Friday, January 28, 2005

Withdraw or become a federal superstate

According to Ken at EU Realist, in response to a comment I made to his post on the report on the BBC's EU coverage, one of the main eurosceptic complaints about the BBC is that the case for withdrawal is rarely aired. My reply ended up lengthy, but may (at a push) be of interest:

Seriously? Now I can't give you any specifics here, but I've got the impression that most times the BBC holds any kind of EU based debate they generally call in people from the two furthest extremes. Most of the pro-EU lot they get in do no service to that side of the debate, usually painting eurosceptics with the broadest of "little Englander" and "xenophobe" brushes, sounding utterly patronising and making us all look like self-righteous arseholes, and the anti-EU vox pops often seem to be chosen for being hardcore pro-withdrawal voices.

The impression I've got of the majority of eurosceptics is that they largely object to further integration, and think that in certain areas we've already gone too far - not that the basic idea of a European trading and co-operation union is a bad thing. Plus I can - to an extent - see their point.

The withdrawl arguments seem utterly insane to me - other eurosceptic stances hold a lot more water and could, if the withdrawal question could be sidestepped, actually be an area where the pro and anti camps could find common ground.

As I've said many, many times, the majority of pro-EU folk know full well that there are major flaws with the current system (Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, lack of democratic accountability etc.), and want sweeping reforms of (almost) the entire thing. There are also plenty of pro-EU people (myself included) who aren't convinced that the UK should join the single currency for the forseeable future.

But whenever any EU-based arguments are raised (in the UK at least), they always seem to end up boiled down to the most extreme viewpoints: pro-EU = federalist, anti-EU = withdrawalist etc. It's just not that simple, and is preventing us from having a real and constructive debate. Any government attempts to claim that a "No" vote in the constitutional referendum is a vote to withdraw will simply give fuel to the more extreme eurosceptics, and distort the debate further.

It's not helpful for either side for the debate to be so polarised - after all, even pro-EU people (again, myself included) are fully aware that the proposed constitution is flawed. It's just we also don't buy the claims that it is a final settlement, so reckon that - if everyone who wants reform can finally start acting together - we can make the best of its good points and get rid of the bad. (And yes, I know that we've been trying to do that when it comes to the EU for 30 years, but I reckon we've failed because we haven't presented a coherent and united reformist front - we're too busy bickering among ourselves to tackle the problems head on.)

In short, the argument between the UK pro and anti camps shouldn't be boiled down to the utterly simplistic "withdraw or become a federal superstate" dichotomy, as it has often been. It should be over the extent to which reforms of the UK's existing relationship with the EU are necessary - both camps agree that they are, just not how much. Only a minority on either side would argue for the most extreme options available.

4 Comments:

Blogger ken said...

The basic problem with the idea that we should debate reforming the EU is that many believe it cannot be reformed many see no evidence of a willingness on the part of the EU to limit its self.

I would now take that position, Laeken set up the Convention so that it could come up with an acceptable template for reforming the EU, what it should or should not do, what powers it should or should not have, it should be more democratic more accountable more open perhaps some powers would be best returned to the member states. The Constitution achieves none of the objectives the convention was set for and if you look at the reports of the convention you will see why.

So we are now faced with a constitution that sets the EU up as a State/entity in its own right
makes EU Law and EU Constitution superior to member state law
makes the ECJ the final arbiter of any dispute, yet compels that court to work with the Commision. Includes the Charta of Fundamental Rights that we were told would have no more legal meaning than a copy of the Beano.
Sets up a system of change to the Constitution that removes the powers of the member states parliaments or people to have a voice in those changes.
Puts in place the EU own diplomatic corps.
Passes 63 new areas of competence to the EU and lots more.
It does not return one single power to the member states,
it does not increase democratic control or accountability
it does not limit the power of the EU
but does maintain the Acquis which means power can only flow one way.

If course you will probably say I am wrong about all of these, however I have read the constitution and that is what I see in it.

But of course none of this has any relevance to the question, which was why I said the BBC inspection team were not independent of the EU. That team although not independent, have just accused the BBC of keeping the debate on the EU within narrow confines, we can debate the pros and cons of any particular proposal until the cows come home, but if the basic question is not addressed, then we are only debating that which is recognised by the EU i.e. on their terms of reference.

If we wish to leave because we have seen a simple trading agreement we voted for in 1975 grow to control far to much of our lives, then that debate cannot be with the confines either the BBC or the EU would like, it has to be on our terms not theirs, which means widening the debate to include those who wish to leave and that is not a fringe, as the BBC would like us to believe. However for the purposes of the Referendum we are not being asked that question, we are only being asked if we wish to give more power to the EU.

1/28/2005 04:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that bias is very much in the eye of the beholder - I'm with Europhobia on this, the 'withdrawalists' get a far easier time.

I've yet to hear any one of them tackled on some fairly major consequences of withdrawal, including the loss of the right to free movement within Europe (what are they going to do with all those Brits currently living in the Dordogne, Tuscany, the Costas, whose continued existence there will be at best precarious, and at worst impossible?).

BTW, sorry for posting anonymously, but I can't seem to get registered. In any case, I'm at www.thirdavenue.typepad.com/third_avenue

1/28/2005 05:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too many overseas companies (toyota = 10000 people in a single plant) would leave as they are only here really for the EU tax break that producing within the Trade Bloc entails. You might retort saying look at switzerland, however since they rejected the EEA (european Economic area) have had virtually zero % growth. Norway did join the EEA and have benefitted enormously, yet as they are not within the EU they cant vote on changes to the EEA and must adopt all of its policies. They are subject to (as they call it) "fax democracy", they sit around a fax waiting for the next directive from brussels. Either way EU is better.

1/28/2005 06:05:00 pm  
Blogger Dave in L.A. said...

From reading the current polls, it appears it's very much in Britain's interest to have exactly the wide-ranging debate you call for. In fact, given required unanimous consent, Britain holds all the cards. (As someone else noted, the EU can finesse a 'no' vote from a Denmark, but not from Britain.)

I've only read a bit of the BBC coverage, but my instincts say that by featuring the withdrawal extremists, they're presenting people with a false choice calculated to ultimately coerce acceptance of a very badly flawed constitution. A 'no' vote that really says, "we will accept certain elements, but no more," will force a reassessment that may save the EU in the long run.

1/29/2005 10:38:00 am  

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