Friday, August 24, 2007

Devil's Advocate

Just before I left for my break I left a post pointing out that the Tories were trying to condemn a treaty that they were highly unlikely to have even read. I felt that this sold the whole idea of "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition" down the river, since they had simply opposed without even thinking.

Chris at Devil's Kitchen then had a good old go at me - as is his want, and why people read him- in words of one syllable and four letters, for having the temerity to, even tentatively, support the idea that a reform treaty of the the EU was necessary. Chris, as a UKIP member, but also many Tories, believe in British withdrawal from the European Union.

Anyone can criticise the European Union- like many things that have grown up organically, it includes contradictions and absurdities. So does the British Constitution (which, being unwritten, is even worse and can mean contradictory things to different people).

His point, which he left in a posting here was : "Let's not beat about the bush here; just say that you are in favour of abdicating our country's sovereignty and have done with it. But in the name of all that's unholy, don't muck about with these weasel words: the method by which the Treaty has been amended to perform the same function as the Constitution has been well documented – not least by Christopher Booker today."

Chris, as the other Anti-Europeans do, continues to insist that sovereignty is like virginity, a state either has it or it does not. This is not true. Even the largest states have to compromise with non-state actors, be they the Ford Motor Company, Greenpeace or Exxon. Indeed the Federalist, usually French, vision of the EU- although not mine- is that only a European state entity can control such powerful multi-national or non-national forces. For them, European Federalism is essential to permit state power to off-set the power of markets or other non-state players.

My vision is different. I believe in the power of markets to create a generally better social and economic outcome than a state decree. In that sense the modern European Union owes a vast amount to the British. The British vision of a single European market has proven incredibly successful. Although limited- it still does not include financial services, for example- the fact is that when the EU embraces real economics it has delivered significant economic benefits to its member states. By definition, signing treaties, at least signing treaties in good faith, limits the freedom of action of a sovereign state- and yet such freedom has often been illusory anyway. As I saw last week on the Western front, the pity and futility of conflict in Europe has given way to a Europe that believes in working in a common cause for mutual benefit. That each negotiation in the EU is couched in the language of self interest simply underlines the nature of the EU- not a federation, but an alignment of common interests.

Today I met with the chef de cabinet of the Vice Chairman of the European Commission. Unlike many of the older members, Estonia has sent many of its best brains to Brussels, and it was a pleasure to listen to the thoughtful and wise ideas that Henrik Hololei was putting forward.

Europe is an idea to some people, even a vision. But in reality it is actually it a tool and it has massive practical use to most of its citizens. Yes I accept the problems- the corporate governance is dreadful, the responsiveness of many of its arms is also pretty poor (By the way I think Whitehall, with over 40 times the number of staff is much worse). However, net-net it has an overall beneficial effect. "Brussels" may drive Chris and other anti- Europeans into spectacular and hilariously foul mouthed paroxysms of rage but actually, away from London, Whitehall does the same for the rest of us.

There is a debate to be had about Europe, but it is not whether it should exist or whether the UK should be a member- it has already proven its economic, social and political benefits. The questions are what it should be doing, and how it should be doing it. I am not in favour of more government. I am in favour of appropriate government. What is appropriate for local communities should be decided there. For Scotland as a whole things should be decided in Edinburgh, for Britain as a whole things should be decided in London, but there are things that all Europeans can and should decide on together- which is what the EU should do. Swearing is funny, but it doesn't persuade me much that leaving the EU is either big or clever (and neither does Christopher Booker).


Anonymous said...


Oh please there ar many valid pro EU arguments but you're not trotting out the old the EU has stopped Europe going to war again myth are you. I rather think Nato, the mutual threat of the USSR for forty years plus the Marshall plan plus several hundred thousand US troops had rather more to do with it don't you think............


wit and wisdom said...

Europe has been absolutely crucial to the peace in this continent. Lining up all our guns and bombs together does not create peace, making people think that they actually have a joint futurew and they might even like to visit each others' countries does.

Sure, NATO has been important in reining in the ambitions of the aggressive superpower, which otherwise might have sought to go all the way to Moscow but it has not engendered the peace which now peravdes every level of our European society outside of the sickly Balkans.

Keep the logic coming, Cicero.

Anonymous said...

Outside of the Balkans?! Pretty big exception no. 200,000 plus killed, millions made homeless. What stopped it? Nato and American firepower that's what. The EU was nowhere. Germany backed Croatia, France and Greece were sympathetic to Serbia and we were in between. The EU kept the peace myth is a paper tiger, exposed as soon as there's a crisis. As further proof it was Nato and America banging heads together in Macedonia that stopped that blowing up. FFS


wit and wisdom said...

America is the superpower and is required to step in to stop wars, that's absolutely true. The problem with the Balkans is that they will be fighting for centuries to come, whatever we do. There has been peace across the rest of Europe and now all of the eastern states are in there is no chance of war.

Europe is not set up to fight wars. What Europe does is to support the peace after the Americans have 'bombed people back to the stone age'. That's why European spending on reconstruction dwarfs the American involvement.

They knock down and we build up. I'm pretty clear which side I want to be on.

Cicero said...

Well, having just come back to Zagreb, I woud say that wars in the Balkans are far from inevitable, for centuries to come. Allowing fascists to take charge is not a good thing, of course, but that its a problem far from uinique to the Balkan states.