Friday, July 17, 2009

There is a case for Europe

First things first: confession time.

Malcolm freely admits that, in the 1975 referendum campaign, his alter-ego took the Eurosceptic line, spoke on platforms to urge rejection, and was quoted on the topic. During that campaign, he reconsidered and re-appraised the arguments, and found his own (and the others of the antis) wanting.

Come the day, he did not even vote: the only time in his franchised life he failed to do so.

Since then, he has reversed his position, and now believes in a full and sincere commitment to the EU.

The problems

Of course there are serious issues to be resolved: notably, the "democratic deficit" which renders the image of a faceless, manipulative bureaucracy more apparent.

What is not a solution is repatriating powers to national parliaments. All that achieves is transferring responsibilities from one bureaucracy to another. It does not give the citizen any greater involvement or responsibility. The citizen is only "empowered" if and when decisions are delegated to the lowest level possible, to local options, and financed fairly. Alternatively, e-voting and referenda need to be deployed to involve more voters on a regular basis. Underlying all that should be the recognition that no political party, anywhere in the UK, engaged even 10% of the electorate at the recent MEP elections:
  • the Tories took 36.2% of the seats
  • on 27% of the vote,
  • or nearly 9¼% of the electorate.
This was hailed, not least by the Tories and their media claque, as a great success. In passing, it took 167,935 votes to elect each Tory MEP, 183,212 for each Labour one, 189,146 for each LibDem, 472,799 for the two neo-fascists toe-rags, and a staggering 611,651 for each Green MEP. That will not, of course, stop the Tories whining about the "unfair" electoral system.

The UK "nation-state"

In the UK the "nation-state" issue is clouded by our inability to clarify what is the "nation-state".

The three "home" countries, plus the six counties, are no longer a settled entity. At some stage in the not-too-distant future, the status of Scotland as something more than a northern appendage needs to be properly recognised. "Northern Ireland" has persisted as a uniquely "conditional" part of the union ever since 1920 (or even since 1912). There seems to be little logic in the differential settlements for Scotland and Wales. Beyond that, the fissures in the Saxon empire deserve consideration: those regional assemblies, granted enhanced powers, might regain traction.

At the moment we have a total lack of consistency. Voting arrangements, financial settlements, even the naming of places on road signs, varies according to the different parts of the union: why does the M4 suddenly lose "Llundain" as a direction at a vague moment east of Cardiff/Caerdydd? Does the Welsh language never venture beyond Junction 23?

Beyond that, we have all the hysteria about the EU transmogrifying into a "superstate". In this weird mind-set, anything and everything can become a spine-chilling, salutary warning. Typical of this is the letter in today's Irish Times, obviously taking dictation from Daniel Hannan, and bewailing that:
when the new European Parliament session opened in Strasbourg recently a detachment of combat troops, from various EU member-states led the ceremony and raised an EU flag -- twice the size of the national flags around it -- to the accompaniment of a military bugle call.
We really need to watch the heel-clicking, imperialist tendency in the Luxembourgois army, don't we?

A positive European

To think European is to reject this narrowness. It's worth listing the "gains" that the Lisbon Treaty represents:
  • the Charter of Fundamental Rights is given its due place in the Treaty
  • so, too, the powers of the EU, and the limitations thereon are clearly drawn
  • while greater powers accrue to the European Parliament, national assemblies have greater powers of scrutiny and to block EU legislation
  • for the first time, the route to the exit is clearly indicated
  • dealing with the threat of climate-change, and therefore energy policies are declared a prime objective
  • the European Parliament gains a say in trade agreements ...
A new place in the world

Dean Acheson, as far back as 5 December 1962, famously opined that:
Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.
The furore this provoked was entirely limited to the London chattering classes and the Tory press, and all the greater because its basis was patently true.

Similarly, if the last year or so should have taught us something, it is that the EU, too, faces eclipse. Power in the world is now economic: we are rapidly moving into a new dispensation which is dominated by two economic colossi: the United States and China. The nation-states of Europe have little clout in that league (as Iceland, Ireland, Spain and the new East European democracies have discovered, the hard way). Only as Europe, a fully-functioning integrated European economy, is there hope of standing our ground:

David Miliband today described China as the 21st century's "indispensable power" with a decisive say on the future of the global economy, climate change and world trade.

The foreign secretary predicted that over the next few decades China would become one of the two "powers that count", along with the US, and Europe could emerge as a third only if it learned to speak with one voice.
Malcolm wishes he had the felicity of Timothy Garton Ash saying something very similar, and urging us to see:
the wider context: an increasingly non-European world, shaped by rising powers like China and global threats like climate change, where even the largest European states can only hope to make a difference if we all combine forces and work together.
Even Garton Ash borrowed from that supreme exponent of language, Famous Seamus himself:
Recalling a memorable evening five years ago in Dublin's Phoenix Park when Ireland's EU presidency welcomed 10 new nations into the union, Heaney observes: "Phoenix renewed itself, just as the Union was renewing itself and continues to need to renew itself." Before reading aloud the poem (Beacons at Bealtaine) he wrote on that occasion, Heaney says, in a video clip recorded for last weekend's launch of the new Ireland for Europe campaign: "There are many reasons for ratifying the Lisbon treaty, reasons to do with our political and economic wellbeing, but the poem speaks mainly for our honour and identity as Europeans." And then he reads his verse, which includes this great line: "Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare."

The mealy-mouthed legions of the lost, the "better off outers", the UKIPpers, the Broken Men who still require confirmation:
How stands the old Lord Warden?
Are Dover's cliffs still white?
have no vision to match that. Sphere: Related Content

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