Saturday, March 24, 2007

What has Europe ever done for us?

Wasted billions of money. Legislated straight bananas. Opened UK borders to a flood of immigrants.

Newsnight yesterday went 'For' (Mark Littlewood) and 'Against' (Marc Glendening) on the EU. The dialogue lacked intellectual depth and seemed weighed down by polarised dogma. Neither man has a firm grip on what the EU is, has been or may become. I'll forgive them since they had only minutes to cover 50 years of history, but let me pick up some points in the limitless time that follows.

Mark Littlewood accepted his opponent's point that the EU is headed toward a federal superstate, with the difference that he approved. The terms are a trap. The EU is a new concept, a supranational authority unique in the world, neither a state nor a federation. To support the EU is not to compromise nation-states: it can and often is a 1+1 = 3 equation.

Look at Iceland or Switzerland, Glendening says. Points missed by his opponent include 1) not joining the EU is distinctly different to being in it for over 30 years and then leaving - and 2) those countries are not the UK . As for going back to the EFTA, economic integration without political integration doesn't work. UK trade would become subject to rules it no longer has say in, as Norway's is to its detriment. This has little to do that I can see with an 'empty chair' as Littlewood suggested: that was an unrelated situation where France paralysed the political operation of the EU by refusing to participate.

The poll 'Should more power be given to Europe' implies the UK can give power away to the EU. The EU's powers are mostly those that only the EU can possess. Power isn't mutually exclusive, the EU generates it where it did not previously exist. The UK arguably has a net gain of power due to its influence within that collective.

The idea that the EU is 'stuck in 1957' I find bizarre: it's the most forward-looking organisation on this Earth. It is a new model of political and social organisation, just finding its feet after these 50 short years. If it works, it may serve as a model to reduce conflict and increase prosperity throughout the world. Nation-states are losing their grip in a globalising world and the EU points to a viable political solution.

The most clearly erroneous comment from Glendening was 'Europe has had nothing to do with peace', claiming it is instead because fascism was defeated. Others point to NATO or Mutually Assured Destruction as the real benefactor. These ideas are short-sighted; fascism remains ever ready to return; America (NATO) is liable to unwitting expeditions we'd be better off without - and if the continuing proliferation of nuclear weapons is our best chance for lasting peace, we're in deep trouble!

To recommend that nation-states continue unmediated is to approve the only tool they possess to resolve disagreement: war. The UN (a political-only organisation) is powerless to prevent it, as we have seen. The EU makes war impossible primarily by economic, not political means. It can take credit, not alone but still in fair measure, for the peace and prosperity of the last 50 years.

The setup of the Newsnight debate reflected a simplistic view of the EU that the figureheads did little to modify: that one either wants to God Save the Queen and keep a sovereign state or give up all our national power to Europe. The former is untenable and the latter impossible. The sovereign state will continue to exist as the primary political organisation while the EU pursues necessary things that deserve respect: free trade and movement, political conflict resolution, the exporting of democracy, action against climate change, cross-border police co-operation, protection of human rights and the proper stewardship of international collective goods such as fish, air and energy.

I would hope for a more enlightened approach next time with the substance considered with more care. Nevertheless, I give great credit for covering the topic and wish only to see more of it.

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