Reform in Europe, not exit from Europe – that is Labour’s message

February 22, 2013 1:34 pm

Returning from my visit with Ed Miliband to meet centre-left leaders in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands this week, I’m struck by how strong Labour’s bonds are with important European allies.

Our meetings with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Dutch Labour Leader Diederik Samson, and Sweden’s Social Democrat Leader Stefan Löfven all underlined the importance for Labour of maintaining close and warm relations with our sister parties across Europe.

There is real and significant goodwill from the leaders we met towards both Labour and towards the UK.

And whilst they might not be as novel to some observers as the growing economies of China, Brazil, or India, there are actually important insights Britain can learn from our northern European allies.

We face common challenges as centre-left parties in a continent that feels uncertain and unclear about its future, in a way not seen for a generation.

The task of defining a positive and electorally successful response to Europe’s crisis is work underway in Denmark and the Netherlands where our sister parties are actually in power, albeit in coalition.

Across Europe, the Right’s response to the financial crisis and towards the EU itself has been to argue for collective austerity. This hasn’t simply had fiscal consequences it has also affected the confidence of businesses, consumers, and investors in the economies of Europe at a time when confidence is a scarce commodity.

The Left’s response needn’t be, indeed won’t be identical across borders, but there are insights we can share which meet the challenge of defining a common approach to Europe’s economic woes.

In Denmark we heard about PM Thorning-Schmidt’s desire to take tough decisions now in order to keep Denmark’s economy and social model safe for future generations. Laying the ground work for further progress when the economic gloom has passed.

Perhaps the subject of the final meeting of our trip at the Dutch think-tank the Wiardi Beckman Foundation best summed-up a challenge we all share in common: ‘Social Democracy when there’s less money around’.

But it’s not just attitudes and approaches that can be shared. There are also areas which provide a source of inspiration on policy as well as politics.

From childcare support in Denmark, to innovation hubs in Sweden, we can share policies that have worked. If progressive reforms can improve equity, efficiency or levels of service in Denmark and Sweden, why not consider them in Britain?

Of course the optimism of our conversations was also accompanied by concern and uncertainty from our European friends, caused by the Prime Minister’s speech on an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

The changes and reforms the EU must make are no less pressing today than they were when David Cameron made his speech last month and announced his plans to hold a referendum in 2017.

However, he has misread and misjudged the appetite of key partners in Europe to allow his party-handling exercise to distract them from their necessary focus on Europe’s economic health.

So where Labour can build alliances in Europe, we should. And where there is a common cause with like-minded allies to reform and improve the EU, we should be working for that change.

But with the backdrop of Cameron’s referendum, this also means we have to remind our neighbours that Labour sees Britain’s role at the heart of Europe, not at its periphery.

Reform in Europe, not exit from Europe – that is Labour’s message: And it was a message received with relief and support from those who Ed and I met this week.

Douglas Alexander is the Shadow Foreign Secretary

Latest

  • Comment Remploy – a year after the last closure

    Remploy – a year after the last closure

    A year ago today the last Remploy factory officially shut its doors. That was a sad day for me and thousands of other working people across the country. Since I left school at 16 I’d worked at Remploy Sheffield, starting out work as a welder and in recent years representing fellow workers as a GMB trade union convenor. For a lot of us at Remploy, the factories offered secure employment, the dignity of work and a workplace that understood our […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Miliband tells Scottish Labour: “We face a tough fight but no tougher than the fights we have faced in the past.”

    Miliband tells Scottish Labour: “We face a tough fight but no tougher than the fights we have faced in the past.”

    Ed Miliband is at the Scottish Labour Gala Dinner this evening. The atmosphere in the Scottish party is understandably tense following the resignation of Johann Lamont this week, and a poll today which shows the party are 29 points behind the SNP.  Miliband was speaking after Anas Sarwar – who used this evening’s Gala Dinner to announce that he’s standing down as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour, triggering a Deputy Leadership election. The Labour leader was seeking to rally the […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Scotland Anas Sarwar steps down as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour

    Anas Sarwar steps down as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour

    Anas Sarwar has announced he’ll be stepping down as Scottish Labour leader. Speaking at Scottish Labour’s Gala Dinner, Sarwar – who had previously refused to be drawn on whether he’d resign from his post – told attendees at tonight’s dinner that he was triggering a Deputy Leadership contest that will run alongside the leadership contest, but would stay on as interim leader until December 13th. Before tonight’s dinner, he told the Daily Record: “After thinking about it long and hard over […]

    Read more →
  • News Double defection – Two councillors quit Tories and join Labour

    Double defection – Two councillors quit Tories and join Labour

    Two councillors have defected from the Tories to Labour in Dudley this evening. Glenis Simms and Cheryl Billingham have resigned from the Conservative Party and joined majority Labour Party on Dudley Council, and were welcomed into the party by Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh as well as local MP Ian Austin. Simms told the Express and Star: “People are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet under this Government. Labour seems to be the only party to have a […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Only by working together that we will be able to defeat nationalism

    Only by working together that we will be able to defeat nationalism

    Since before the Independence Referendum the Scottish Nationalists have tried to drape themselves in Labour’s clothing, pretending they are the party of social justice, promising a socialist utopia if only people voted for independence, all the while passing on cuts and austerity from a Tory Government in Westminster. They even suggested that voters would get ‘a better’ Labour Party if only they voted for independence. What a ruddy cheek! Since the vote they’ve done a pretty good job at trying […]

    Read more →