Wednesday, 16 January 2008

EU Should Stop Being A Schoolyard Bully

Subsidiarity - the principle that government power ought to reside at the lowest possible level - is a concept beloved of Liberal Democrats. However, too many of our elected members are a little vague on what that means in practice.

You see subsidiarity should mean it's the council which handles your bin collection; regional and national government which organises matters like education policy and road building; and the EU which does things countries can't handle alone like combat climate change.

So far, so good. But the problem with power - and the backbone of traditional liberal thinking - is that, if their remit is unchecked, law-makers will attempt to intrude ever further into the realm of the personal. Sunsidiarity should be accompanied by a healthy respect for the limits of the law and the need for smaller government.

Now the EU is a byword for big government and I am more than a trifle bemused by its endless efforts to overstep the mark. When not making laws for the sake of making laws, or making policy on a lowest common denominator basis, it is busy issuing resolutions on areas over which it has no competence, from Foreign Policy to - bizarrely - school uniforms.

The issue? Banning hijab for Muslim school girls across the EU. You see, in a report on Children's Rights to be voted tomorrow at the European Parliament's plenary session paragraph 127 "Urges Member States to ban headscarves and hijab at least at primary school, in order to anchor more firmly the right to be a child and to ensure genuine and unenforced freedom of choice at a later age" which passed in committee with a considerable majority.

Now think what you like about the issue of hijab, especially for under 16's. I personally agree with the logic behind this paragraph, which, according to Committee members, is to ensure young girls get to participate fully in things like swimming and gymnastics without having their parents' preferences thrust upon them - especially important in primary schools where none but the most fundamentalist of zealots could consider a girl to have attained puberty. I'm not sure I like the 'at least' qualification, as it smacks a little of cultural hegemony, but at least it's only a suggestion.

However that is beside the point.

This is a clear cut case of Europe overstepping its mandate and interfering, in a nanny state sort of way, with decisions that can be dealt with perfectly adequately at the level of the school board, let alone local or national government. Surely these are issues which communitites should deal with on their own, in full consultation with local parents, if we are serious about 'integrating diversity', as the jargon goes.

The top down approach of a bunch of privileged, mostly middle aged, white people - however well intentioned - runs entirely against the grain of what is feted as Europe's Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Of all people, Europe's Liberals and Democrats should agree with this. But we're supporting the report anyway, despite murmurings of opposition from the likes of Sarah Ludford MEP. It is definitely time for a policy rethink.


Tristan said...


We need to accentuate our Euro-scepticism (that is support for the EU tempered by scepticism about the way it is now).

We rail against central power at Westminster, but seem happy to go along with it in Brussels.

Richard said...

Luckily the European Parliament is discussing an own-initiative Report, so this has no legal basis and no-one is obliged to do anything. There is no proposal for legislation, and I'm sure that if there was, it would be outwith the scope of the Treaties.

The "EU" isn't being a schoolyard bully, the Parliament is discussing its opinion on the hijab in schools. No-one needs to take any notice.

Richard said...

And in fact that para was dropped this lunchtime, with a vote of 367 to 200. As always, sanity prevails :-)

Consider This said...

yes I realised that by avoiding last night's group meeting in favour of the cinema I missed the crucial point that ALDE overturned the shadow's decision to vote against the para. So apparently Lib Dems were taking some notice of their own ideology after all. Good too that the parliament reconsidered the committee's view. It proves that not all MEPs are the inveterate meddlers we sometimes take them to be.