In fact, the event lasted for two hours with the question being raised only by Baroness Ludford, a long time labourer in the EU vineyard. She seemed a little put out by the title, having been under the impression that she had been asked to participate in a "constructive" discussion about how to improve the European Union and its regulatory powers rather than a "let's get out" one. Why she had not read the invitation or listened to the other speakers remains a mystery.
Let me add that from our point of view the Baroness Ludford is a terrific asset. She speaks for too long, trying to overpower her co-panellists; she does not address the question, preferring to explain how much more wonderful the Lib-Dims are than anybody else; she goes into personal attacks at the drop of a hat; she shows huge contempt for the electorate of any country; and, finally, she indulges in foam-flecked abuse and name-calling as soon as any criticism of any aspect of her beloved project is voiced.
The word "europhobe" appeared in every comment. At one point she predicted that by leaving the EPP, the Conservatives will find themselves in alliance with "europhobes, homophobes and climate-deniers". Climate-deniers? You mean there are people out there who deny there is a climate?
The question of who rules Britain had actually been decided before I got there (being about 15 minutes late but I had to get a cup of coffee to drink on the tube). Yes, as we all knew all along, it is Brussels and not in a particularly democratic or accountable fashion.
The real question was whether this was something to be approved of (Baroness Ludford), deeply disliked (David Heathcoat-Amory MP and Lord Trimble up to a point) or sort of approved of, if serious reforms are introduced (Gisela Stuart MP and Lord Trimble, again up to a point).
Open Europe's position as outlined by Lorraine Mullally, its Director, who chaired the meeting, seems to be somewhere around number 3.
The document that was supposed to be at the heart of the discussion is a recent report produced by Open Europe, "Out of Control - Measuring a decade of EU regulation". (I shall write more of it in another posting because it raises some important issues about the subject and about Open Europe itself.)
It was David Heathcoat-Amory who made the crucial point about the report and the discussion that was supposed to be around it. The only way we can really understand what has been happening in the regulatory field is by understanding that there has been an unspoken and unnoted constitutional revolution in Britain, which has not come about through war or revolutionary settlement but has taken place, nonetheless. (There was a lady in the audience who described herself as a political outsider, though a member of the Labour Party, speaking, rather arrogantly in my opinion, on behalf of the fifty million people out there. She had clearly not been listening to a word Mr Heathcoat-Amory had said though she assured us all that she agreed with him, as, according to her, it was the Lisbon Treaty that was going to make the constitutional change by introducing European legislative supremacy. One can only hope that some of those fifty million she was representing knew better than she did.)
The point, made by Mr Heathcoat-Amory is crucial - without anyone noticing it, our parliamentary system has been destroyed with power handed over to other institutions that neither the parliamentarians nor the people of this country can control, through treaties and ECJ decisions.
As to what the Conservatives are going to do about it, he was a little more vague. One cannot help feeling sorry for Mr Heathcoat-Amory. He would clearly like to do what Lord Pearson of Rannoch always advocates: tear up the Treaty of Rome and start again. His plan for a European agreement would be so loose and so simple that there would not be the slightest difficulty about Turkey joining. But he is held back by the Conservative Party, which may or may not start doing something about the European mess if it is the one to form the government after the next election in 2010 (which seems very likely at the moment).
Mr Heathcoat-Amory is a Conservative through and through, the sort of man we need in the House of Commons. It would be a tragedy for the House, for the Conservative Party and for all of us if he felt that he could not carry on because he could not push the leadership into the direction of some action rather than just empty talk.
Gisela Stuart has learnt a great deal in her dealings with the EU and has now come up with three ideas of absolutely essential reform if the EU is to survive and to flourish as a democratic, accountable entity: 1.) the permanent UK Representative should be answerable to the House of Commons; 2.) a new Commission should mean that all previous legislative proposals should die as they do in the Westminster Parliament at the end of a session and, certainly after an election; 3.) all new EU legislation should be forced to explain in a preamble why this particular piece of business cannot be done at a national level.
Sounds excellent but none of it is ever going to be enacted, not least because treaty changes are needed for at least one, possibly two of those suggestions. In any case, they are contrary to the ethos of the European Union and its legislation, which can be summed up as governance through management not through politics.
Ms Stuart also managed to criticize Baroness Ludford in a very charming fashion by responding to those rantings about "europhobes" with a very good point. One can criticize the British government without being told that one is anti-democratic; why cannot one criticize aspects of the European Union, such as the
Ms Stuart made another good point in response to somebody in the audience who will be standing as a Libertas candidate in the European elections. Pan-European polity (I think he meant political parties) is all very well, but the logic of that would mean a completely federal system (I think she meant a single state and not necessarily a federal one) with a single tax system and a single economic policy. How else could it work? A very good point that Libertas has not so far addressed.
Lord Trimble made various comments (never let it be said that this blog discriminates in any way). He, too, criticized Baroness Ludford, explaining to her that the attitude she and her party take is not sensible from their point of view as it is likely to drive those who believe in reform into the withdrawalist camp. He added further that he was very unhappy with power leeching away from the elected Parliament to an unelected bureaucratic entity, that the Irish economic situation has been made considerably worse by the country's membership of the euro, and that the future was not "European" but global. There is hope for the man yet.