Friday, 26 February 2010

Saying wherE U stand.

Blue Eyes and I kind of ganged up on Stuart Sharpe on Twitter last night. Stuart had the temerity to suggest that the principle of "No taxation without Representation" could not apply here as we were represented. Blue Eyes and I pointed a suspicious finger at the EU to show that we are, at least in part, taxed by a body in which we have no effective representation.

That made me think that I haven't really commented on the EU yet, in all the time that this blog has been running. There are a paltry 5 posts so far tagged "EU", from which only a general impression of my views might be gleaned.

So here goes.

I am, at heart, a Europhile. I love visiting the rest of Europe; I think the ability to travel freely across the Continent is an excellent freedom and have taken advantage of it. Economically, I see European markets as important, both in terms of the opportunities they present to our businesses and in terms of the benefits I can gain as a consumer from the competitive pressure it exerts on our economy. My choice of cars stands as testament to my appreciation of the benefits of intra-EU trade. My chosen profession is also one of the most Euro-integrated professions of them all.

I am also a virulent Eurosceptic. In part, this flows from my inbuilt omniscepticism; if someone wants to change things significantly and irrevocably, my natural reaction is to ask "why?". Scepticism has a bad press these days; it is usually equated with a dogmatic resistance to change, but it is in fact a necessary check on overenthusiasm and blind dogma. So when the EU announces that it wants to extend its "competence" to a new area, I expect our politicians to examine critically whether this is a good idea or not; will the EU be able to do this better than national governments, and will it in fact do it better? I do not expect them to roll over and sign up to whatever is requested.

Taking these views together, I am therefore very firmly in favour of a European Union of the right type. I am also strongly against the actual European Union that we seem to have.

To me, it is obvious that we should have a European Union with a strictly and narrowly defined remit, to ensure minimum standards of co-operation between member states, in those areas. For example, to require that all nationals of an EU state must have the freedom to travel and work in any other EU state and that states must allow the free movement of EU-originating goods that meet a specific EU quality standard.

What we have, instead, is a Commission with an expansive attitude to a vaguely-defined remit, a huge and ill-spent budget, and no real form of democratic control.

British debate on the subject of the EU seems to be similarly split. Those supporting continued British membership and greater British involvement point to the things that attract me to the concept of an EU (and quietly regard the EU that we actually have as being the best of a bad job). Those wishing to leave point to the failings of the EU (and ignore the real benefits that could accrue from a better EU). Neither side really acknowledges the other's argument. Both are right, and yet both are wrong - if taken in isolation.

And my considered opinion? We should be members of a better, more limited, more focussed, more democratic EU. We should work to achieve this. If it takes our withdrawal to force the EU to change (or prompt the creation of a new Union), then so be it.


  1. Pretty much exactly what I think.

  2. Well argued and reasonable post, and I find myself in broad agreement. :)

    ...But the 'tea party' thing is still utter claptrap of the highest order. I find this a shame, because it distracts from the actual issues.

  3. Now this is having your cake and eating it, isn't it? Let's just have the best bits. The truth is that we do not need to be in the EU to have the best parts and what we lose on the roundabouts we can gain in the swings. If we like their proposals, we can copy them here.

    Those who want to stay in will cite that we will lose trade by withdrawing. Well, let me tell you the UK competes on price and they only buy the goods that they want and they will continue to buy them. Our command of English stands us in good stead to remain a strong European marketplace. We would also be able to source certain goods more cheaply if we were outside the EU.

    Secondly they will cite that we will not be able to travel freely around Europe. Europeans want us as tourists and the benefit of checking who crosses our borders and how long they stay here must be worth it given our outlook.

    No, we should withdraw to escape impenetrable and confusing regulations that are expensive and that, unlike others, we diligently uphold. The UK has never been good at fudging it. My only reservation is that our subsidy indirectly prevents war breaking out on mainland Europe but let them get on with it. We need to regain some autonomy and think about ourselves for the grim foreseeable future.

    It also pleases me that they would bend over backwards to prevent us from leaving as it would set such a precedent. My final word of advice is never ever study EU law. It is in a class of its own and is fiendishly deceptive.

  4. An well thought out analysis of the EU conundrum, we need it but not in it's present form and that is the nub. The EU is proliferate and irresponsible with our money and totally bureaucratic with civil servants and politicians that dictate idealistic solutions headless of practicality and common sense. The EU does not have the checks and balances that a true democracy affords. Democracy is dying in the western world. A new revolution is required where the voting public regain control of there parliamentary institutions. True democracy affords the majority to make decisions not a small clique of political mendacious spin doctors who hoist their minority ideology on to the majority. The majority may make alarming and often poor decisions but that is there right. The only right the minority have is to express their opinions and try and persuade the majority of the veracity of those opinions. This applies not just to the EU but to all western democracies.

  5. Although I understand your affinity to Europe as a geographical and social identity, (I have a particular love of the Netherlands myself), I don't think that there is any version of the 'EU' which could possibly be beneficial to the UK.

    To have a free movement area leaves the borders of individual countries open to abuse, as we have already seen. It cannot be stopped because of the numerous land borders in mainland Europe, but we have a special appeal to incomers due to language and social benefits system.

    We cannot have a free trade area, because Britain would be more competitive than it's neighbours, because without the EU we would likely be less regulated, lower taxed and more open to the rest of the world outside of the EU. Basically, our European competitors would not want us to upset the balance.

    Those two purposes are the main reasons for the construction of any union of states (apart from common defence, which is an obvious non starter with the French). I cannot imagine that any union which sought to make these two objectives possible could work without the kinds of structures that we presently have. Most of the current union legislation is principally about making sure that one country cannot compete internally or externally more favourably than another (though in practice the French & Germans hold sway for their own advantage), which thereby negates the purpose of national government and local democracy.

    I just can't think of any way that these problems can be overcome - so we should leave and leave soon, before we are totally ruined by our membership.

  6. I personally would favour a "United States of Europe", something on American lines. In the US, the States still have considerable power, far more than individual countries now have within the EU. The individual states guard this right very jealously, and although the President is claimed to be one of the most powerful leaders in the world, he actually has very little power over a very wide range of issues including law enforcement. And it must be remembered that the national dollar, valid throughout the USA didn't come into existence until long after the formation of the original USA.
    Europe, of course tries to do things in the exact reverse order!

  7. Interesting that no-one seeks to defend the EU in its current form. Supporters of EU membership seem always to defend an EU, not the EU. Then, the argument becomes fuzzy and there is no clear result.

    I think the USA actually provides a good model; it is much less centralised than we assume. I suspect that those who call for a "USofE" do not in fact understand what they are calling for.

    Tony E makes the point that "Most of the current union legislation is principally about making sure that one country cannot compete internally or externally more favourably than another", a point that I strongly agree with (and a practice that I strongly disagree with).