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 32.

    Imagine what sensible laws would be like post EU exit

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    All we want is to be properly consulted and not lied to by out utterly biased establishment & their lapdog media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Law can only be passed in the UK if it gets assent from the Houses of Parliament - nothing that we object to makes it onto our statutes without such an accord. Even if some laws originate from the EU, they are approved by our elected representatives, so how is Brussels imposing any laws on us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    JurgenV: "Foreign retirees bring income to a country and don't take jobs from the locals."

    They also use a disproportionate amount of healthcare resources, price locals out of the housing market and create English speaking, Daily Mail reading, culturally vacant ghettos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Balanced comments from the MEPs, until you get to the socialist, then all you get is confrontational rhetoric.

    I was also paticularly amused by this gem: ".. little spirit or understanding about the vision underpinning the EU."

    Does this person really think that the vast majority of EU members give a toss about the EU's vision? They are in it for what they can get out of it. Simple as that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    For a free trade agreement to work long term, you need a parliament, a civil service, a court and regular top level fora. Remind you of anything?

    Anything less is not a free trade agreement that will last. One that does not last is not worth having.

    The world needs a strong Europe and that will not happen with a collection of post colonial states all doing their own thing. It is time to grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    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.

    Ana, these PENSIONERS are providing money to your local government and economy, and aren't taking Portuguese jobs. Apples and pears my dear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    What most Europeans don't understand is that we have had successive Governments handing away powers through the back door with no honest debate. So we have a lot of stored resentment which will reflect in UKIP's results in the EU elections. Whether that reflects in the next national election is debatable, as it never has up until now. We are probably stuck with Brussels!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I think it is rich when Clegg (and others) accuses Farage of scaremongering to convince people that we should leave the EU, when he himself uses scaremongering as his main weapon to convince people we should stay in it. I smell the pungent scent of hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Im glad its beginning to irritate Brussels. Typical of the BBC to grab arrogant European politicians to lecture Britain and tell us to stop being naughty.

    I seriously hope there is a referendum. Im so fed up of this shambolic EU and its bullying. Time to get out!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    18.Mike C
    Firstly, UKIP is not anti-immigration. It is pro controlled immigration. The same as Australia, US, NZ, etc.

    His concern is that there are a large number of low skilled immigrants coming to the UK and displacing mainly white working class people by working for less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    3. Ax Fleming
    "...The EU is a failed experiment, and has been for years now.
    It is quite clear to everyone except the poor Europeans."
    We are all Europeans. Including you. Unless you are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    What baffles me is why anyone would expect a group of non-UK residents to be anything but baffled by this kind of staged political 'debate' in the build up to an election year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Whether you agree with Farage or not, the population are unhappy and concerned about the EU and its undemocratic interference in British life. Clegg says, "Do what I do, this sand is great for your head". Farage prods, questions and provides an outlet to the frustration and is prepared to discuss the concerns. He also shows he agrees with the concerns. THAT is why his popularity is growing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Farage claims that UKIP's anti-imigration stance is not racist. So how do you square his comment:

    "It has left the white working class effectively as an underclass, and I think that is a disaster for our society"

    with the fact that Eastern European immigrants are ethnicly white? This is the sort of politics associated with the BNP in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    My view on last night’s debate was Farage 100% and Clegg 0%. Cleggs attempt at accusing Farage of "Fantasy" or some sort of Commie was both powder-puff and laughable. Clegg came across as being extremely weak.
    However more concerning is just how completely and utterly out of touch our current government is, and that includes Labour. Next year’s election will be very, very interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @14. Roland22
    "Most of its imperial expansion came about because it had divorced itself from European struggles and focussed its energies on overseas expansion instead."

    Actually, Britain's imperial expansion was driven by it's power struggles and conflicts with other European nations, i.e. Spain and France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The pro-EU politicians want a super-state while we, the people who live in the EU, want a loose federation based on friendship and common interests. That is the problem in a nutshell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This idea that Britain can flourish outside Europe has deep historical and cultural roots.Most of its imperial expansion came about because it had divorced itself from European struggles and focussed its energies on overseas expansion instead. From this came a policy of divide and conquer , making sure no single power dominated the continent which was official policy right up to WW2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    "10. Sonja Shoe
    ...That leaves us with only one option – to leave the EU!"

    Other options do exist, such as explaining your concerns. I know it seems a bit radical.


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