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Jesse Norman visits EUtopia (and doesn't like what he finds)

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By Paul Goodman

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I've just returned from an intellectual romp of an evening with Jesse Norman who, courtesy of Localis, gave a lecture entitled t"he Road to EUtopia:  Britain and the EU after the Bloomberg Speech".  The spine of his talk was set out in this morning's Daily Telegraph, but its detail dismissed the EU with a kind of courtly scorn.  "The EU has developed in a way that lacks legitimacy in at least ten different senses," he told his audience, before berating the Union as "an elite project, with a minimum of democratic involvement"; labelling the European Parliament as "the EU’s representative to the voters, not the other way round, as yesterday’s events showed"; describing the court as " increasingly part of the executive, contrary to a proper separation of powers", and pointing out that "the EU’s language and communications are largely unintelligible to normal citizens". Welcome to Norman's EUtopia.

Ideas matter to the MP for Hereford, who sees legitimacy as crucial: it is, he said quoting Burke (about whom he is writing a book) a “moral essence, which derives from the shared values, institutions and experience of a group of people drawn together in a social order".  And economics as well as politics matter too.  There are, he said, four possible outcomes to the Eurozone crisis: southern deflation, northern inflation, continued bailout of the deficit countries by the surplus countries, and realignment or exit. Growth is negative, at -0.6% in the last quarter.
Unemployment has hit a high of 11%. However, "in part as a result of this crisis of legitimacy, the EU states are just beginning to have a real discussion about what the EU is for, and the benefits of EU membership".

He believes it is possible that Britain's voice, led by David Cameron, may shape this discussion, and therefore the Government must "make the case again for a Europe of nation states, for flexibility and greater localism and democracy...We have a moral obligation, a huge practical interest, and an opportunity before us".  And although "there needs to be a clear possibility of UK exit" in any renegotiation after 2015, because any policy must have some potential bite to be effective", he believes that we should make our case "in open, spacious and inclusive terms, drawing on the history and philosophy with which Britain has contributed so much to Europe, over so many centuries".  Chairing the event, I was extremely sceptical of whether the legitimacy whose absence Norman described so eloquently is somehow about to be acquired.

I asked him the "Gove question" - how he would vote in an In/Out referendum now. (I would vote to leave.)  He was unwilling to commit himself given the absence of such a vote, and in his willingness to see what comes out any negotiation - assuming there is one in the first place, which is doubtful, given the likely 2015 election result - I think he shares the view of a significant proportion of Conservative MPs.  I give Norman the last word - his gentle ribbing of the Jean Monnet programme, which “stimulates teaching, research and reflection on European integration in higher education institutions worldwide… These projects are present in 72 countries across the five continents and include 162 Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence, 875 Jean Monnet Chairs and 1,001 Jean Monnet Modules. These projects bring together 1,500 professors, and reach some 500,000 students every year."


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