Eurosceptics are right, except on what to do next
The euro may collapse, so may the EU as a whole. But eurosceptics should be careful what they wish for.
It is hard to begrudge Britain’s euro-sceptics their moment of triumph.
From the almost ubiquitous admonitions they issued over the imposition (for that is what it was) of a “one-size-fits-all” single currency to William Hague’s colourful warnings about entering “a burning building with no exits” the crisis in the eurozone has shown that they were smarter, more level headed and far more astute over both big picture and small detail than the euro-enthusiasts who derided them as fools.
As George Soros said over the weekend: "The euro had no provision for correction. There was no arrangement for any country leaving the euro, which in the current circumstances is probably inevitable." In other words, to one degree or another, it’s going to unfold.
And if the euro-sceptics were right on their political economy, they’ve also been right on their politics pure and simple.
The absence of a European demos – a unified “people” with a sense of shared destiny – has, just as they predicted, led to clash after clash with basic democratic principles and practices.
If you’d said at the end of the Cold War that just over a decade or two thereafter the European Union would be telling people to vote again in referendums until they gave the right answer (Ireland, twice!), simply ignoring the results of referendums when they didn’t like them (France and the Netherlands), or ramming through an entire treaty based on the blatant lie that it was fundamentally different from a previously rejected one (the European constitution becomes the Lisbon Treaty), you’d have been dismissed as a madman.
But it has all happened. And the European Union will never be the same because of it.
When you observe the people who run Europe, and the people who support them with an almost religious fervour, it’s sometimes hard to work out what, if anything, is going on in their heads.
Do they think that the people of Europe didn’t notice when they were lying about the Lisbon Treaty? Do they believe that Ireland is a place so remote from people’s consciousness that what was done to that country would pass them by? Do they think that people aren’t shaken by Greece, the more so since it is they as taxpayers that are being asked to foot the bill?
What we are witnessing, is the slow but certain self-abolition of the credibility of an entire class of European politicians.
It isn’t the eurosceptics who are destroying Europe, it’s the EU’s most passionate supporters.
But here’s the point where I part company with many of those who will have agreed with my thoughts so far.
Because, the end of the European project (A decade from now? Two decades from now? Two years from now?) would be a catastrophe of historic proportions.
It would pull Europe down and (Eurosceptic Britons be warned) it would more than likely pull Britain down with it, and I am not simply alluding to the interconnectedness of our economies.
The point is this: with very few exceptions, all mainstream parties across Europe have bought so deeply into, intertwined themselves so tightly with, the European project that its demise could all too easily be their demise.
I don’t like the people who sit in the European Commission one bit. The smirking and gloating Jose Manuel Barroso saying, “Thank you Ireland”, after the Irish had been cheated and bullied into accepting the Lisbon Treaty is as repugnant an image of mainstream Europe as you could ever conjure up.
Nor do I have much respect for the governmental leaders across the continent who have participated all too willingly in the practices described above.
But I’d rather have Jose Manuel Barroso, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel than the likes of Jean-Marie/Marine Le Pen. And this is not the kind of scare-mongering you sometimes get from Brussels: back us or face a return to the bad old days.
It’s not about who will or will not back the eurocracts; it’s about what the eurocrats themselves are doing to Europe and what they have become.
The great danger in modern Europe is an implosion of the centre-ground in which parties of the centre-left and centre-right so discredit themselves that their bases of social and political support desert them leaving a vacuum to be filled by the far-Left, the far-Right or whatever newfound version of an old European problem decides to assert itself.
This is not all about the European project as such: multi-culturalism, political correctness, the excesses of social democratic economic policies that have proved themselves to be neither social nor democratic are all part of it too.
But, and here again I part company with the traditional euro-sceptics, the EU represents an especially important part of the fabric of modern Europe because, along with NATO, it has an enormous strategic importance in locking the continent down, holding in check old rivalries and giving everyone an incentive to sort out their differences peaceably.
A European Union dedicated to that, its core purpose, and then building outwards, slowly, on the basis of public consent, and not so far out that it became institutionally anti-democratic is the kind of European Union that all of us should have been able to support.
But that isn’t what we have got. So, what to do?
Given the intransigence of the elites that currently run Europe, saving Europe from itself is going to be a task of gargantuan proportions.
But if those who are so good at criticising Europe are unable to see that they need to become just as good at suggesting coherent alternatives, alternatives that retain what is good about the EU while rolling back or discarding what is bad, we’re in for a desperately difficult future.
I honestly don’t know how we get out of this mess. But I do know we’ve got to try.
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