Viewpoint: Achievements, ambitions, actions – Liverpool celebrates Europe connection

The University of Liverpool and Liverpool City Council are convening a conference next Tuesday to make clear just how important being a part of Europe is to Liverpool and the rest of the country. Professor Michael Parkinson CBE, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool explains why.

This conference is a crucial step in the continuing renaissance of Liverpool city region. The UK’s future involvement in Europe will be the subject of passionate debate in the months up to and after the General Election. We believe it is crucial that these issues do not go by default and that Liverpool city region fully debates its position on European engagement. Europe matters to Liverpool city region. We want to declare our position.

Liverpool has benefitted hugely from European investment and support over many years. The EU was part of the bedrock of the city region’s continuing economic recovery. The Commission supported major infrastructure investments which have encouraged economic growth. It encouraged a new model of decision making with extensive public involvement through its pathways to partnership programme which became a model used all over Europe. It encouraged us to work together at a wider economic scale long before the current governments support for city region working. And it made the city region partners find answers to the wider question in a period of economic difficulty – what will the city region be and do economically in future? So the European strategic challenge was almost as important as the money.

Liverpool city region is increasingly a global player but like the UK itself, it is still intimately involved economically in European markets and networks – and will and should remain so. Many of its private and public sector leaders see huge continuing benefits from remaining involved – and are concerned at the prospect of withdrawal. Liverpool wants to be an engaged player to work with, learn from and contribute to the development of European cities. Setting up a Commission on the Future of Europe was one of the Mayor’s first steps on taking office. The University is a major supporter of Europe and has benefited enormously from involvement in it through financial support for its infrastructure projects, research programmes, attracting students and staff – as well as being engaged in the wider European intellectual scene.

However, we recognise there are differences of views about principles and details. We want to air not suppress them. The conference will give people the opportunity to discuss how we benefitted, what we learnt, how we build on previous success and how we will contribute to Europe in future. It has attracted major speakers from the European Commission, UK government, private, public and community sectors and Universities from across the city region, the UK and Europe. The public response to it has been overwhelming and the conference is now full. We believe this demonstrates the genuine appetite for real debate about serious issues. The University is particularly pleased to play a leading role in this debate since we regard civic engagement as a crucial part of our mission. We are very pleased that the Mayor shares our ambition and commitment and has joined us in developing this project. Europe is crucial to the continuing economic renaissance of Liverpool city region. And it will be crucial to the wider Super North agenda linking our city region into a bigger internal UK market.

These are exciting if difficult times. We need to debate seriously and then nail our colours to the mast on the big issues. Europe is one of them. We are delighted to be leading the debate. We hope and believe it will make a difference.

The conference (now sold out) – Europe and Liverpool City Region: Achievements, Ambitions, Actions – is being held on 17 March at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

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