Don’t give up on the EU just yet


Jean Monnet said that we are not building a coalition of states; we are creating a union of peoples (“nous ne coalisons pas des États, nous unissons des hommes”). So no, in response to @brunobrussels, we are certainly not a union of state bureaucracies; or, at least, that’s not what we aspire to.

But what’s the reality? Has the EU successfully delivered Monnet’s vision? Or has it fallen short?

I think I answered that question partially here (Institutional Imbalance), but I still feel that Bruno deserves more of a reply. I detect in his reaction–and I hope he’ll correct me if I’m wrong–the premise that power belongs more naturally with nation states and national parliaments, and any move to transfer sovereignty to a higher tier than the nation state effectively strips sovereignty away from its democratic home.

In his excellent book ‘Guns, Germs & Steel’ Jared Diamond describes how people have historically organised themselves in ever-more-complex configurations: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, states; and then those states evolve into ever larger structures, with ever larger numbers of citizens.

Diamond argues that humans have a strong interest in forming part of ever-larger state incorporations; but also that they tend to have a strong vested interest in the status quo. As a result, they tend to resist upward incorporation even at the expense of their own longer term interests. External pressure is usually needed to force the upshift to broader political structures; but, when this is realised, it tends to benefit all members of that new, larger, political structure.

To my mind, Diamond’s thesis offers a clear understanding of the tendency towards euroscepticism but also why this tendency is an historical dead end.

The nation state is no more ‘natural’ a political unit than any other, including the EU. Arguments against the EU which are premised on the notion that the nation state has more legitimacy qua nation state than any other political structure are, I strongly believe, fundamentally flawed, and guilty of historical subjectivity.

Of course, there are those who argue that the EU’s structures are less democratically accountable than its Member States’, and that this means that sovereignty should revert to those Member State structures. But this isn’t an argument against the EU. It’s an argument–right or wrong–for reform of the EU’s structures so that they become more democratically accountable.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

2 Comments on "Don’t give up on the EU just yet"

  1. I sincerely hope you never have any political power..

    Many people clearly think the original european states were already too big – hence independence movements – i.e. Spains regions, UK/Scotland.

    Clearly many people see no benefit from larger more complex political structures – even where these structures have been in place for decades or centuries.

    Your facile dismissal of facts that don’t suit your end dream render you not only implausible but dangerous.

  2. Chris makes some excellent points and does so from an informed position. Independent academic studies back up the assertion that the EU has, if anything, more legitimacy than the UK government. Contrary to lazy or agenda-driven media claims the fact is that the EU is formed and governed on a highly transparent and democratic basis while the UK sits at the bottom of the European league table for democracy in terms of our parliamentary system. Yes – the bottom. Least democratic. Least accountable.

    The fact that the EU has so many contributing members states does not on the whole lead to weakness of decision making or avoidable bureaucracy but tends towards inclusive decision making and not favouritism – a stark contrast to the British political system which currently operates an “us and them” system in which you and I are not in the “us” category.

    Consider also that EU decision making is not bound by electoral terms so is immune to the short term party political motivated policy making that we see in the UK and which sees policy swing back and forth between parties leaving the common electorate dizzy with conflicting directional changes (NHS / Education system turmoil ring a bell?)

    Our country is run by big multinational businesses for their own sake and Cameron (etc) misguidedly serve in the interests of this tiny minority for personal gain in the longer term but against the interest of SMEs and the majority of the public and that is precisely reflected in the decision making we see from his cabinet. What could be more out of step with public opinion than George Osborne standing alone in Brussels to oppose a limit on bankers bonuses, or Cameron agreeing to commission Leveson and adhere to the findings, until backing out yesterday. What kind of democracy is this? These anti-EU views are symptomatic of the right wing’s isolationist view of the world which is opposed not only by a majority of people and states within the rest of Europe but by the US government and the rest of the world.

    The naive comments of Paul Perrin highlight the need for greater education and awareness of the political landscape beyond our shores. Taking Scotland as an example the locals are much more aware and reflective of the in-out implications than the English (reflected by the closeness of the polls and also by the number of people yet to make a firm decision) and the “out” lobby in wanting independence from the UK actually want to CEMENT their relationship with the EU! They recognise the benefits of local decision making and accountability within a much wider cooperative framework.

    Maybe the day isn’t too far off when “us and them” flips over and “us” is the powerful and prosperous EU getting on with our lives and “them” is a small cave in south east of England where the remaining outcasts sit around an open fire chuntering and sharpening sticks.

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