Does the Eurozone require fiscal integration if it is going to
Stability in the eurozone is vital to the UK economy. Nearly 50% of the UK's trade is with the rest of the European Union and our banks have exposure of £268 billion to Eurozone countries. That is why my Lib Dem colleague Sharon Bowles MEP, as the influential chair of the European Parliament Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, was at the forefront of efforts to stabilise the Eurozone and prevent a future crisis which could threaten the British economy. She has steered through legislation that will restrict risky practices in the banking sector and prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts in future, ensuring that banks have enough cash in reserve to cover their losses when things go wrong.
Now that the Eurozone has survived the worst of the crisis – with countries like Portugal and Ireland having already exited the bailout – the biggest challenge is to restore growth and tackle the scourge of unemployment, particularly amongst young people. Liberal Democrats support moves to in open up areas like the digital market, energy and services that will drive growth and create jobs across Europe. The UK economy may be picking up again, but in order to sustain the recovery we need to work with other EU countries and create new opportunities for our businesses overseas. We also need to channel more EU funding into training young people and giving them the skills they need to compete in the modern economy.
What will you do about the expected rise of the far right in Europe?
Liberal Democrats are committed to an open, tolerant and diverse UK and Europe and stand up against extremists on both the left and the right. The best way to tackle the far-right is to confront them head on. That is why Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to the debates, and that is why Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament have consistently championed the rights of women, ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT people. Although we can expect a bigger crop of far-right MEPs after these European elections, that will not daunt our resolve to take them on and expose the inconsistency of their bigoted views.
What will you do about migrants drowning in attempts to reach Europe?
The tragedy in Lampedusa was a real wake-up call to Europe. But there are similar, smaller tragedies happening all the time, and it is clear that the EU and its member states are not doing enough to tackle them. On the one hand we need to address the root cause, which is the desperation that leads many of these people risk their lives in order to escape conflict or famine in their home countries. That means stepping up aid and doing more to alleviate humanitarian crises in countries like Syria, Somalia and Eritrea. But we also need to strengthen Frontex and the new Eurosur system, which will help detect small vessels in the Mediterranean and prevent migrants from drowning. That is something I have been working on already during this parliamentary term, insisting that human rights are respected in border control, and hope to continue if I am re-elected.
Does the Common Agriculture Policy need to be reformed? If so, how?
The Common Agricultural Policy has just been through a sweeping set of reforms, and Liberal Democrats have pushed in particular for more funding for greening measures to make farming more sustainable. But while progress has been made there remains far more to be done. Most importantly, the EU needs to open up its markets more to imports of agricultural goods from developing countries to help some of the world's poorest farmers. I'd also like to see production subsidies phased out and more EU money channelled from the CAP into areas like digital infrastructure that will help modernise the economy in rural areas.
Austerity across Europe has had
some very mixed results. Is fiscal tightening and balancing budgets still the
best way forward or is it time for a new approach?
It is of course important for governments to balance the books; we can't simply saddle future generations with a huge debt burden. But we need to find the right balance between cutting government expenditure and sustaining growth, otherwise austerity becomes counterproductive as economies and tax revenues shrink. Hence the peripheral countries of the Eurozone have been crippled by both rocketing unemployment and expanding debt repayments, and to tackle this there should be moves towards greater solidarity in the Eurozone, including possible measures to lessen the debt burden such as the creation of 'Eurobonds'. Fiscal tightening also needs to be combined with a comprehensive strategy for growth, including investing more in skills and education, securing major new trade deals with countries like the US and India, deepening the EU single market, and fighting corruption and cronyism.
Taking the EU as a whole, do you support the continued policy of 'ever closer union' or do you favour moving back towards more national autonomy?
This is a false choice. Where the EU adds real value, on the big issues like climate change, organised crime and foreign policy, there should be moves towards closer integration so that European countries can use their combined clout in the world as a force for good. But in other areas, such as excessive regulation of small businesses, the EU has gone too far and has become too bureaucratic. What is clear is that Britain must lead reform of the EU if we are to deliver for jobs, security and the environment. We cannot do that if we have one foot out of the exit door. That is why Liberal Democrats are going into the European elections with a clear message as the Party of In Europe.
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