Tuesday 14 August 2012

Making the pro-European argument

Listening to The EU Debate on the BBC last week, I was struck again by how often the pro-European argument re-treads old arguments, and I have to admit I roll my eyes every time the peace argument is brought up.

This is not to say that there's anything wrong in the peace argument itself (or to take away from the debate on the BBC, which had a very limited time to establish the argument). The EU does contribute to peace in Europe because it promotes continuous cooperation between the Member States. NATO has contributed massively to peace in Europe, but it's not as deep as the EU or as good at generating connections and cooperation between its Member States - despite Greece and Turkey being members since 1952, the fifty years since joining have not been the most cordial (indeed the deterioration of relations between the two countries after joining was a case study in how multilateral military alliances can destabilise relations between countries at my university). Likewise the Council of Europe and its Court of Human Rights have not prevent war between its members, with the Russia-Georgia war being a recent example.

However the European Union is much, much more than just a peace project and requires a more complex argument to justify it. By launching the pro-European argument with the "peace in Europe" rationale, by the time NATO has been addressed there is less time to set out a deeper context or basis to the EU to build on when the debate moves on to the economy or justice and home affairs. Not only does the opening argument on peace sound distant from today's concerns (it's inevitably admitted that war wouldn't suddenly occur if the Euro collapsed tomorrow, etc), but it also means that there is little underlying rationale or idea that holds together the cooperation covered by the EU. Not a good way to start off the pro-European argument.

Explaining takes practise.

A common thread to discussions in pro-European circles seems to be that the pro-European case would find more supporters if it was explained. This irritates me for two reasons: it's a boring discussion that doesn't solve or further anything, and pro-Europeans are terrible at explaining things. Probably because they constantly talk about explaining things rather than actually explaining them.

Or, more seriously, there is usually less need to defend and think about defending the status quo than if you want to change something. It reminds me of the position of unionists in Northern Ireland or the unionist argument in Scotland, where the status quo came or is coming under pressure (in greatly differing circumstances), and those who supported the union lagged behind in creating an articulate narrative in its favour. While supporters of the British union have adapted, pro-Europeans still lag behind - with the pro-European position more precarious if it also wants to argue for the future changes that are a key part of the pro-European position in the Eurocrisis.

The structure of the EU and the reliance of the pro-European movement on European leaders and European summit meetings meant that it struggles to create a convincing narrative and has lost time. It also means that there's been a shrinking support base - a generation of believers in the European ideal as a way of maintaining peace have passed, and the European statesmen and women who pushed the project along in the past are less likely to be generated in the future by a generation for whom the need for peace is less visceral and the narrative for the European Union less clear.

Participation needs to be at the core of pro-Europeanism.

Protesilaos Stavrou has pointed out that there are two types of pro-European: the intergovernmental and the federalist. If the focus on European statesmen and stateswomen and all the related summitry has left us with a withered pro-European base and an out-of-date narrative, then I don't see much future for that strand of pro-Europeanism - how can it bring the EU closer to citizens and build a convincing narrative? The summitry that has dominated the Eurocrisis has not only failed to deliver a solution, damaging the credibility of the intergovernmental model, but is also corrosive to the political confidence and support necessary for the outcomes of summits to be delivered on. The intergovernmentalist pro-European seems to assume that necessity will overcome objections in the end and that the EU will find a way to muddle through. But integration has progressed further than in the past with an outdated narrative in the present: there isn't the same reserve of goodwill to run on, and it is hardly desirable to run a game of chicken between economy necessity (or any other necessity) and European voters and hope that we'll muddle through each time.

The second element of the pro-European argument is generally that cooperation between Member States means that we can achieve more together than we could apart. This needs to be developed further with the idea of participation and a more democratic EU: that if cooperating means that Member States can do more and achieve more than on their own, then a democratic EU would empower citizens to a degree that they wouldn't be without the EU.

This also means that the pro-European side needs to drop the idea that everyone benefits equally and nobody looses out from this process: that the internal market, justice and home affairs cooperation, etc, make sense, but they have downsides that need to be debated and avoided or mitigated. This is why there is social elements to the internal market - ensuring that there are certain common standards on employment (such as maternity) mean that the social protection that is part of our common values is not undermined. However we need to build a substantive European public sphere so that we can debate these issues better and so we can use the European Parliament better.

It is a complicated argument to make and needs to take on the failings of the EU as it stands as much as it builds a robust narrative to defend the idea of European Union versus ad hoc argeements or free riding on the rest of the EU while withdrawing. (And of course it would need to be more flesh out than I've written here). But there must be a coherent narrative to support the cooperation that pro-Europeans are advocating, and one that underlines the alternative argument of Euroscepticism in the public mind. If the EU is to survive, it needs to be responsive to citizens, so participation needs to be at the heart of the pro-European argument.


  1. Size and influence are not important in the pro-EU/anti-EU debate. Canada, Australia and Switzerland are some of the richest countries in the world and are all richer than most EU countries.

    Peace was enhanced by the EEC but the EU has led to riots and discord.

    Many economies that are loosely linked are more stable than a single large economy.

    The EU has not passed its annual audit in 18 years. There is corruption and cronyism, it is no paradise.

    The trade deficit between the EU and UK was £70 billion in 2012, this is unsustainable.

    There will be a democratic deficit if there is closer union. Independence movements will arise in all the more distant countries such as the UK.

    Common Law is more suitable for protecting freedom that the regulations of Civil Law.

    What is the pro-EU argument? As you can see from the above list we lose far more than we gain. A return to the EEC might be acceptable but European Political Union will be a disaster. See http://pol-check.blogspot.com/2013/05/membership-of-eu-pros-and-cons.html

  2. Perhaps if you narrow the debate to the "richness" of a country, then you might be satisfied with that (though Switzerland has almost 120 treaties with the EU governing its integration and it is not represented in the EU institutions), but political participation does matter when it comes to issues of global regulatory standards, environmental regulation and co-operation and co-operation on justice and cross-border crime fighting. I do not make the argument that being part of a large block is important for being wealthy, but it has a bearing on the political and regulatory choices you make in the global economy.

    It's interesting that on your blog post, you write:

    "If the UK leaves the EU it will re-form a trade association with Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, perhaps India or Russia and others that will bring the EU to the negotiating table on equal terms. This will ensure that our car manufacturers and other industry has the same access to European markets as they do today if desired. Britain has about £0.5 trillion of imports and about £0.5 trillion of exports and will transform EFTA into a major economic power."

    First of all, the EFTA area is highly integrated into the EU system and has a court that mirrors what the ECJ does, by and large. The idea that this new trading bloc would balance the EU (leaving aside the fairly major issues of building a trading coalition between these countries which either have their own EU arrangements or are further flung or have their own commonwealth), the EU negotiates as a bloc due to the fact that it's a single market, which is quite distinct from a simple free trade area. The former covers market regulation and integration with a common customs area, while the later just concerns lowering tariff barriers.

    Therefore it's highly unlikely that having a free trade area or several free trade agreements will lead to a common negotiating position, because there isn't the level of institutional integration required. Notice that the EU is negotiating with the US for a Free Trade deal, not NAFTA.

    The EU budget has failed passage and there are problems with it. As it is has to be passed as a whol (including EU funds spent by the Member States), it would be better to be able to pass it in parts so there would be more political pressure to reform the areas that are worst performing. The UK budget does not have to face a similar test, but if you've data for comparison, that would be interesting.

  3. Interesting point on the trade deficit - does this mean that your argument is to introduce tariff barriers after leaving the EU to obstruct trade with the EU and boost UK industry? How does this tie in with your idea for a free trade area elsewhere and with then continuing to trade with the EU through this group?

    Common law is more suitable for protecting freedom than the civil law? In your post you write:

    "European Law says that if something is not specifically permitted under some codified rule, then it is illegal. This difference in legal systems is so profound that the UK should never have joined the EU."

    This is just wrong. The Civil Law does not prohibit something unless a law explicitly permits it - do you think an industrial country like Germany would be so innovative and do so well with manufacturing if the parliament had to pass laws to legalise inventions (would Benz have invented his car?)? Plus it is a fundamental principle of EU law that if a good is legally produced in its home country (i.e. not prohibited by law), then it can be freely sold across the EU (Cassis de Dijon case).

    When it comes to human rights the European Court of Human Rights (not part of the EU) deals largely with this area, and is largely inspired by the Common Law. Indeed, the EU Court of Justice draws a lot of inspiration from Common law practice as well as Civil law practice.

    The EU does not have the competence to decide on the structure of Member States' criminal systems, so it cannot change trial by jury (recent reforms in the criminal justice system are the policy and initiative of the UK government).