European Debate - not really - paying audience had to provide the debate!
Sussex University held a debate on Europe last night that had unexpected consequences. First the panel of four people, all supported the EU, were keen on European Citizenship and pretty much toed the orthodox line. This was a shame, as this is a political issue that deserves more actual ‘debate’ and more ‘innovative’ thinking. Across all four there was not a single innovative idea the whole evening, only statements of what IS the case, in terms of laws, economic constraints and so on. We expect more from people who are supposed to be on the leading edge of European research and thought.
In the absence of dissent from the panel, what happened on the night was fascinating - an ‘audience’ versus the ‘panel’ debate. Curiously, this seems to reflect what’s happening on the ground. We have a political and academic class that has a ‘groupthink’ approach to Europe and a populace who are deeply suspicious about this class and its pronouncements.
All of the important issues came from the audience:
1. Suspicion about the idea of European Citizenship
2. Suspicion about the army of politicians, academics and officials who are driving policy through self-interest and not the interests of the people
3. Opacity of bailouts – where does the money come from?
4. Why not allow orderly devaluation?
There were some excellent questions from the floor that cut to the quick and led to more interesting debate. This was way more interesting than the rather banal introductions by the speakers. On the very night when Cyprus is going through fiscal convulsions, these people seemed surprisingly aloof and distant from the real world and real issues.
Institutions start with good intentions but often end up serving themselves and fighting for survival. I didn’t go into the room in a particularly anti-EU (or Eurozone) state of mind but witnessing the output from the Sussex European Institute, I walked out a sceptic, not only about the EU but also about the worth and independence of so-called research institutes where people get paid to praise their funders. You can’t get people to pay for a ‘debate’ then simply present one side of the argument and expect the people who paid to provide the other!