Wednesday, August 22, 2012

UK and EU: A Doomed Marriage?

With the Euro-crisis dragging on without any sign of resolution, even the most excitable journalists are beginning to get a bit fed up with waiting for nemesis. The most likely scenario is not a sudden collapse. The European elites are clearly willing to spend however many billions of Euros that are required to avert that possibility. They have also managed to convince their populations that such a collapse would be worse than the current impasse. So, crisis has become the new normal and we can expect it to drag on for many years. Europe will slowly stagnate. It won’t be until a new generation of politicians arise, without any commitment to the failed Euro-project, that a major change of direction becomes possible. The tragedy is that these politicians are most likely to come from the radical left or right, although in most cases the two polarities are difficult to tell apart.

This means that the UK finds itself shackled to a corpse and makes Daniel Hannan’s new book restating the case against British membership of the EU especially timely. He has called it A Doomed Marriage (and you can read an extract in the Daily Mail). The title comes from something he once heard about marriage guidance counsellors. They say, as long as the couple are still arguing, the marriage can be saved. The very fact of disagreement means both parties value the other’s opinion enough to want to change it. It is when they settle into silent contempt that the union is finished. And that is the attitude of the British towards the EU: icy distain. There is no longer even a token effort to put a positive case for rule from Brussels. Few think joining the EU has done us any good and, aside from a few harmless cranks (one of whom, regrettably, is deputy prime minister), British Euro-enthusiasm is dead. Particularly telling is the number of ex-Europhiles now claiming that they were sceptics all along. Our marriage with Europe has now got to the stage where the only reason we stay in is for fear of life outside . It is the equivalent of a warring couple sticking it out for the sake of the children.

Realising this, Dan has begun to develop a narrative for life outside the EU centred around our shared culture and strong trading relationships with the English-speaking peoples of North America, Australasia, India and (the honorary English-speakers) of Scandinavia. In parallel, his American bestseller, The New Road to Serfdom, warned Americans to avoid the mistakes of Europe. A Doomed Marriage catalogues the arguments that have been made in favour of the EU and systematically debunks them. We learn that we joined late in the day not because we deliberately stood aside, but because our constructive suggestions about what shape the nascent EU should take were ignored. Only when we ditched all our arguments and completely accepted the federalist model, common agricultural policy (“CAP”), external tariffs and the rest were we allowed to join. And yet, Euro-enthusiasts spent decades telling us we had to be in to have influence. After forty years, it is clear that our membership has had no influence at all. CAP still extorts money from consumers and third-world farmers, there is no single market in financial services (which the British are best at) and we have not been able to stall the constant flow of regulations from Brussels. To add pecuniary injury to diplomatic insult, we have been the largest net contributor to EU funds apart from Germany.

In his most shocking chapter, Dan explains how the EU has funnelled cash through charities like Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, to buy support. Millions of Euros are paid to these organisations who, in turn, provide useful propaganda. The same has long gone for Brussels journalists who are carefully cultivated in return for uncritical coverage. The EU has learnt the hard way that it is a waste of time trying to convince the public of its virtues. Referendum defeats in Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands and France (all duly ignored) have put paid to that. Bankrolling pressure groups and NGOs serves the EU’s purposes much better. And there are now so many articulate people on the European payroll, it is hardly surprising that our elites cannot bring themselves to accept we are better off out.

The other main reason for Euro-enthusiasm that Dan identifies has been political tribalism. Never mind the arguments: the BBC, the intelligentsia and most politicians simply defined the EU as progressive, modern and moderate. They have dismissed the EU’s opponents as lunatics. Even though the sceptics have been proven right, it is very hard for the enthusiasts to admit this (see here for a pretty good example of Michael White both trying to claim he's a Eurosceptic himself and that Dan is nuts.  White is refreshingly ignorant of Dan's politics and assumes he's a social conservative on marriage.  Dan is actually a liberatarian supporter of gay marriage). After all, pro-Europeans would have to accept that they have been the lunatics all along and they have been the ones running the asylum.

Dan’s short book eloquently sets out what is wrong with the EU and our relationship with it. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Britain’s marriage to Brussels isn’t just doomed, it is abusive.

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