Report on Federal Union annual conference

Federal Union’s AGM and annual conference was held in London on Saturday 19 March 2011.

The morning session looked at the future of the eurozone and Britain’s possible role.  John Palmer, former European editor of the Guardian and founder of the European Policy Centre, spoke about the efforts made by the eurozone governments to ensure that the eurozone would survive the crisis, but also about his fears that some of the policies might actually exacerbate the difficulties in some member states.  Read an article by John Palmer on this subject here.

Andrew Blick

Andrew Blick, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Contemporary History and Senior Research Fellow at Democratic Audit, spoke about the European Union bill that was before parliament at the moment.  It was an odd mix of a restatement of the sovereignty of parliament in the face of the EU, a doctrine that was in any case inconsistent and outdated, and the repudiation of parliamentary sovereignty in the face of referendums on European integration.  The impact of the first part of the bill would be negligible, while the second part would probably serve to push Britain further out of the European mainstream, unable to play a role in future EU developments.  Read an article by Andrew Blick on this subject here.

The AGM session held immediately after lunch reviewed the year’s activity, approved the accounts and elected a new committee.  Read about the new committee here.

The afternoon session of the conference discussed the problems of foreign policy.  How could the EU make an effective foreign policy in a fast-changing world?

Dr Yiyi Lu

Dr Yiyi Lu, Research Fellow, China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, opened the session with a discussion of the relationship between the EU and China, as seen from China itself.  Research revealed that the Chinese people were sympathetic towards the EU, particularly when compared with Japan or the United States, a degree of sympathy that broadly increased with greater income or education.  On the question of whether the EU should make human rights issues a central part of its approach towards China, there was strong opposition, even from among the groups who were sympathetic towards the ambition of greater human rights as such.

Perhaps this is because the ideological content of the current relationship between Europe and China could not be separated from the history of that relationship, and there was a lot of national pride on the part of the Chinese who were determined to play an equal role and not be dictated to, even if they would otherwise like the sound of what they would be hearing.

Sir Michael Palliser, former Head of the UK Diplomatic Service, spoke about the broader difficulties of forming a foreign policy in a fast-changing world.  Countries such as Brazil, China and the Gulf states were now very different from how they had been even only a few years ago.  Increasingly, Britain would be able to exercise influence more effectively along with its European partners than trying to do so alone.

And there is the difficult question of what a foreign policy is for.  Traditionally, it is understood as the means of advancing a country’s interests, but can it also be used to promote what a country believes to be its values?  Reactions to the crisis in Libya were a good illustration of the point: how can one separate out humanitarian concerns about preventing an attack on civilians in Benghazi from a dislike of or even active opposition to the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, or from an interest in future oil contracts?  There could not be a simple answer to the question.

These notes were written by Richard Laming and have not been checked or approved by the speakers mentioned above.

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