Liberal Democrats’ European manifesto

The Liberal Democrats have launched their manifesto for the European elections. As is usual with manifestos, it is mostly content-free waffle, but there are some good bits.

It’s exactly correct on what the main advantage of the EU is:

By combining our economic power, as we have done through the single market, Europe gets better trade deals around the world than if each country were to negotiate independently. The EU trade and partnership agreements with third countries, such as Israel and Russia, have the capacity to give the EU significant diplomatic influence in negotiations. These are not always fully exploited at present.

And why further defense co-operation is good:

Europe acting together will be a credible ally and partner for Barack Obama’s United States. To become the partner America needs, European countries have got to take more responsibility for our own security. As well as military co-operation this will also mean working together to guarantee democracy, poverty reduction and sustainable development in other parts of the world.

We support the work of the European Defence Agency to help improve overall European defence capability for NATO and Europe and encourage more European countries to shoulder their full share of the burden. All EU countries could save money and get better equipment for our armed forces if defence markets were opened up to competition.

Overseas Aid

I disagree with the manifesto about overseas aid:

The UK lags behind some of our EU partners in overseas aid and development. Liberal Democrats are committed to increasing the UK’s spending on overseas aid to reach the UN target of 0.7% of GNP and believe all EU states should work to the same target where they have not already achieved it. EU development assistance should be targeted at reducing poverty and disease, and humanitarian aid must be allocated on the basis of need.

The importance of aid is how much good it does, not how much is spent. So the 0.7% target is irrelevant; if instead aid had a target of how much it increased the recipient country’s GDP by, or some otrher measure of effectiveness, that owuld be better.  Aid is not in itself particularly useful; what would be more sueful would be if the terms of international trade weren’t rigged against poorer countries — I’m thinking here particularly of intelectual property laws.

Aid shouldn’t be about reducing poverty as such, it should be about economic development. 50 years ago South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore were as poor as most African countries, but now they are rich countries and can reduce poverty by their own efforts. Incidently, reducing ill-health is preobably an effective way to increase inconomic development in the poorest countries.

Humanitarian aid, i.e. disaster relief, probably produces less utilons[1] per amount spent than development aid, and if this is the case, it doesn’t make sense to do it.

As for aid “being allocated on the basis of need”, there are two situations where it shouldn’t be. The first is where a state takes a geopolitical stance hostile to the interests of the EU; we shouldn’t help our adversaries. The second is where it might be more effectively spend elsewhere: for example if a country is poor because its government is a kleptocracy, more aid there will do little good.

Digital Rights

Finally, my biggest gripe against the manifesto is that it makes no mention of digital rights issues, such as software patents,  proposed three-strikes laws, net neutrality and copyright extension. This is a particularly important omission because:

  • These are the very issues that are mainly determined at the European level rather than by the national governments.
  • These issues affect everyone’s lives on a day-to-day basis whenever they use digital electronics such as computers, mobile phones, MP3 players, digital TV, digital video recorders, etc.

The whole area of digital rights and intellectual property law used to be obscure and only of interest to a few people, but now it affects everyone, and is becoming important on the political scene, as the likely election of Pirate Party MEPs in Sweden will demonstrate.


1. utilons. A hypothetical unit of utility, used to make Utilitarian calculations.

(via Liberal England)

This entry was posted in Britain, digital rights, DRM, Europe, filesharing, foreign policy, MPAA, politics, RIAA, software patents and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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