The problem is not Europe, it’s the European Union
January 7, 2013 1 Comment
By Alex Bryan
Attempting to halt the disturbing rise of UKIP in opinion polls, David Cameron is set to give a speech later this month in which he will set himself up as someone wanting ‘real change’ in the relationship between Britain and the European Union. Predictably, this had led to sceptical commentary from euro-sceptic pundits , claiming that even if Cameron does starting walking the walk, the talk is still far from forthcoming.
One of the possible outcomes of UKIPs rise to a position of mainstream political credibility is that a deal will be formed between UKIP and the Conservatives whereby UKIP do not run any candidates in the general election in exchange for the Conservatives enacting UKIP’s central policy.
The increasing anti-EU sentiment makes many feel like an in-out referendum is the only option. Conservatives rally against the restrictions the EU brings with it – the working time directive, European Court of Human Rights, unrestricted labour movement and the need for Parliament to comply with EU Laws. Liberals and those on the left are quieter about the flaws of Europe, but from a left-wing perspective there are clearly some problems. The imposition of austerity on Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal when the people were clearly opposed suggests that the EU is intent on implementing a centre-right fiscal strategy. Nothing that the IMF or the ECB has done in the years since the financial crisis has done anything to dispel this notion.
The trouble with both of these arguments is that they will simply be opposed by the contrary political position. For liberals, the working time directive and the human rights act are two of the best pieces of EU legislation, and Conservatives fear the impact of populist fiscal policy around Europe. But clearly there is a problem with the European Union. One does not have to subscribe to a Hobbessian notion of sovereignty to think that the EU’s undemocratic structure is a problem, one simply has to believe in democracy. This is the attraction of UKIP’s argument.
One thing that has not really been commented on, but is of vital importance, is the semantic practices around the EU. More often than not, we refer to it as ‘Europe’. This is worth commenting on, because it is crucial to note that the EU is not synonymous with Europe, neither is it the only possibility for a European political project. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the EU is that it is essentially immune from revolt or revolution. Riots in Athens have had no effect on the IMF/Greek fiscal policy. When accountability is lost in a legislative ad bureaucratic labyrinth, who exactly is meant to revolt?
The essential problem with the notion of an in-out debate is that it ascribes these problems to ‘Europe’ rather than ‘the European Union’. It suggests that being out of the European Union means cutting the string irreparably and launching for Ellis Island. The point needs to be made that just because the European Union is an anti-democratic, restrictive, quasi- tyrannical relic of the cold war era does not mean that a new European project can never be launched with different ideals and principles. Indeed, it would have to be. The age of nations being able to dominate (or even compete) on their own terms within the international community is gone. The terms these days are ‘co-operate or bust’. Unfortunately, the European Union seems to be drifting into a Kafka-esque state of eternal confusion and dehumanisation. This need not be the fate of Europe. Whether it would be more effective to fight for a better European project from inside or outside the EU is a question no one knows the answer to. The frightening thing is that few seem to be asking the question.