The Burgal Hidage has recently been in a bit of a conversation-by-post with me about recent political developments, and has just penned a piece on the European Union. As the points he raises are numerous and well-thought out, I thought I would take the time to answer in a full blog post, rather than just in a short comment on the article itself. Readers may also be interested in the post which originally started our conversation, found here.
I must first by thanking TBH for his continued interest in my writings, and for providing good, stimulating analysis and debate – long may it continue! May I also commend him for showing more interest in and understanding of European affairs than many of his countrymen, who unfortunately do have a tendency to be a little….uniformed….on such matters.
Now, I will attempt to reply to the points made TBH in his post.
I completely agree that most Britons have – funnily enough – lives to lead, and don’t have the time or desire to exhaustively research and probe the political questions of the day (and good on them for it). It is certainly true that the EU has never really been that overwhelmingly popular in the UK, and in the last decade it has definitely become a bone of contention amongst many. However, in many ways I think it became something of a focal point of general antipathy against the establishment. Without a doubt, policies like the EU’s freedom of movement have caused much ire, but I would say a fair number of people voted Brexit out of general discontent with the political establishment, which is highly associated with the European Union itself. My best example of this would be South Wales, which voted Brexit despite being a net recipient of EU funding and experiencing comparatively little immigration. However, it is generally a deprived area which has been effectively ignored by Westminster for decades; as such, those voters were probably not voting against the EU per se, but the political elites who did nothing for them.
Unfortunately, I must somewhat disagree with you on your contrasting of the EU and the USA. While I agree that Anglosphere politics are often linked and tightly-connected, it is a mistake to make too much of a comparison between the European Union and the United States. While I am no expert on the American constitution, I do know that it was set up with clear separation of powers in mind, and an idea that the States themselves would continue to exert a certain sense of independence from the Federal government. The EU is not set up in this way – one of the guiding principles of Europe is ‘ever-closer union’; there was never any idea that ‘you join the club today and it stays this way forever’ or having “well-defined limitations” – the policy is for tighter and tighter union between all the different member states. This, of course, is where most Britons truly draw the line with the EU. The truth is, we never wanted this – as many of the older generation will say, they voted to join a common market – not the ‘United States of Europe’. Indeed, one of the key grievances amongst many Europeans (not just in Britain) is that they do not want this ever-closer union, though the concept is far more popular on the Continent than it ever was in the UK. As such, while it is true that the ‘closer union’ promoters in the EU are pushing the concept far quicker than they should have, in truth they are not actually overstepping their ‘charter’.
Not to say they are justified, however. The European Union, as it stands today, is a bloated, bureaucratic, undemocratic mess, stuck in an unhelpful limbo between a proper federation and a tight trading bloc, with far too much power vested in a few key member states. To partly answer your economic points, I will state that the Eurozone was, in my opinion, a huge mistake, one pushed forward for ideological rather than economic concerns – one of the reasons the UK managed to weather the Great Recession better than many of its European counterparts was that we retained Sterling and thereby control over our monetary policy. Compare this to the nations of Southern Europe, some of whom – i.e. Greece – have almost completely handed over monetary (and a lot of fiscal) control over to the European Central Bank, which is heavily influenced by Germany.
Overall, the core principle of the European Union – ensuing peace between the great European powers – is a beautiful one, and one in which the EU has been overwhelmingly successful – credit where credit is due. Almost for that reason alone, it is worth the EU continuing to exist. I do believe it will do as well, as long as it seriously reforms, one way or another. The UK of course has sailed away, and as I have now come around to believing, it is probably for the best. The British never wanted ‘ever-closer union’; we’ve always done our own sort of thing on the edge of Europe, and it was a nice but ultimately naïve idea to think that we might suddenly join the continent and change all that. I hope that the divorce is as amicable and mutually beneficial as possible between the EU and the UK, and I hope the former continues to exist in a state that better serves the millions of Europeans who exist within its borders. Will that mean a true tight federation or a loosening of the union? I honestly don’t know, though I suspect we will find out soon enough.
I hope that served as something as an answer to your post; once again, thanks for the interest and conversation!