The Special General Meeting held on Saturday 20 May came as an opportunity for a large number of members of the European Movement to discuss the way forward. The SGM was initiated originally by the Sussex branch, which obtained more than 100 signatures calling for it. The meeting was held in London, at Friends House near Euston. Attendance was even better than expected, with 141 members from all over the UK present, and acknowledged as the best attended general meeting in years.
A month or so earlier, Lord Haskins had resigned as Chairman and his deputy Marie-Louise Rossi was now acting Chairman. She explained that the difficulties of meeting the notice requirements of the Constitution with almost no administrative staff time meant that resolutions passed could not actually be binding on the Executive Committee. But they would be very persuasive if passed by such a substantial gathering of members.
Michael Barry had been asked to lead the discussion, and did so in a good-humoured and helpful way, seeking a spectrum of views while keeping to a brisk schedule. He welcomed members who had crowded into the room and introduced an agenda where the Agenda listing a sequence of consolidated resolutions.
The Movement still has unique strengths
The first resolution came from the Special General Meeting Steering Group, proposed by Oliver Hayward and seconded by Michael Rider:
The movement is needed as much as ever, but it is now operating in a new environment, with much greater competition for public attention and financial resources. It must therefore play to its unique strengths – its network of branch activists and its website. It needs to be reformed so that these are able to function as effectively as possible.
This motion was aimed as a general statement of the current situation, allowing a wide-ranging discussion of the way forward in a new situation. Oliver said that branches had been neglected for the past several years but now had a vital role to play. The proposed task force was needed to judge the best way forward, reflecting members’ wishes and practical opportunities. Some branches may have languished, but many were significantly active. Alongside branches we needed to recognise the national and international roles of the movement. We would need funds and use our human resources to establish an ongoing programme, both short and long term.
The value of branches was stressed by many speakers supporting the resolution. Several firmly claimed that already a lot was being done without help from the centre. Yet a central unit could valuably support with materials and exchange of ideas. In particular there was general assent that a national website has been a valuable asset, re-establishing brand image obscured by several years entangled with Britain in Europe.
Members from Hull, Ipswich and Bournemouth, for example, pointed out that there were no branches near them. They needed co-ordinated administration and support. A figure of over 200 was mentioned for members unable to belong to a local branch. There were also branches where active members had jobs to hold down and little extra time to spare.
Young European Movement
Representatives of the Young European Movement described how the group had been busy with street stalls and Café Europa in Edinburgh and London. Relations with JEF Europe had been agreed earlier in the year. YEM would now take part in seminars. They were now campaigning for the European Constitution, democracy and transparency. YEM members would like to be able to link to local branches. They also need professional literature and backing for Freshers’ Fairs. They would like to reach out to schools, FE colleges and young workers.
The need for a task force on strategy
Stephen Woodard, a former Director of the movement, proposed a motion aiming to set up a Strategy Task Force to work out a forward plan, involving members in an ongoing discussion, starting with what he had called a Reference Group open to anyone with and interest and effort to spare. It was vital the discussion be transparent and well communicated. He emphasised that his motion was neutral on the operation of the task force. It built on the suggestion from Sarah Leigh that there should be an outer circle of activists as a standing reference group. He formally proposed that a task force be set up. Speakers supporting this resolution recalled that the movement had aims to promote integration and education, and co-operation with other European groups.
The next motion to be discussed, again originating from the Steering Group, had been generated by the conviction that a fundamental restructuring was essential, simplifying the hierarchy of committees and placing the key decision-making role with a Branches Council. Alan Wasdell (Surrey), who had put this motion, acknowledged that once a decision had been made to proceed with a Strategy Task Force, the arguments in favour of focussing on the branches should be commended to it.
Michael Barry said a number of people had been asked and agreed to serve on such a Task Force, aiming to represent a variety of experience and geographical areas. They were,
There was now an open invitation, Michael Barry said, to members who would like to be included in the Reference Group.
Funds and fund-raising
Margaret Daly, who was asked in December to revive the fundraising committee, explained that she has found it a difficult climate in which to raise funds, but there had been offers of help from prominent people. With a bid for European funding support in mind she proposed a motion urging that branches join in the European Commission “Plan D” project – summarised as Democracy, Dialogue, and Debate. We could be partners with the International European Movement as a partner in this project if 30 active branches could organise at least one event each.
A further resolution on the theme of funding made it an obligation of branches to fund the central administration, each branch having a target of funds to raise depending on its member numbers. There should be an annual standard subscription for new members of the EM of £25 with a concessionary rate of £10 for those at benefit level. Could we make this a standard subscription; would existing members be prepared to raise their normal contribution to this level? This point was left to the Task Force to resolve. One of the problems had been that central records had until recently been very inaccurate. Once there was a sound income from subscriptions there should be no inhibitions about seeking funding from any legitimate source, including the EU.
Activity and communications
There was unanimous support for a general call for the British movement to be fully involved in projects across other European countries, and particularly to participate actively in the European Citizen Initiative. Kevin Hannon (Greater Birmingham) pointed out that the European Movement had actually predated the EEC – its roots were in civil society and it was these that we should renew and strengthen.
No doubt bearing in mind the difficulties caused by the constitutional requirement for everything formal to be done by post, a proposal that we should move to e-mail as the principle method of communication was acclaimed.
A final motion put by Alan Wasdell (Surrey) and Ken Daly (Somerset) “to congratulate the Sussex Branch for initiating the Special General meeting as the means by which the European Movement can re-establish its sense of purpose and fulfil it” was agreed with applause.