Conference report: Europe – not “in or out” but “left or right”?

Brussels Labour, Labour International, and anyone with an interest in European politics came away revitalised and optimistic about Labour’s commitment to internationalism, and its prospects for the 2014 European elections. The European events themselves were lively, well attended, and set out the pro-European case very well.

Brussels Labour’s fringe, co-hosted with the Labour Movement for Europe, was a case in point. Over 150 of the party faithful battled across Manchester through thirst-quenching rain on Sunday lunchtime to hear a well-informed debate “Europe – moving beyond austerity onto plan B.” It was a particular pleasure to see former Brussels Labour Treasurer, Emma Reynolds MP, now Shadow Minister for Europe, speaking against the backdrop of our very own Brussels Labour banner.

Brussels Labour’s Honorary President Neill Kinnock chaired the event, and was as surprised as anyone that the first intervention from the floor was from Tim Montgomerie of the influential ConservativeHome website. I suppose he would be hard-pressed now to find 150 pro-Europeans in the whole Conservative party, never mind at one of their fringe events.

At the EPLP reception, the star turn was supposed to be Eddie Izzard, and I imagine that many of the 900 people crowding the room were there for him and Ed Miliband. But the biggest cheer of the evening was for S&D Group Leader Hannes Swoboda MEP, when he said “we need a strong Labour, in a strong Britain, in a strong Europe.”

It was great to see Axelle Lemaire as one of the speakers at the Labour International and EPLP breakfast fringe , where again it was standing room only. Axelle represents overseas voters in the French parliament, and many of us would like the UK to give us similar representation.

One theme that came across from all European events want that the UK is just about the only country which sees the EU not in terms of whether it should move left or right (and move on from Camerkozy austerity) but only whether we should be in or out. Glenis Willmott MEP’s plenary speech argued cogently for the Labour to set out a progressive vision for Europe, in particular with initiatives such as the Youth Jobs Guarantee, and although Ed Miliband’s speech as leader was light on detail, he gave a clear commitment to engagement in Europe and internationalism.

Frazer Clarke

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