“I don’t want anything to do with the European Movement. They are federalists!” Those were the words a British friend of a friend in Brussels said to me this week as we were discussing what sort of organisations would be needed in the UK to make sure any eventual in-out of the EU referendum could be won by the pro-EU side.
At one level I quibbled that the European Movement is even in favour of federalism – the f-word is not even mentioned in its Constitution, nor in its Aims & Activities, and as a former President of JEF-Europe, I know what federalism is.
But whether the European Movement is federalist or not is not actually the main issue. The essential point is that any pro-EU campaign in the UK needs to find a place for the European Movement. And a place for Federal Union, for British Influence, for the Labour Movement for Europe, for the Liberal Democrat Europe Group, and a place for whatever other other pro-EU causes of whatever colour might be created. And a place for the CBI, the TUC, the Royal College of Nursing, and the likes of the British Potato Trade Association (I don’t know whether the latter two are pro-EU, but you get the idea). There cannot, and nor should there be, one single pro-EU campaign in the UK. If there were to be just one campaign then the danger is that campaign becomes something akin to Yes to AV – i.e. a stodgy disaster.
But what if anti-EU people raise a problem that the pro-EU campaign is hence inconsistent, or that it contains unlikely bed-fellows? Well, hit back with the counter case. You think Bob Crow and Nigel Farage are anti-EU for the same reasons? Or the people that support the Bruges Group and the RMT Union oppose the EU for the same reasons? That is just as preposterous a suggestion as to assume that all pro-EU people are pro-EU for the same reasons. Look too at the 2008 Irish No to Lisbon – the No side was totally incoherent, but each of its component organisations found resonance with a part of Irish society, and No emerged victorious. The pro-EU side in the UK needs to learn from that.
So why then does the gentleman I was talking to in Brussels feel so damned defensive? It’s time to abandon that defensiveness, and be ready to live with a diverse pro-EU cause.