Clegg v Farage: Britain's EU debate baffles Brussels

Ben Wright, Christofer Fjellner, and Ana Gomes watch the Clegg-Farage debate Ben Wright, Ana Gomes and Christofer Fjellner watch the Clegg-Farage debate

They watched with pity, astonishment and dismay.

As Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage battled it out in London last night I sat in the BBC's Brussels bureau with two MEPs as they absorbed the spectacle. "What's so strange is that if you had this debate in Sweden there'd be a lot of criticism of the EU, but leaving is not an option. And that's the difference," said Christofer Fjellner, a young conservative MEP from Sweden.

Suggesting a sort of political repression (don't the Swedes think we're repressed about everything?) he thought Britain hadn't had a proper debate about its relationship with Europe for years. The problem now, he said, was that it was exploding in Britain's face. Mr Fjellner thought the real argument should be about how to reform the EU, not whether or not to leave.

Ana Gomes, a socialist MEP from Portugal, was particularly scathing about Nigel Farage's tone on immigration. "What if my country had the same policy and kicked out all the Brits who are there in retirement?" she asked.

Their views echoed those of two other MEPs we persuaded to watch the first Farage/Clegg clash last week. Sven Giegold, a German MEP, said that contest was too narrowly focused on perceived economic interest, with little spirit or understanding about the vision underpinning the EU.

Svetoslav Malinov, a Bulgarian member of the conservative EPP group, quoted former EU Commission president Jacques Delors, who said you can't fall in love with the common market. That, he thought, was Nick Clegg's mistake. His economic argument struggled against the populism of Farage.

All the MEPs thought it impossible for a similar debate to happen in their own countries. But wouldn't that increase voter engagement with the EU, I asked them? They didn't think so. All concede the European Union is at a critical moment. And they expect a backlash in many member states during next month's elections, with parties on the far-left and far-right harvesting anti-EU sentiment.

But none could see a country's exit from the EU as the answer. At the moment, they view Britain's latest paroxysm of Euro-introspection as a peculiarly British quirk - and one that's really beginning to irritate Brussels.

Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg make their opening statements


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  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    If we leave the EU, we will lose our main trading partner. Yeah, like the French and the Germans will stop selling us their cars!

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    At last a politician who tells us the real story of the waste of space that is the EU. Unelected control freaks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Ana Gomes statement is about UKIP's immigration policy is wrong, and it is wrong of the Beeb to highlight it, without correction.
    UKIP at no point have ever said they would repatriate anyone in Britain legally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Really? You mean that the EU's catastrophic involvement in the breakup of Yugoslavia wasn't a war? We stood and watched as the ethnic cleansing got underway. It took action from Clinton and the Americans to stop it.

    In my view if you stand by and watch you're part of the problem. The EU's darkest hour and one that we in the UK should not forget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Ana Gomes ...MEP from Portugal ... "What if my country had the same policy and kicked out all the Brits who are there in retirement?"

    It is not "the same policy". I have not heard that UKIP wants to throw out all Portuguese people. I want to throw out the members of the Portuguese drugs gangs reportedly operating in my home town. I do not want to throw out the loads of very nice Portuguese


Comments 5 of 332


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