I should be a natural supporter of the European Union. It was built on the back of the peace which followed the Second World War; a check on national governments, a union of nations, a collaborative enterprise. It supports the free movement of people. It defends human rights at a transnational level, protects employment rights, promotes gender equality… And for goodness sake, look at the nutcases, half-wits and downright contemptible folk who are campaigning to leave: Farage, Galloway, Gove, Johnson.
But these assumptions are misplaced. There is little to be gained from speculating whether or not Europe would have remained at peace after 1945 without an economic union between France and Germany (although it is worth pointing out we were hardly bosom chums with many of our fellow members until the 1990s). We have been at peace with our pals across the Channel. Well done us. Perhaps the EU has prevented us from our worst excesses. But as to the rest? We’re getting on so well with Russia right now…
It supports the free movement of people. Except it has a racist definition of people. It’s a check on national governments; isn’t that the judiciary’s job? It defends human rights; so does the UN Charter, the European Court of Human Rights (Hi! I’m the EHCR, I have 47 members and I am independent of the European Union [yes, that does include Russia and Azerbaijan, what of it?]) and, on a far more practical and effective level, our own Human Rights Act (1998). It protects employment rights, gender equality. So do trade unions, and have done for far longer, far more vivaciously and with a far stronger democratic mandate. And who supports staying in? Cameron, Osborne, May, Blair. All firm favourites of my imaginary boxercise regime.
I may not be a natural supporter of the European Union.
Ideals vs Reality
The EU began life as the European Coal and Steel Community, essentially an economic union tying together France and Germany alongside the Benelux countries (and Italy, because they needed something to do) with the rationale that if you co-operate in these key industries, you can’t start squabbling over Alsace and Lorraine again. So far, so successful. Trade and economic partnership have thus remained the bedrock of the organisation as it developed, first into the European Economic Community (1957 and the Treaty of Rome), then dropping ‘Economic’ and then into the EU with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. Now there’s 28 members, including us since the French stopped being stubborn in 1973.
Free trade between member states, and those who play by EU rules like Norway, prevails. And free trade is good, right? It’s fair because it is the opposite of protectionism which gives unfair advantages to countries or industries to the disadvantage of other, often less advanced or wealthy countries. Except the free trade area in the EU is also a giant protectionist wall against non-EU countries. The Common Agricultural Policy keeps farmers in business (or, at least, landowners in credit) by preventing cheaper foods being imported from non-EU countries, principally poorer countries. So it’s unfair. It also keeps some food prices high because they are protected (any A-Level historians out there, recall the Corn Laws) and so do not compete to market value. So the EU’s economic policy fucks poorer countries outside the EU, and poorer consumers inside.
The old left were right to be suspicious. Nationalised industries are considered to be unfair by the EU because they prevent a level playing field for industry and skew competitive tenders. Even ignoring the hypocrisy of this policy in light of the previous discussion, that’s nonsensical if you put people before profit; some businesses (F.K.A. services) could be more cheaply and effectively provided for by governments or subsidiaries of governments. But they’re not even allowed to bid to provide a train service or a water supply, because that would be unfair competitive advantage.
So instead of a non-profit organisation or an arm of government potentially making a profit to reinvest in a service (like the East Coast Mainline train franchise, for example), any profit made from providing a service gets pocketed by folks who can already afford to travel first class. Perfectly in line with the corporatist foundations of the ECSC; the EU is about business, not people.
Now, bear with me whilst I’m sounding like a (Tony) Bennite because shortly I’ll blow up the notion that I’m pro-big government or have a ‘the state is great’ flag. Or indeed think nationalisation is even a ‘good thing’; I’m just upset by hypocrisy and ripping people off. But before we get onto bureaucracy, let’s talk about democracy.
Blah blah blah, democratic deficit, blah blah blah. Any argument you want to make about the failings of the EU as a democratic entity can just as easily be made for our own national government. Someone duller and better versed in AV+ versus STV and purple ribbons has covered that aplenty.
It is one thing being a check on the excesses of national governments, it is another to complete fuck one over with a strong democratic mandate to do exactly the opposite of what the schoolyard bullies demand. The behaviour of the European Central Bank and the key member states, particularly Germany, to a member country facing financial ruin with a growing degree of desperation and destitution amongst its citizens – EU citizens – has been inherently vile. It’s also been economically unsound; the conditions placed on Greece for its bailouts may look familiar to international political economists who were around in the 1980s and 1990s because they closely resemble Structural Adjustment Policies imposed on various sub-Saharan African and Latin American countries by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. They were exceptionally successful at undermining democratically-elected governments, destroying fledgling national infrastructure and encouraging rampant corruption. They were less effective at helping states to rebuild and recovering their loans. Remember signing that petition for debt relief to a country you couldn’t identify on a world map in the early naughties?
I still believe that Greece would have been better to leave the Euro, it only lacked the confidence. But that’s another debate. This is only to point out that not only does the EU not give a flying fuck about democracy if it doesn’t make money, it also shits on its weakest members. I’ve never been a fan of schoolyard bullies and Greece doesn’t even have lunch money to placate them.
Them Blasted Foreigns
So surely a key function of a supranational body is to have solutions to supranational problems which are also national problems for its members? Maybe even have contingency plans for really obvious and predictable problems? Apparently not. The utter failure of the EU to have even done a back-of-a-fag-packet risk assessment for a spike in people seeking sanctuary is thoroughly baffling. It’s not like the clusterfuck currently occurring in the Middle East is in any way a surprise. And it’s never going to be a quick fix, not least as climate change is busily pushing people north and guaranteeing a longer-term problem of people heading to Europe for their own survival.
I’ve already said the EU’s take on the free movement of people is racist (yeah, I’m one of those No Borders utopian anarchist types dedicated to the collapse of Britain and all the values we hold dear like corgis, the right to queue for a Greggs pasty and rampant paedophilia for celebrities). My logic here is much akin to my earlier critique of the EU’s take on free trade (not the Greggs pasty bit) but it’s not just hypocrisy in this case, it’s also spineless rhetorically bullshit: The Schengen agreement is basically dead. Ask Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden who have all ‘temporarily’ imposed border controls. Maybe Schengen could be saved if it just added the clause, ‘in reference to the free movement of people, the Schengen agreement defines people as rich white people’.
It’s all getting too emotive, right? This should calm things down. And also shake off that burning accusation that this is just the ramblings of someone longing for the heyday of state socialism. I don’t much trust government (nb. not the government, or this government, just government generally, all of them); I appreciate the judiciary acts as a check on the excesses of power in democracies although it too is far from perfect. I don’t much like nationalism; it is exclusionary and somewhat farcical. Does the EU also help with either of these things?
On the latter, no. As I’ve discussed in terms of ‘free trade’ and ‘free movement of people’, the EU simply acts like a giant nation state with the power to exclude very effectively. As to the former, I don’t much like bureaucracy; it tends towards the ineffective, the complex and thus corruptible, they don’t much appreciate transparency or democratic accountability. National governments show this on a regular enough basis; the EU has made it an art form.
I’m a democrat (not a Democrat, or indeed a fan of either Clinton), by which I mean I believe that power should be exercised as close to the people it effects as is feasible. I would like to see widespread and thorough devolution of power from political centres. Previously I had thought this made me a supporter of the EU; a Europe of the regions. But increasingly it feels like it makes me one of the EU’s biggest critics because the EU promotes a privileged, exclusive and unaccountable agenda. It is no better than a nation state, rather it seems to have taken the worst elements of such a political organisation and pumped them full of steroids.
The EU is about money and trade, not union and people. If you don’t really believe that consider the reforms Cameron’s managed to secure in his negotiations: safeguarding Britain’s financial service industry from Eurozone regulation. Because an unregulated financial service industry has proved so super for the people of Britain.
There’s 4 months until the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The level of debate so far has been…crappy. I don’t currently know how I will vote. I do like change though. I’m a big fan of change. And I like being contrary so if I ‘should’ be voting to stay in, I’m sure as hell gonna play the devil’s advocate for a while.
Also, Tory infighting? My favourite.