Why Europe matters

It is time to defend the EU

John McCormick

For supporters of Europe, the last few years have not been happy ones. A perfect storm of growing Euroscepticism, fallout from the global financial downturn, and the tribulations of the eurozone crisis have left us wallowing in a sea of gloom about the future of the European Union. Few countries have been so perturbed by this as Britain, where the question is less how to address the problems of the EU than how much longer Britain will remain a member of the club.

But several points are worth bearing in mind. First, the EU has never been well understood by most Europeans, and Britain has one of the worst records in this regard: recent surveys by Eurobarometer have found that six out of 10 Britons admit to not understanding the EU. Second, into this vacuum of understanding have moved a Eurosceptic media and the United Kingdom Independence party, both of them adept at misrepresenting what the EU means for Britain. Third, in this climate of gloom it is easy to forget what the EU has achieved, and how much stands to be lost by backtracking or – worst of all – leaving altogether.

The EU has been a force for good in numerous ways. It has been at the heart of the longest spell of general peace in Europe in recorded history. It has strengthened democracy and free market ideas both among its members and among countries that would either like to join the EU or have better access to the European marketplace. It has helped bring down the barriers to trade and brought about free movement of people and capital in Europe, encouraging prosperity, innovation, opportunity and choice. It has helped Europeans better understand what they have in common, replacing self-interest with shared interests, and replacing exclusion with inclusion. And, rather than imposing more regulation and red tape, it has cut through legal barriers by harmonising laws and policies across Europe.

Its impact on the global stage has been dramatic. The EU is the wealthiest marketplace in the world, the biggest trading power, the biggest market for corporate mergers and acquisitions, the biggest source of (and target for) foreign direct investment, and the biggest source of official development assistance. The single market has allowed European corporations to grow and take on their American and Japanese competitors, while investments have flowed into small and medium enterprises. Most important of all, the EU has shown that it is possible to have global influence using civilian rather than military means.

To be sure, Europe has numerous imperfections and the process of integration has often been messy; hardly surprising considering that the EU has always sailed uncharted waters without much agreement on its final destination. But we should not give up just because it has short-term problems. In this Labour has a critical role to play in helping us redefine the achievements of the EU, stepping into the vacuum of misunderstanding, and getting the debate about Europe back onto even and productive ground.

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John McCormick is professor of European Union politics at Indiana University. His new book, Why Europe Matters: The Case for the European Union, is published this month

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Photo: European Parliament

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Comments: 1...

  1. On June 6, 2013 at 9:50 pm David Lindsay responded with... #

    Labour has not done splits over Europe in decades. The last Government was riven over
    joining the euro. But almost, if almost, never in public. And the right side won. A professional operation, you see. Not like the other lot.

    But, not least in view of Paul Kenny’s address to this week’s GMB Conference saying that that union would campaign for withdrawal rather than accept any renegotiation acceptable to David Cameron and his swivel-eyed loons, what we really need is legislation with five, and therefore out of political necessity six, simple clauses.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to give effect, both to explicit Labour policy by repatriating industrial and regional policy (whereas the Conservatives are not committed to any specific repatriation), and to what is at least implicit Labour policy by repatriating agricultural policy and by reclaiming our historic fishing rights in accordance with
    international law: 200 miles, or to the median line.

    Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them.

    Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard.

    Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament.

    Fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

    Thus, we would no longer subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or Dutch ultra-Calvinists who will not have women candidates.

    And sixthly, since we must, the provision for a referendum on the question, “Do you wish the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union?” Not to be held in 2017. Not to be held after some renegotiation. To be held immediately upon the coming into effect of the legislation providing for it.

    The first five clauses would come into effect at the same time as this provision, and would not be conditional on that referendum’s outcome.

    Let this be Labour’s three-line-whipped amendment when James Wharton tries and fails to save his seat by introducing the Daft Bill.

    There might even be a penultimate clause giving effect to the express will of the House of Commons that the British contribution to the EU Budget be reduced in real terms.

    Again, that would come into effect regardless of the result of any referendum, and in fact regardless of whether or not any referendum were ever even held.

    After all, what else is everyone from Paul Kenny to John Mills paying for?

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