A defence of the EU – While there’s still time

I had intended to write this article as a defence of the EU from the perspective of the Lib Dems. As with every other policy, unfortunately, the leadership has stuck two fingers up to its grassroots in exchange for a loving smile from David Cameron. They have managed to forget that they were the only outwardly europhile party, a pleasant counterbalance to the slavering apoplexy of UKIP, or the Cro-magnon babble of the BNP. The Liberal Democrats were the only party to defend the EU; now no-one will.

The European Union needs to be defended to the public before Rupert Murdoch manages to enter every single mind in the country and convince them that we are in fact headed for a new Soviet Union of Europe, in which everyone will immediately lose all property, and the right to vote will be dependant entirely on one’s devotion to the immortal leader Van Rumpoy. Quite why an Australian domiciled in America has any interest, let alone sway, in what happens to Europe is somewhat confusing, but people happily lap up his belief that the EU is a malicious project created by some ever-distant Eurocrats, exclusively designed to keep Britain to heel.

This may be hyperbole, but the extent to which the some newpapers vilify the EU is on par with their comments on FIFA this summer. News of the perfidy of the EU, often made up, is first to hit the news; anything that might be considered praiseworthy is consigned to the back pages. This does work both ways, and europhiles would do well to remember the EU does have problems to be resolved. The difference is largely that eurosceptics believe the problems to be insurmountable, whereas europhiles should approach them as obstacles that, when solved, will make the Union stronger.

Criticism of the EU comes in many guises, but to name a few: democracy, sovereignty and impossibility. The case for the first is that there is a lack of democratic accountability in the EU, and this is probably the only argument that makes any sense. Due to the way the Union is set up the only elected body, the Parliament, has comparatively little say. Most decisions are left to the Commission. There are several problems with the argument, however. Firstly, as the country that sent twelve UKIP and two BNP MEPs to Brussells, we are not a great advocate for democracy. Roughly ten percent of those we have sent (and are paying for the pleasure) don’t want to be there. Sinn Fein protested against the UK by not taking up their seats in the UK parliament, I don’t think anyone would mind if Griffin, Farage and their ilk did the same.

The fact is that whilst the EU is not completely democratic, it is the elected governments of the member states who run it, and the Treaties make this clear. The European Council is made up exclusively of the heads of State, the Commission is comprised of one member per state, sent there by their national government, and finally the Parliament is directly elected. This system works surprisingly well compared with, for example, the American system. There is a far greater emphasis on compromise between party groups and they are much less likely to split down ideological lines, at least partially because they aren’t tied to specific constituents. The EU was set up and is allowed to exist through democratically elected state governments, and it can be dismantled in the same way. Democracy is not an issue in the EU in the same way it is on other continents. We are used to it and no-one is going to take it away, least of all the EU.

Secondly, sovereignty is a topic that most people talk about with reference to the EU, but have no knowledge about as a subject. The idea that any country is sovereign is a myth as old as time, an error created because we allow the person to become subordinate to the nation. The simple fact is that countries don’t exist. They are arbitrary geographical designations that exist in the minds of people. If the human race became extinct tomorrow there would never be a country again. Thinking rationally, there is nothing to bind any country together, save for the fact that for however many decades the country has been said to exist. I personally think I have no less in common with someone from Calais than from Newcastle or Londonderry, and yet I along with more than sixty million people have been designated British from birth. I had no choice in the matter and neither did anyone else, so claiming that our country is sovereign, or worse, superior to others is illogical. Petty nationalism, along with religion, has been responsible for essentially every war on earth. Sovereignty is an argument created by a lack of thought.

Finally, impossibility. It is claimed that so many different people from different countries with different beliefs can’t come together for their own common good. Unfortunately, this is a bare faced lie. Every national and international organisation has to overcome these problems. They do so because to keep the status quo whilst everything else moves on around you is an act of the wilfully blind. Whether we like it or not we live in a globalised society; nations are conglomorating into larger groups. In Asia and Africa there are nascent Unions modelled partially on the EU. It will not be enough to attempt isolationism as Little England. It will one day be called to question why Europe has two permanent seats on the UN security council, allocated not even to the most powerful or populous European nations, whereas South America has none at all. Brazil, India and China will be the superpowers of the future, so if we must agree that nations exist in law, it makes no sense to alienate ourselves from our neighbours.

There is no sense re-hashing the point that Europe was almost constantly at war before the European Communities started, but it does need to be said that a federal nation of half a billion will have more influence, both economically and politically, than an island kingdom of sixty million. Parties such as UKIP and the Conservatives who have always claimed to be most interested in the defence of the realm would do well to note that with ever more totalitarian superpowers in the East and, regrettably if the Republicans get back in, West, the best way to ensure the security of the UK is by ingratiating ourselves with our neighbours. The “Special Relationship” has not yielded results for us, and it is only those with rose tinted Starred and Striped glasses that think it has. The other international defence pacts have also failed to secure anything other that token responses from so called rogue nations. Why should Iran listen to Nato or the UN? They have done nothing but belittle them since the inception of the country. We would be wise to increase the powers of the EU and maybe start again. This is no suggestion of appeasement, but if Iran had no access whatsoever to Europe as a whole its economy would be harder hit than if we threaten to nuke them, and they may be more likely to come to the table.

As a side note there is also a claim that much of the legislation coming out of the EU is pointless and doesn’t affect the ordinary person. Whilst I’m sure there are always some directives that can be quoted that fall under that banner, the EU has forced states that didn’t want to to make better provision for gay rights, maternity care, consumer protection and environmental protection amongst many, many other things. For the right wing these may be too wishy washy and liberal to care about; however they are fundamental to the way we live as a society. They affect real people in positive ways, and I for one am glad that so many state governments have been forced to adopt positions on them that they would never have dreamed of before. The right can twist it any which way they want, the fact is they don’t like being told that workers deserve rights, that homosexuals should be equal or that those that caused the economic crash should have to pay for it. It is a bitter pill they have to swallow; I personally hope they choke on it.

The greatest defence for the EU is to educate its citizens. Much of the anti-EU sentiment is not really thought through, it stems from an unease of the unknown. If people were to look objectively at its goals and achievements the europhobe vote would diminish drastically. The ordinary eurosceptic voter is not racist, or even xenophobic. There is a fear of change that is inherent in most humans, and it is compounded by the fact the EU has been consistently unable to justify itself, when it should be so easy. Unfortunately there will always be cynical manipulators like Nigel Farage and Bill Cash, happy to twist any scrap of information they can, or even to outright lie, in order to fulfil their goals. The best advice for those who support their ideas is to read up a bit about them, and to realise they are the bigots the British have been fighting against since the Second World War. The conservatives have a more nuanced view, they think they are in Victorian times and that Britain will “punch above its weight”. Well, it won’t, and it is time to be realistic. Britain should be unashamedly at the heart of the EU: it is the logical place to be.

Eurosceptics have my sympathy because no matter how reasonable they may be, they will forever be associated with the drooling demagogues of the far right. If there are true eurosceptics who want to improve rather than destroy the Union they need to step forward and participate in a reasoned debate on how to move forward. As it is, there will be unintended consequences should the current eurosceptic parties take control in our national Parliament, and they won’t be pleasant for any of us.

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Posted on January 3, 2012, in Comment, Foreign Affairs, General and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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