Comment: Cameron shows Britain is anti-EU, not anti-Europe
Cameron’s firm but polite tone in Brussels – and Nick Clegg’s multiculturalism – shows Britain can be eurosceptic, but still in love with Europe.
By Ian Dunt
I rather dislike being positive, it always seems faintly American and unpatriotic. But the coalition government has many commendable qualities, and a couple more emerge each week, so it gets harder to fight it off.
For those of us of a particular disposition – international in outlook but against the European project – coalition government trips to Europe are like every Christmas coming at once. They look exactly like what we want to see – polite, amiable and, most importantly, firm.
Nick Clegg’s presence reassures European leaders. His multicultural background and ability to speak several languages shows Europe that we are not a nation of little Englanders, but that modern Britain’s driving force, its dynamism, lies in the meshing of cultures and background which takes place on our streets everyday.
Only the most dull and tedious of the British people have animosity towards Europe.
It’s not the food, although the food is very good. It’s not the wine, or the women, although they’re both very good too. We love Europe because it forms part of our culture. We are approximately half-European, always with one foot outside – and long may that continue. But to hate Europe is to hate ourselves. Our shared history, admittedly composed of trying to wipe each out, has produced a remarkably similar view of the world. Without overstatement, Europe has figured out the ideal state of mankind: a thriving private sector combined with a strong and compassionate welfare state. The mixed economy is the high water mark of human organisation. We haven’t mastered it – we bicker in every nation about public sector pensions, health care inefficiencies and bankers’ bonuses – but we know the broad outlines of the ideal society in a way no other continent does.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to be part of a continent where you jump on a train for a couple of hours, and come out hearing a new language, eating new food, gazing at new architecture? To tire of Europe is like getting bored of colours, or touch, or music.
Its not just Clegg giving us a good reputation overseas, showing Britain for the outward-looking, modern nation it is. Many Tories in the Cabinet are quite different to their red-faced backbench colleagues. As the BBC’s Gavin Hewit reported today, officials were pleasantly struck by Caroline Spelman, the new environment secretary, when she walked into a meeting speaking fluent French and German. It’s not just the Lib Dems – those deeply involved in the coalition are briefing journalists that the Lib Dem presence allowed Cameron to follow his own sensible, unemotional path on Europe. “We have given him the excuse the ditch the eurosceptics,” one told the Independent. “He can blame it on us.”
Arguments against the EU have nothing – literally nothing – to do with our feelings towards our neighbours. Europe is a continent, not a political construct. A shared history has given us a political understanding, but the drive to formalise that in a political structure is dangerous and counterproductive.
The European project is based on the centralisation of power away from the individual. It puts everything precisely on its head. Instead of driving power towards the local level it pushes it away from the citizen, to Brussels – which remains monstrous, remote and aloof. The EU process is innately undemocratic, in that those who have power imposed on them are removed even further from the body which decides how power is wielded.
The EU is a political union forced on its people. France voted against the constitution formalising the federalisation of the European project. The Netherlands voted against it. So our leaders swapped a constitution for the Lisbon treaty. Only one government allowed its people a vote, simply because they could not constitutionally avoid it, and even then the Irish were sensible enough to reject it. Or at least they did, until the EU, in a unique democratic manipulation, forced further referendums until they were good enough to give the ‘right’ answer.
Some would like to pretend that the process by which an organisation is created does not affect its policies. It does. Forgive me for bringing up dead Communists for a moment, but you can afford to skip dozens of political philosophy books if you just read the letters between Bakunin and Marx. Bakunin, a tetchy and difficult Russian anarchist, refused to sign up to Marx’s first attempts at Communist unity. He asked Mark what he meant by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Would all the workers have control over the means of production, or just a few of them?
Do all the workers sit on the national executive commit of a trade union? Marx wrote back. Does the committee not ably reflect their interests?
Anyone with a passing history of the trade unions movement will chortle at that, but it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of human relations which corrupts those of all political persuasions: the assumption that the organisation of power does not affect the policies which emerge from that organisation.
Marx thought the proletariat would happily run production for everyone, because he believed all power relations were essentially economic. He was mostly right, but power relations are composed of other things too, such as access to information or social standing. The creation of a centralised bureaucratic group allocating resources, as Marx envisaged, is profoundly dangerous because those in control of the means of production would wield insane power. Cut off from the people they allocate resources to, they would soon become a class, and think of humans as units to be coordinated.
The same process happens everywhere. New Labour was a profoundly bureaucratic machine. Every problem had a bureaucratic solution. The first two policies knocked down by the coalition government, for example – ID cards and vetting for adults in contact with children – were prime examples of bureaucratic, statist solutions to the real problems of child abuse and terrorism. As a bureaucratic class, the people behind them had no concept of how they might make humans feel. Parents on the school run might not feel great about having to prove they were not paedophiles. The man on the street might not feel great about having to present an identity card to the police whenever they decided they wanted to see it. Centralised bureaucrats don’t know or care about such things because they treat people like units, being moved across a board to create desired outcomes.
Not matter how dark things became under Labour, it’s worse in Europe. Why do we have ID cards for foreign nationals? Because the EU insists on biometric residency papers for third party nationals. Where was the debate about that? It didn’t exist. That’s what happens when you centralise power away from people. Less debate. More authoritarian policies.
Yesterday, MEPs shot down attempt to create a sensible food coding system. The traffic light system, which makes it clear to everyone how healthy food is, will not be imposed. Instead a complex table of daily requirements per portion will continue to tax hurried shoppers. The system is specifically designed to make it harder for people to eat healthily. It followed the largest lobbying operation in European history. The food industry went into overdrive. “The lobbyists have now penetrated the inner sanctum of MEPs and they’re walking into our offices very often without any appointment at all,” a Tory MEP told the BBC. The centralisation of power produces opaque systems which are not subject to same level of scrutiny. Eventually, centralisation always works for the powerful.
Europe is remote and aloof and bureaucratic. This is not about reporting, although we could use a little more, given the impact the EU has on our lives. This is about power being sucked away from the individual.
David Cameron is right to take a firm but polite line with the EU. We should move no closer to the EU, and eventually we should cautiously remove ourselves from all aspects which are not explicitly and exclusively economic. But the Conservative approach to Europe would be counterproductive and unhelpful if it wasn’t for the presence of multilingual, multicultural Lib Dem and Tory ministers in Brussels, Paris and Berlin. This is what shows that we are against the European project but not against Europe. Even in the case of Clegg, an ardent Europhile, his willingness to throw in his lot with Cameron confirms to Europe that eurosceptics are not always Little Englanders.
After five years, the Europeans might still be confused about a seemingly schizophrenic British government, one head spouting euroscepticism and the other love songs. Hopefully, we will show Europe a different lesson: that you can love the continent, but oppose the union.
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