Hello, Felix here from Judith’s UK team!
Recently I had the chance to join Judith’s Brussels office team for a week. I thought I’d take over her blog this week and fill you in on some of the things I got up to!
To begin with, the European Parliament is a pretty remarkable place. If you ever visit but have no sense of direction, I’d highly recommend you attach yourself to someone who knows their way around…it’s a pretty huge building! It feels more like a shopping centre complex, but with fewer 99p shops and more debating rooms! There’s a pretty undeniable buzz about the place and it really feels like a celebration of cross-country cooperation.
One of the most encouraging things (but in fairness not in the least bit surprising) was the camaraderie and support amongst all Members in Renew Europe. For those who don’t know, Renew Europe is the political group that the Liberal Democrats are part of in the European Parliament. It’s a melting pot of liberals from all over Europe. On the Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend a Renew Europe meeting, and what an experience it was! Rigorous, yet structured and constructive debate, all designed to clarify the group’s position on important matters relating to Brexit, specifically around the status of citizen rights for Brits and EU nationals living in the UK. It was a welcome change from the soap opera antics that seem to have toxified the main parliamentary chambers across much of Europe!
Something that I’ve also great admiration for in the European Parliament is just how modern it is. One example, that I’m almost amazed I’m even having to write down, is that in the Brussels hemicycle (the main debating chamber) there are enough seats for all MEPs. Sounds obvious, right? Well, in our own House of Commons, there aren’t actually enough seats for all of our MPs to sit! Quite how you can be expected to conduct effective law-making without the convenience of a seat is a little beyond me, but fortunately in Brussels they don’t have to worry about that!. Similarly, in Westminster, every time an MP has to vote, they have to leave the chamber and enter two different rooms, depending on which wat they’ll be voting. Their votes are then counted, manually, by a member of staff. Again, how long-winded does that sound? In Brussels, MPs have a series of buttons on their desks, allowing them to vote on any number of measures without even having to stand up! Justifiably, we put a lot of pressure on lawmakers to work decisively and at pace, so it’s only right that we make their jobs as efficient as possible. Really, it benefits us all.
I was also fortunate enough to join Judith and the entire Lib Dem European Delegation in a meeting with the British Medical Association (BMA). The meeting had been set up to gain an understanding of the deeply worrying consequences that are anticipated in the event of a chaotic, messy Brexit in which the qualifications gained by medical professionals trained in the UK are no longer recognised on the continent. What was so fascinating (and frightening) is how like with so many other sectors, Brexit will not only damage the UK’s health sector, but potentially countless other EU member states. Right now, there is a brilliant culture of European doctors learning their trade in the UK and then taking their skills back to their country of origin. Yet if special measures aren’t taken in the Brexit negotiations, then these doctors will no longer be able to practice and will have to retrain at great expense.
For me, that really brought home what an excellent institution the European project truly is. We live in a globalised world, and there is no use, and no gain, in denying that. Whether it’s industry, health, education or beyond, we have the infrastructure in place for collaboration, innovation and prosperity across so many different fields. The General Election result was, devastatingly, not the result that remainers wanted. Yet the Lib Dems I met in Europe are resolute that this isn’t the end, but the beginning of a new chapter in which all our efforts must be focused on holding the Government to account to ensure that our new relationship with the EU, whatever that looks like, is one that works for the entire country.
Thanks for reading!