Thursday, December 01, 2005

Europe: “May it please my lord, The Devil…”

In the principles I set out when we started the blog, I said we'd mostly talk about 3 things; the authoritarian takeover, constitutional reform and Britain's place in the world. While we've mostly got sidetrcked by the first one and the abuses the current govt is creating, the other two are still important. So, given that DK has put up a pretty good post on his objections to the EU, I thought I'd try to at least answer some of his points (in my cold addles state).

The problem I have doing so is that normally, when addressing the anti-EU brigade, you're normally dealing with a small minded nationalist island stater, frequently with little England tendencies, who really hasn't thought through their position beyond that of disliking johnny foreigner. DK isn't an island stater, his position, shared with "I've got a book out me" Worstall, isn't that Britain should leave the EU. It's that the EU is a bad idea, that it should cease to exist at all, that all nations within it should break it up themselves. That's a position I fundamentally disagree with, but it's at least a position I can respect and understand; it's not based on bigotry, nationalism or narrow self interest, it's an economic perspective with a libertarian market driven bent.

So, I'm not going to be able to defeat it in one post, and I doubt I've any chance of changing their minds. But that's not the point, the point is to persuade you, dear reader, that they're wrong, and I'm not. Besides, Nosemonkey and commentators say that we need a decent argument. So, to begin...
Nation states exist. They have governments who must try to do the best for their people or else they will lose their power. This competition between nations is healthy, and helps to stimulate growth through innovation. The EU stifles this.
Yes, states do. But, they're a relatively recent invention, are in many cases (Belgium anyone) reasonably contrived affairs, and aren't proven to be the best method of organisation known. In fact, they are a significant cause of conflict. Healthy competition on a market model can become unhealthy competition on a warlike model. Besides, the spread of best practice can also be said to be a good thing amongst states, the EU fosters this.
The EU tries—or tries to appear—to serve many masters which means, in fact, that it can serve none. Even were we to dissolve all of the states in the EU, there would still be problems of regionalisation. We have this problem in a country as small as Britain; over a much larger area, the scale of the problem becomes multiplied many times.
Yes, but that's true of any large entity, including succesful ones such as the US. The problem can be solved by decentralisation, the much vaunted but not properly initiated subsidiarity and a clearly defined set of responsibilities for the centre.
Governments can be voted out, and their policies changed. The only body in the EU that can initiate laws is unelected; they cannot be removed. Even when the Commission resigned en masse under Santer, many of the people involved retained their jobs, even the egregious Kinnock. Even when some did not, the substantial aim and functioning of the Commission remained unchanged.
Anyone thing the current method of selecting the Commission is a good one? Anyone? Not me, anyway. The problem is that EU democrats like me are regularly dismissed as "federalists", but those dismissing us as such seem to show no understanding of the meaning of that term. I want a democratically selected Commission (or whatever it ends up called), preferably on the Parliamentary model that most EU states show works so well. If we had that, this criticism would be answered; it's not an argument about the existence of the institution, merely it's current structure; no one likes it, but our solutions differ.
Few enough people voted for Labour this time around; no British person has ever been given a vote on the existence, personnel or direction of the Commission, the signing of Treaties or our membership of the EU (note: not the EEC). This means that it has no legitimacy for the Brittish people.
"Brittish"? I'm sure your favourite pedant will pick that one up Chris, but in the meantime, I, um, agree. That's why I'm in favour of referenda on EU treaties, and believe Major really messed up when he didn't hold one on the Treaty of Union. If the case isn't made, people resent it. Blair's running scared over the constitution didn't help either. I'd support a referendum on continued membership, but we need to get the current govt out first, it'd need to be held early in a new parliament with a new govt.
The EU costs a large amount of our money, which we have no say in the spending of. Money which could be better spent in this country by our elected officials or, even better, returned to the people from who it was taken, who will make best use of it.
Figures, details? Britain is a net contributor, yes, but some areas of the country do benefit from EU spending, and a lot of it (discounting the CAP, which, well, we try to pretend isn't there and would like to get rid of) is investment in emerging markets, investment that will benefit us medium to long term, think of it a bit like the US Marshall plan post-war, it's mostly for our benefit.
Competancies, i.e., powers, handed to the EU at one point, by nation states, can never be regained, without leaving the EU. These powers are controlled by the (unelected) Commission.
Untrue; treaties and powers can be renegotiated, the much maligned constitution was actually an attempt, in part, to return some powers. The EU, as currently structured, is deeply flawed. But that doesn't mean the basic ideal should be abandoned.
I am, roughly, a free-market libertarian: the EU's policy of economic micromanagement runs directly contrary to these views. And yet I have no say in its direction.
You do, it's just that our Westminster govts, which sit on the decision making Council of Ministers, have a long tradition of ignoring the opinions of the electorate. Democratising the mess would give you a better say than leaving.
The EU is unnnecessary. Countries can, and have in the past, make their own treaties, with each other, for the mutual gain of both.
Many things are unnecessary, doesn't make them a bad thing though. By agreeing a commonly held framework, I, as an EU citizen, have the freedom to move to and work in any EU country. My employers are owned by a German parent company, and have offices in many EU countries, staff can move freely between them without applying for permits, etc. Compare this to the US, where non-US citizens can have significant problems entering to take up jobs offered them, even Brits, etc.

True, bilateral treaties could acheive it, but they're harder to negotiate and can create differing, and confusing, regulations. Free movement of goods, services and peoples, basic free market principles confirmed by right under Maastricht. Necessary? No, I can simply work here, but it's good to know if I do need to go to Munich, I can just get on a plane.
The EU's micromanagement of economies, and vast swathes of red tape, stifle trade and business and thus makes us all poorer. This translates to real tragedies on a personal level.
It can do, yes. But in addition, some of that 'red tape' prevents tragedies. Standards on, for example, toy manufacture and safety, mean that companies know what is required of them to produce a product they can then sell all across Europe withot any problems. Other times, the red tape is silver plated at Whitehall, it's not the EU legislation that's the issue, it's the implementation into UK law that makes it overtly restrictive. Othertimes, it's just wrong. But that's what politicians and bureacracies do. When Whitehall does it, we blame the government of the day, when it happens in Brussels, we blame the insitution itself? Democratise it, open up decision making, stop the Council from meeting in camera (as proposed in the Constitution) and then blame those who made the decisions, and vote 'em out.
The EU also tries to micromanage on a social level. This makes it as fascist as the current Labour government. However, we can change our government: we cannot change the EU, its structure or its (meaningful) personnel.
We can change the structure, there's a perpetually ongoing attempt to do so. As for personnel? See earlier comments about electing the Commission.
I'll say it again: the Commission, the only body in the EU that can initiate laws, is unelected.
Yes, but that's not a reason to leave the EU, it's a reason to reform it. Blair wasn't really elected this time around, and most certainly doesn't have majority support. Bush wasn't elected fairly by many, many accounts.

The EU is a mess. No argument there. But leaving it, or destroying it, isn't the answer.

A free market libertarian has a strong argument against any kind of regulatory framework, but I look to an increasingly globalised world and see it slowly, but surely, being consumed by large corporations. Markets have a tendency to die when consolidation leads to lack of competition. Murdoch's News International is rabidly anti-EU. Why? Because the supra-national regulatory structure it represents may actually be a tool to which his attempts at monopoly control over media may actually be blocked. Obviously not going to happen with Berlusconi around, but it's at least a help. As the internet trading and electronic payment generally takes over, the currency we use is increasingly irrelevent, we are likely, over the next 50 years, to see one or two global currencies accepted everywhere. Do you want those currencies to be under the control of elected governments and their officials, or under the control of corporations looking out solely for their own interests?

Markets needs regulations in order to break up monopolies and prevent cartels. If we're trading internationally, we need international regulators. Eventually, the EU will itself be part of an even greater, global whole. It's a start; a flawed, and at times frustrating start, but it's better than nothing.

The case for Europe must be made. The cowardice of government after government over the last twenty plus years is allowing the anti- case to win by default. This cannot be allowed to continue. It's 2am, I have to work tomorrow. More rhetoric on another day.

*The title for this post comes from a comment DK made here. Yes, I'm being silly. Why not?


Tim Worstall said...

"As the internet trading and electronic payment generally takes over, the currency we use is increasingly irrelevent, we are likely, over the next 50 years, to see one or two global currencies accepted everywhere. Do you want those currencies to be under the control of elected governments and their officials, or under the control of corporations looking out solely for their own interests?"

Companies please. And thus my disagreement with much of your analysis. A company can only get us to use a currency if if offers us something which the alternatives do not. A country can force the choice upon us. Which provider is likely to lead to a better currency, us the citizens for the use of?


MatGB said...

Which is where we fundamentally disagree, and why I can at least respect the position you hold; I want it democratically accountable, you don't.

Gah! We're not very good at this vitriolic you're wrong junk the yanks like with their blogs are we?

PaulJ said...

Europe isn't perfect. I think it's fair to say that not many people would hold that view, particularly in light of the failure of the EU consitution and the current negotiations over the EU budget.

That basically leaves us with two options - call it quits, leave, and wash and hands of the problem, or stay in and try and do something about the problems at hand.

I think the real problem lies in the fact that many people want to have some sort of middle ground, where we pick and choose the good bits but not the bad, where we enjoy freer trade and easier movement, but don't prop up CAP and quibble over rebates.

Not going to happen.

About currency under company or government, well, here's where I get a little anti-capitalist. Basically, the thing with always having an alternative under competition is that more often than not the alternative sucks. Even if there's not an actual monopoly, in reality there is.

I mean, take Paypal, perhaps the closest to a current global electronic payment. It sucks, really really sucks. If it was a 'real' bank or money lender, it would have been closed down years ago. High fees, little to no customer support, very poor recourse to getting things sorted if it goes wrong. But peolpe use it because it's the biggest and most well known, and the alternatives are not so heavily promoted or quickly smothered by the biggest fish in the pond.

Personally, I'd hate for there to be a global, corporate currency. We'd be pretty much screwed and not be able to do much about it.

Anonymous said...

Reading this post reminds me why over a year ago I started to write my own blog. Professing to offer an argument for the EU, the post starts with the old canard about those of us who do oppose the EU; of course DK and TW are the exceptions which prove the rule; that any who dare to question the European project must be “small minded nationalist island staters, frequently with little England tendencies, who really haven’t thought through their position beyond that of disliking Johnny foreigner” they oppose the EU through bigotry, nationalism or narrow self interest.

Of course this therefore infers that those who support the EU are all splendidly good chaps and chappesses with no vices that are worth mentioning.

I said this was “that old canard” it is, the FCO paper 1971 “SOVEREIGNTY AND THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES” contains the fundamental nature of this argument, an argument that has been successfully used by supporters of the European process since the beginning. By suggesting that opposition is based, not on real concerns but solely on the prejudicial leanings of the questioner, is no more than a version of the Argumentum ad hominem. I allows supporters of the process to a) take the moral high ground and b) diminishes the need for real debate, which is of course exactly why the little Englander argument is so much favoured by internationalists.

Of course by the opposite argument is equally valid to suggest that those who do wish to destroy the nation state must by its own definition be traitors, turncoats, fifth columnists, who are no more than collaborators with foreign agents in an effort to undermine their own country. But we do not hear that mentioned so often; perhaps because those of us who do oppose the EU have so many better arguments, which are solidly based and can be backed up with reliable evidence, we do not therefore find the need to descend into the gutters of debate to make a cogent argument against the EU.

Fist point Nation Sate v what exactly is the EU, what will is become if not a nation state in its own right? So where is the argument for a large nation state as opposed to small nation state. The mention of contrived is rather rich considering that the EU is itself about as contrived as it is possible to be. The formation of large nation states do not come without bloodshed; look to America, look to the USSR both were in the business of nation state building.

Second point The argument for decentralisation always misses the point; that we were already decentralised! the process has been and is a continual one to centralise. If then the EU allows some decentralisation that of course would be under the auspices of the EU centre. We would be no more than a state within a United European Union.

Third point Even if the Commission is elected it will not make the EU democratic, democracy means from the people i.e. the people must have choice, the first of those choices is do we want to be part of a United Europe. Allowing us the power to elect a Commissioner for a system of government that we have not accepted will not give us democracy. Apart from that the EU will have been formed in a undemocratic top down manner, what will the outcome be if the people actually do have chance to voice their opinions.

Fouth Point By all means let us have a debate and a referendum let it be fair and open and then let us all abide by the outcome. I would however caution that calling for a fair and open debate and referendum means that if the answer is no then that is the answer No! we do not wish to be asked again in a years time that is the end of the EU project for Great Britain.

Fifth Point Money, It is not spent for the Benefit of Great Britain PLC the money is spent for the betterment of the EU, as we are net contributors we need to be certain that as a nation state it is to our benefit that the costs do not outweigh those benefits, the point is that that the costs far outweigh the benefits to Great Britain.

Point Six Powers, Treaties of course can be renegotiated; perhaps you would care therefore to point to which of the many EU treaties have actually returned powers from the EU to the nation state? No I thought not. You also forgot to mention a little thing called the Acquis communautaire otherwise known as the ratchet one powers are given to the EU they may not be returned to the nation state. So in fact DK is factually correct and you are not.

Point seven We do not have a say in the direction of the EU otherwise the Constitution would not be still on the table and parts of it would not still be implemented. The Constitution itself also makes it quit clear that the EU is to be defined by very socialist contours, that by its very nature will prevent any other political ethos.
"A free and united Europe ... will immediately revive in full the historical process of the struggle against social inequalities and privileges. All the old conservative structures which hindered this process will have collapsed or will be in a state of collapse... In order to respond to our needs, the European revolution must be socialist..." Altiero Spinelli

Point eight AS the EU is unnecessary this does not make it good either. Free trade is one thing free movement is one thing, citizenship of a state called the EU is a totally different thing. Why must all of become European and give up out own nationality just so that some who may want to work outside this country can save a little time applying for work permits. By that argument we should have a world government and one nationality.

Point nine EU Red tape is costing this country billions

A new study released this week by Open Europe finds that EU legislation has been responsible for 77 percent of the cost of regulation on businesses since 1998. The study calculates that EU-derived legislation has cost the UK economy 30 billion pounds since 1998 alone. Gordon Brown has argued that "around half" of the cost of regulation on business is caused by EU legislation. But the new analysis - based on the Government's answers to an extensive programme of Parliamentary questions - suggests that even this is an underestimate, because many pieces of supposedly domestic legislation are in fact implementing EU legislation. Europe's production of new regulations is actually increasing at an alarming rate. Of the 22,000 pieces of legislation on the EU statute book, about 12,000 have been introduced in the eight years since 1997, compared to 10,000 during the forty years from 1957 to 1997."

Point ten Back to democracy; I feel that it should be, obvious when we have an election we elect a party to govern based on their manifesto, a raft of policies that the majority of the people in the country can support. If and/ or when the people change their minds they can chose to elect a different party with a different raft of policies, often totally reversing the previous policies. The problem with the EU is that no one is elected on a manifesto, we the people have no electoral input in the policies of the EU, added to which the EU works to a much longer timescale than our elected governments, something planned 15 years ago might well only just have started to be implemented.

You have suggested reform of the EU several times in your post, but that to be honest has been the clarion call of supporters from the beginning; it just never happens. It is almost as if this is a sop to the people, don’t leave this discredited union, lets all pull together and change it into something we do want. I am sure that the godfather of the Union would support that argument; that after all was Altiero Spinelli intention; to create the union by undemocratic methods over the heads of the peoples, and then to allow the people of this newly formed federalist state to have a voice. As the European process supporters are now calling for reform we should understand that we are near the completion of the project, which is a United States of Europe
This is an opportune time for me to discuss with you the making of the new Europe. We are passing beyond the phase of proposals, drafts and texts; in a few weeks the first institutions of the New Europe will become a living reality. In this challenging time we are naturally encountering difficulties; they are the birth pangs attending the creation of a United States of Europe. M. Jean Monnet 1952
The Address of M. Jean Monnet at the National Press Club Washington, D.C. April 30th 1952

Anonymous said...

Hello Mat and Paul,

nice to see this subject being debated; you've done a point-by-point on the Devil's Kitchen list of things wrong with the EU. Would you care to do the same to my own list?

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, the "not going to happen" argument, in favour of "sort of middle ground, where we pick and choose the good bits but not the bad, where we enjoy freer trade and easier movement, but don't prop up CAP and quibble over rebates", is of more general application.

Democratic reform of the EU is not going to happen on any reasonable timescale. I'll be due to retire in forty years or so, and no reasonable projection of democratic reform of the EU would have it fixed within a reasonable proportion of the remainder of my working life.

For people in their twenties, democratic reform of the EU may as well be "not going to happen".