee of the British Chamber*. A mere two weeks after getting the job, I’m hosting the annual flagship event. The team at the Chamber had done a sterling job of putting together a great programme with some of the foremost members of leading legislative committees. Which meant the emphasis was on me not to make a complete hash of their brilliant preparations. I’ll allow others to judge me. Instead here are some reflections on general themes that came through the discussions, which were held under Chatham House Rule.
Britain in Europe
Unsurprisingly with European Council starting yesterday, vetoes having already been threatened and the general tenor of recent debate in the UK and Brussels, try as you might to stick to the subject matter of the relevant committee all people really wanted to talk about was the UK’s position in Europe. When I asked whether one MEP thought Britain was sleepwalking towards exit, he replied “no, plummeting”. The sentiment that a referendum was coming was I think shared by most. The idea that it should be held shared by many. Which side would win was a subject of more heated debate. It was pointed out that recent polling is on a par with that from the same point before the last referendum on the subject (which saw the UK stay) and both those for and against Britain’s exit felt that the support for exit in recent polls is ‘soft’.
Business in UK
Both those who want Britain to leave and those who want Britain to stay urged business to find its voice and speak up on the issue. We were pointed to the current UK review of competences as one place where more business input would be welcomed. I reflect that on this most personal of issues, sometimes one’s own views color your business’ actions.
Others on UK
Non-UK MEPs pleaded with the UK to stay. We need the EU they said. The EU would be better off with us (noticeably they talked of wanting it to stay in not needing it). They admire all the UK brings (including the hard work of many of its MEPs) and feel anguished that the Brits are in such a sorry state when it comes to their feelings about the EU. One MEP summed it up by describing it as family members, some of whom are cut adrift on a boat while the others are on the shore. All are sad, but there is nothing to do. We are destined by the wind to drift apart. Interestingly there were reflections also on whether the crux of the issue was the future of the EU (more integration), rather than it’s more acceptable present.
Of course there was much discussion about the legislative churn that continues unabated. And of course according to many Britain would still have to comply with should it leave the EU (how’s that for sovereignty?!). From clinical trials, Solvency II and f-gases to the Single Market Act II we touched upon one hell of list of legislative dossiers. As with all such visits, you are well fed with thoughts and with (alsatian) food. You come back more than the worse for wear if a little more enlightened.
*The Chamber is a great place for organisations (both British and increasingly non-British) to build relations, share thoughts and debate the issues of the day. It does not, contrary to other organisations, take policy positions.