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
    +5

    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
    +5

    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
    +4

    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
    +7

    Comment number 329.

    324.GeoffOKC
    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
    +8

    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

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 327.

    Personally I don't mind EU immigration, I can identify with them and their culture. What I do not like is Non-EU immigration and the cultural changes and challenges that islam brings to our country, this is more of a concern for me...I would love a debate about this more so than the EU. Oh wait can't do that, because it's racist, sorry forgot....

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 326.

    321. Me
    There must of been some heads in some hands at BBC headquarters when that 'Putin' slur fell flat last night.
    They were counting on that.
    But they didn't count on the British public seeing right through it.
    Don't treat us like fools.
    __________

    All that only took place in your mind.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 325.

    How long can the Beeb keep openly and aggressively promoting the EU? It's already been slapped on the wrist by, er, itself: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/jul/03/bbc-deep-liberal-bias-immigration and yet it continues to print this drek. You wouldn't mind if there were some facts but "we got 3 mates in a room and they said you're all silly" isn't journalism.

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 324.

    Everybody seems to forget that the EU was founded to prevent another war in Europe. It has been immensely successful in this respect, and I find it disturbing to see such short-sighted and inward-looking enthusiasm for its demise.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 323.

    316. vitali2712
    Will BMW pull operations out of the UK for example? No

    ----

    How do you know this?? Where are you getting this information?

    Are you Tim Abbott? Or even Reithofer himself?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 322.

    My area has been Liberal for More 12 Years.
    I think that is all about to end and like many others i will be Voting for UKIP.
    Not just over Europe but on them stopping the conservatives scrap the Inheritance tax as well.
    And many other Issues and for having a leader which will never have the Personality or the flair or be able tell truth or understand working class.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 321.

    There must of been some heads in some hands at BBC headquarters when that 'Putin' slur fell flat last night.

    They were counting on that.
    But they didn't count on the British public seeing right through it.

    Don't treat us like fools.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 320.

    glegg came across as an idiot if they had not joined the tories he would be queueing for a job in mcdonalds and its clear as glass by allowing 100000s of immigrants to a country is done for one reason its called devide and rule 2 world wars millions of lives lost for nothing I just hope I am not around for the next world war this will eventually cause English polititians are corrupt and dishonest

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 319.

    @286. Steve
    "Limits on working hours, protection of privacy and personal data, protection against 28day detention without trial. 3 things the EU has done for us"

    They didn't do them "for us" and if we want laws, a sovereign UK government can enact.

    Like many, I work in excess of the "EU Reg" hours. My (FTSE100) employer has never measured or asked about my working hours. Great EU legislation!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 318.

    "Mr Fjellner thought the real argument should be about how to reform the EU, not whether or not to leave"

    Brits have been trying to reform the "EU" since it was the Common Market. They have had 40 years to achieve something & they have failed. It just always gets worse

    It is unreformable because of the semi-secret agenda of creating a Greater European Reich.

    We don't want it!

    Stick it!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 317.

    @309 wickedmessenger2

    I'll agree with you, there is no need to degrade the man any more than he already has himself.

    Clegg does not hate Britain. Don't kick the man when he is already down please.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 316.

    @303. Hype

    I have no doubt in my mind that EU autocrats will make things difficult for Britain in the event that we leave...but on the economy side is where we will triumph. Will BMW pull operations out of the UK for example? No. I can however seeing them pulling a funny about visa's being required for a holiday to Spain and so on..but is that such a problem?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 315.

    Let's face it, Nick Clegg is hardly a well respected MP, he'd have been voted second best if he'd been up against a brick wall.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 314.

    What a plonked that Ana Gomes (95% of the Bits Abroad are there for the Sunshine not to work, Its like all politicians say the Bits will not work anyway, I am 78 and at times I really wonder how the hell we managed before all these people came to this Country, we have the best Armed Forces in the world but their the same British that will not work still cannot get it!!

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 313.

    Simple idea.
    We donate £12bn a year nett to the EU so surely this should come out of the Overseas Aid budget !

    That way we can easily meet our 0.7% annual OA obligation. Hardly any of it goes directly to the needy anyway, it just goes to no-questions-asked charity quangos to spend as all they want is the spending tick-in-the-box.
    Then use the £12bn saved on the NHS and schools

 

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