During the summer break, I had the privilege of sitting in on a weekend discussion about the future of Europe conducted on a deliberately neutral basis. I was there to listen and present facts, not to debate or express views.
The participants represented a cross-section of British opinion on Europe – they were deliberately chosen accordingly – and, during the weekend, had some factual briefings from independent experts and some presentations from advocates of specific partisan viewpoints before settling down to reach their own conclusions. The course of the discussion and its conclusions were fascinating.
I don’t think anyone’s view of the issue changed fundamentally during the weekend, but lots of new avenues of thought opened up. I think it was a pretty common feeling among the participants that the information they were getting from the media on Europe (and from the EU itself) was not adequate – although I guess that people satisfied with the state of Europe would not have applied to attend the event themselves – and the new material presented was most welcome.
One thing that struck me was the way in which the eurosceptic participants started to notice positive things about the European Union and what it does. Not enough to change their minds, as I remarked earlier, but enough to be interesting.
To paraphrase one of the comments, it is hard being a eurosceptic because if you leave you have to leave the whole thing and can’t pick and choose the bits of the EU you might like to keep. A comment like that reveals that the debate is about how to share sovereignty, rather than whether to share sovereignty, which is in itself a bit of progress.