EU leaders and advocates seem to assume that theirs is the best or only effective way of bringing Europe’s nations together. In fact in several ways the EU’s internal rivalries are driving them apart, especially economically and with rising nationalism. There must be a less top-heavy form of collaboration that would not be so risky and that Britain could participate in wholeheartedly. There is a pre-existing, broader community of European nations which can be built upon to create a more practical solution.
At a debate in Rome on 5th April 2016 Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, had this to say:
“Too many politicians are listening exclusively to their national opinion. And if you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense and a feeling of the need to put together efforts. We have too many part-time Europeans.”
This confuses, deliberately, the European Union with Europe. Some voters in Britain are reluctant to voice criticism of the EU in case they seem to be slighting Europe. They may dislike the EU but are reluctant to support Brexit because they accept uncritically the conflation of the EU with Europe and cannot, or will not, see that Brexit results from a deeply flawed EU, not from some unspecified notion that Europe is at fault.
J-C says he believes, and wants us to believe, that there is, or could be and should be, “a common European sense”. A moment’s thought will reveal that this makes no sense. Even within the EU there are important disagreements between north and south and between east and west. Not to mention between almost everyone and the EU. Europe has had many and variable nation states for centuries and this is not likely to change because a few mandarins feel they have a mission to unify them out of existence.
What could he mean by “part-time Europeans”? Perhaps he means politicians who, for some strange reason, choose to listen to their “national opinion”, whatever he might mean by that. Is this what happens when someone allows his brain to be ‘ideologised’? It’s interesting that he seems to be implying that national opinion will be anti-EU; he’s probably right even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge this explicitly.
If the EU really promoted cooperation, but not conformity, in education it could achieve many of the things it seems to believe it’s doing, but isn’t. Spreading and adapting best practice in kindergartens, schools, universities, apprenticeships and adult (re-)education would help meet useful goals. Actively mixing students across Continent-wide education and training facilities would give us language and cultural skills to increase the ‘brotherhood’ the EU wants to impose on us (and can’t of course).
If the EU could develop these and other ways in which we could mutually leverage our collective, inherent advantages it might make a positive difference to the Continent’s position and that of more of its citizens.
Europe and the EU are not equivalent. When we are asked ‘What is the alternative to the EU?’ we point out that there is another, older, European organisation that includes many more countries of Europe and operates with respect for Europe’s democracies, without seeking supra-national authority. This is the Council of Europe (CoE). It is responsible for much that the EU takes credit for.
There are helpful articles on the CoE in the Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union (http://www.euro-know.org/europages/dictionary/c.html#CouncilofEurope) and in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Europe). Here is a summary.
Membership of the CoE comprises not only the 28 EU countries but also the EFTA states, various European islands and mini-states and the majority of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states and covers approximately 820 million people. The CoE focuses on promoting democracy, the rule of law, human rights, economic development and integration of some regulatory functions in Europe. It is responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Convention on Data Protection.
Article 1(a) of the Statute of the Council of Europe states that “The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.” Membership is open to all European states which: “seek harmony, cooperation, good governance and human rights; accept the principle of the rule of law; and are able and willing to guarantee democracy, fundamental human rights and freedoms.”
Council of Europe member states maintain their sovereignty but commit themselves through conventions or treaties. They co-operate on the basis of common values and common political decisions. Those conventions and decisions are developed by the member states working together at the Council. When its members reach agreement, the CoE issues conventions or charters rather than laws or directives; it is up to member governments to decide whether to convert these into legislation.
The Council of Europe is easily confused with the European Council (the summit meetings of the member states of the EU). After leaving the EU, Britain will remain a member of the CoE.