On Thursday this week, the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will vote in a crucial referendum. For the first time in over 40 years, they will have the chance to express a view about the European Union (EU). To decide, in fact, whether they wish to remain a part of it or not.
At root the question being asked in the referendum is this and only this: do the benefits of being a part of the EU count for more than the loss of sovereignty that it has entailed? Has it delivered democracy, powerful economic growth and security in sufficient measure to make up for its centralisation of power?
The UK’s Constitution
The UK has a Constitution formed by several discrete documents, of which the earliest and most important is the 1707 Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, which brought it into being. However, neither Scotland nor England themselves have written Constitutions and they have completely separate legal systems. (All laws applicant in both jurisdictions are effected by two separate Acts, one for Scotland and one for England.)
Within these separate jurisdictions, the individual national Constitutions depend on two things: jurisprudence and Acts of Parliament. In other words, court decisions under Common Law form one part, while specific Acts approved by the Parliaments form the other. One function of an ‘Act of Parliament’ is to change, modify or repeal existing laws which no longer, in the collective opinion of Parliament, represent the view of the broader society or a fair and reasonable position in the light of present knowledge.
While countless thousands of words have been written about the British Constitution, it may be summed up like this: within a structure of partner nations defined by treaty, an extremely flexible, transparent and accountable structure of Common Law and Parliamentary Acts established through the courts and by public Parliamentary debate, defines the civil state of the people.
If this sounds like what you imagine the EU to be, you may be in for a nasty shock.
The EU’s Constitution
The most powerful body in the EU is the European Commission. This has the sole right to draft and propose laws. It negotiates treaties between Europe and other nations or supra-national bodies and it represents the EU at international level. The Commission also enforces EU Law upon member states. Commissioners are appointed by the Council of Ministers (the Heads of State) by qualified majority voting and the Commission as a whole must then be ratified by the European Parliament (EP). The Commission serves for five years, with no further accountability.
In essence, the Commission is the Government of Europe. But not one single elected politician sits on it. Every Commissioner, including the President, is an appointee. There is no democratic sanction on or requirement for accountability on any of them. No European Commissioner, ever, has been called up in front of their nation’s own Parliament and required to publicly explain themselves.
Laws are passed by national politicians acting out of role; the Council of Ministers. None of these campaign, during the domestic elections that select them, on their performance on the Council; so there is no accountability for their actions there.
The ‘European Parliament’, is but an expensive talking shop; it is an advisory body with limited powers of examination of and regulation over the Commission, the bureaucracy and the laws being passed. The EP may not propose Laws, as that is reserved to the Commission, although it may scrutinise them. However, no one nation may block any law through the EP; it always requires multinational cooperation. Most of the laws that the UK’s European Parliamentarians voted against over the last five years were passed anyway.
So while the British peoples are used to and have over centuries developed, a system of Parliamentary democracy that does provide transparency, that does provide accountability, that does protect minorities and which is able to minutely scrutinise and, ultimately, have democratic and public sanction over the Government, in the EU this is far more the ideal than the reality.
The ‘democratic deficit’ produced by this is the consequence EU’s origins as a trading bloc. It was never intended to be a super-state, which is what it now is.
As if this were not bad enough, successive enlargements of the EU have removed an already distant decision-making apparatus ever further from the people it governs. From the six original members of the EEC, which were France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, the EU has bloated to twenty-eight. In part, this was the fault of successive British governments, which saw enlargement as a foil to deeper integration.
Unfortunately, we got expansion alongside deeper integration, just without the democracy. All the British rejection of the so-called ‘European Constitution’ — which did propose some democratic control over the runaway behemoth — did, was to exacerbate the problem. This delighted the European bureaucrats, who had been shaking in their boots in fear that the prospect of a democratic Europe might actually become reality. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the cobbled-together surrogate for it, contained all that was bad in the proposed Constitution and little that was good.
As well as this, the dreaded ‘two-speed’ Europe has, likewise, come into existence. The Euro project has provoked rapidly greater integration between the nineteen countries of the so-called Eurozone. This has led directly to an explosion in laws, regulatory structures and, of course, because this is the EU, bureaucracy.
The democratic crisis has finally come home to roost in this last year. Greece, a sovereign nation, has collapsed in all but name and must now dance to the tune of money-lenders in Berlin. Italy is not far behind and could fail at any time.
These nations have been ruined because they are part of the Eurozone. Were they not, their currency values would have fallen, their goods and services would have therefore been cheaper and they would have seen inflows of money, leading to jobs and wealth. But the powerful German economy keeps the Euro too high for this.
At the same time the presence of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain in the Eurozone keeps the Euro lower than it would otherwise be. Were it not so, Germany would today have priced itself out of competition, especially with Italy, a formerly (pre-Euro) successful manufacturing nation. So the Euro drains money from the southern European countries and gives it to Germany and the northern ones.
The problem of a re-unified Germany
The EEC and its successors, the European Community (EC) and the EU were never designed to deal with a re-unified Germany. For the first decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany sought economic assistance from its European ‘partners’ to help with the reconstruction of the bankrupt former East Germany. But those days were over fifteen years ago and today, the economic power of a unified Germany has once again destabilised Europe.
That Britain was right to avoid joining the Euro is now crystal clear. Southern Europe will soon be bankrupted by it, with the exception of Greece, because it already has been. What was not clear, fifteen years ago, was the extent to which the European bureaucracy would proliferate on the back of the introduction of the common currency. If it had been bloated before — and it was — today it is beyond even Orwellian nightmare. This phantasmagorical monster is the result of a failed dream. And, yes, the EU has failed.
The promise of a Europe run by transparent, representative government and elected politicians is dead. We — through our national governments — said we did not want elected European officials. We did not want a proper European Presidency. We rejected the so-called ‘European Constitution’ that was at least an attempt to lay the foundations of a democratic Europe. And now we must drink the sour milk that we are left with.
It is not, now, a question of a ‘democratic deficit’. The EU is a democratic vacuum. And just as happened in the Soviet Union, the cumbersome behemoth we have created is dragging down the European economy. Its flagship, that painted sepulchre of hubris, the Euro, has already ruined one member state, as others teeter on the brink.
The economy was not the only thing we had in mind when we voted to join the EEC, however. Then, the Cold War was at its height.
We lived under the rules of three: the three minutes between the air-raid sirens going off and our being incinerated and the three days it would have taken the Red Army to cross the Rhine. At that fateful point we would launch nuclear Armageddon ourselves and be likewise vaporised. We were on the cusp of the final conflict; batteries of Bloodhound missiles looked east along the coast like grim sentinels. European war was both recent and imminent.
In the 1970s, joining ‘Europe’ was the only sensible choice, not just in the interests of the UK, but in order to preserve and promote the Europe we believed in from external threat.
It is not like that any more. Anyone who thinks Vladimir Putin, for all his faults, desires to see Russian tanks on the streets of Berlin or Paris is delusional.
Today, the threats are different. An unprecedented wave of sexual assaults on women is sweeping Europe right now, and the perpetrators are incomers who not recognise, indeed even despise, our culture. ‘Security’ is not just defending against nuclear war or terrorist attack; it is also making the streets safe and, while policing is a national issue, the EU has signally failed to coordinate an adequate policy to address uncontrolled migration from outside. Germany, indeed, has broken every protocol of Europe by negotiating directly with non-EU states over the migrant crisis an, by doing so, drastically worsened the plight of the other EU states. That was why the protocols were in place; and Germany need not pretend that it is a ‘good European’ now.
While the German behaviour is inexcusable, the EU’s ‘response’ to the Syrian migrant crisis has been piecemeal and positively counter-productive. Its agreement with Turkey means that the most educated and qualified individuals leaving the Syrian conflict zone are resettled there, while Europe has to take those who are of least use to us and who cost the most.
While this is happening, the very states that are bearing the brunt of the assault of economic migrants, are left floundering, bankrupted and completely unable to resist.
On security, then, as on democracy and economic management, the EU has failed.
The collapse of the EU? Why would that be bad?
There is a possibility that a referendum vote for the UK to leave would lead to the collapse of the EU. Today it has pauperised whole nations and spawned a bureaucratic monster that even Joseph Stalin could not have dreamed of. One would have to say that its demise is long overdue.
The EU has shown that it cannot contain German economic power; rather it has become the instrument of it. Without the EU, European nations would be free to make new international agreements that would allow them to redress the imbalance, just as free nations always have. For example, the southern nations, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, might form one such bloc. The former Communist nations, which also share a common cultural heritage, might form another. Nations would be free — as they should be — to negotiate agreements where they desire and not to, where they do not.
Such initiatives would help to counter German economic dominance and, with the termination of the Euro project that would be a pre-requisite, allow such new blocs to develop and operate economic policy in their own interests. This would be a good thing, not only for Europe in general but also for Germany, which can have no long-term interest in seeing its neighbours go bankrupt. Yet this road is blocked by the simple existence of the EU, lying like a monstrous pile of scrap in the way.
The Referendum vote will redefine Europe
At its best, Europe is a collection of fiercely independent but interdependent states. This dynamic is what gave us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution. Our culture is at once flawed and disparate but beautiful. Europe is more vibrant, diverse and colourful than any other continent. European is what we are, but it is our differences that make us who we are.
By contrast, the Kafkaesque monstrosity of the EU has made a Europe with all its anarchic liberty and zest excised. It propels us, inexorably, towards a grey, anodyne, ersatz pseudo-Europe with no colour and no life, because it absolutely intends to remove all the very differences that make us who we are. It cannot do otherwise; that is what it was set up to do and, like a driverless juggernaut, it will not be deflected from its path.
We have to ask ourselves, urgently, if what it has been designed to achieve is really what we want.