Sunday, June 19, 2016

Frances Coppola on Britain and the EU

With the British referendum on leaving the European Union coming up this coming Thursday, Frances Coppola argues for what I would call a "British" version of the Union in The EU's greatest achievement Coppola Comment 06/12/2016. She argues that the achievement of her title was the incorporation of former Warsaw Pact nations into the EU:

After the creation of the Euro in 1999, many in Western Europe wanted deeper integration of the existing members around the single currency, rather than widening of the EU to admit (among others) former Iron Curtain countries. The UK at that time was under considerable pressure to join the Euro. But the UK never wanted a deeply integrated EU, and it did not want to join the Euro. So it fought for widening, not deepening, of the union.

Eventually, the EU agreed. Ten countries, most of them former Iron Curtain countries, joined the EU in 2004. Two more - Bulgaria and Romania - followed in 2007. The EU today encompasses almost the whole of Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the border of the old Russian empire.* Even some countries (Ukraine, Moldova) that were historically part of the Russian empire have asked to join.

This, not the Euro, is the EU's greatest achievement. Admitting the former Iron Curtain countries to the EU has brought together the sundered parts of Europe and helped to heal the deep wounds left by the Cold War. The UK should be proud of its part in this remarkable example of cooperation for a far-reaching common good.
She also makes this anecdotal observation in making a larger point:

But why are people so angry, and so despairing? There are many reasons, but a common theme appears to be the feeling that Britain is losing control of its own affairs. "Take Control" is the slogan of the Leave campaign. It resonates with many.

My own father has been a lifelong supporter of the European Community. In 1975 he campaigned for the UK to remain in what was then known as the European Economic Community (EEC). But now, he intends to vote to leave.

I asked him why. "It's the Euro," he said. "Britain will never join the Euro. But unless we do, we will be sidelined in European policymaking. Our voice will not be heard, because the Eurozone will dominate. We will inevitably have policies imposed on us that we do not want. We have no choice but to leave if we wish to retain any real control of our own affairs."

I have heard this now from many people. A belief that democratic policymaking - flawed though it is - is being slowly replaced with decisions by an unelected, bureaucratic elite which is only interested in furthering the creation of a United States of Europe against the wishes of the common people. And a growing sense that the UK's voice in Europe is fading as the Eurozone becomes ever more important.

And yet, when I attended the European Summit last week, this was not what I heard. Much of the conversation at the summit was about Brexit, of course. The participants seemed genuinely bemused by it, and distressed that the UK might choose to leave.
The so-called democracy deficit in the EU is real. Some of the more nationalist opponents of the EU may not be too worried about a deficit of democracy, either in the EU or in their own countries. But it's a real problem and has certainly had a real effect in reducing the enthusiasm of the democratic-minded for the Union.