The EU was designed in a different age for different circumstances. Even then it had major design flaws and it has failed to adapt to meet today’s challenges. It is especially unsuitable for the UK which has a history and traditions distinct from most of its neighbours. Although conceived with noble intentions, to make inter-state war impossible following the two world wars of the twentieth century, it was decided that the only way to achieve this would be to subjugate national governments to the dictates of a higher authority. Since there is no way for democratic regimes to be overruled by a democratically elected higher authority, democracy has to be foregone and the supra-national regime has to be selected, not elected.
The EU project was inspired by a fractious continent at war. In the 1920s Jean Monnet had the vision of a United States of Europe: a unified continent under a single government. This idea remains at the heart of the Project, it is explicit in every treaty since 1957 and in the planning for the next one (see Five Presidents’ Report). It underlies grand (and sometimes reckless) schemes including monetary union, open borders, shared seas, political union and many more untried and untested schemes that have no basis in either political theory or experiment.
“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.” (Attributed to Jean Monnet.)
The concept of federation is bold and idealistic. It remains the underpinning ideology of the EU. A key question is whether it is practical. Monnet and his followers seem to assume that peace, harmony and wealth will be natural outcomes from a unified state, the European Nation, but this is not self-evident. Nor is there evidence from experience or theory to support the assumption.
It seems reasonable to claim that we are social animals: people group together for cooperation and protection, with good and bad consequences. Dissonance between groups within one nation is common: Rwanda and Syria (in fact much of the Middle East) are extreme examples. Europe, including the EU, is no different, as shown by: Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland and Spain’s Basque region plus (less violently) by Belgium, Cyprus and (ex-)Czechoslovakia. Catalonia, Scotland and Bavaria offer still milder examples of peoples who identify more strongly with sub-national regions than with their nation state. Who identify themselves first as ‘European’?
Perfect harmony within nations comprising groups with different languages, ethnicities, and religions is hard to find, especially where they were forced, like the arbitrary divisions that ignored local differences when lines were drawn on a British Empire map. Successful unions tend to evolve. Even the United Kingdom was united by fiat and is now being questioned. The USA was finally unified only through civil war and its states still keep many important powers to themselves, while resentment continues to simmer between Northern and Southern states. Unification is hard to achieve and sustain; it cannot succeed except by consent or coercion. Without consent fragmentation is the probable outcome. This is a major risk for the EU, which has neither democratic legitimacy nor military force to hold it together against the will of its peoples. The EU is an imposition by elites, over which the people have no say.
A single, federalised state was seen as the means to achieve harmony, a union in which the citizens, their skills and property could flow freely wherever needed or desired. By establishing sameness everywhere there would be no barriers to these flows, so wealth and happiness would spread evenly across the region, eliminating envy and thus the cause of war between competing nations. The visionaries recognised that the unenlightened, general populations of the disunited nations might not welcome a homogenised super-state and so a process would need to be established whereby the goal was achieved through scarcely-noticeable but irreversible steps. Clearly this could not be a democratic process but would have to be discreetly guided by ‘wise men’, acting in the enlightened interests of the whole over any sectional (e.g. national) preferences.
It is not true that the current purpose of the EU and EMU is to improve economic, political and social development among their members. On the contrary, such developments are promoted to support the “deepening” of the EU and the “completion” of EMU (Five Presidents’ Report), so strategy and tactics are reversed. The founders assumed that European countries could not be trusted to keep the peace without a supervisor. Now they cannot even be trusted to run their own economies. Member states are obliged to hand over ever more responsibilities in order to promote ever-closer union. The argument that this union promotes development is stated often but never substantiated. Why should we believe that merely creating a supra-national power can create conditions that would summon up the forces needed to produce growth and reduce unemployment?
The current EU/EMU projects are justified by the belief that economic, political and social development can (only) be achieved from the top down. This cannot be proved since the belief is false, defying both logic and experience. The case is nowhere substantiated that union can deliver desirable outcomes better than individual nations. It is better to have trial and error at a local level leading to solutions that can be replicated – diversity and cooperation.
Until the Project is complete any shortfall in the outcomes can be blamed on the member states and their capricious unwillingness to conform and finish the job. EMU will only be “complete” when no corner of the EU can be distinguished from any other. This cannot be achieved and should not be attempted.
The problem is that the EU project, subservient as it is to EMU, is misdirected. It is about centralising power to achieve uniformity and as such it is doomed to fail. In the unlikely event that the dreams of the Commissioners could be achieved, the outcome would be to reduce Europe’s attractive and stimulating cultural and economic diversity to a dull and ineffective sameness.
We are all guinea pigs in a project that has neither empirical nor theoretical justification. Economic, political and monetary union have become the rationale for the creation of treaties, laws and institutions that have no other rationale. The European Union is an experiment, though not acknowledged as such, for the good reason that most people would be horrified to know that they are guinea pigs.
An adequate case has not been made that Europe needs a supra-national authority to govern its member states, which in turn requires them to give up sovereignty and submit to a central legal system overseen by its own, self-serving judiciary. Economic, political and monetary union have become ends in themselves. Power is exercised through these treaties, laws and institutions to defend and further the poorly-founded notions of union, attempting to disguise that the union is built on sand. The ideas that could justify union are simply missing; instead we are invited to accept EU and EMU uncritically.
A project such as the EU should be firmly underpinned by sound economic and social theory. It is not. There is no broad consensus in either economic or political theory, so there is no widely accepted foundation that could support the case for economic and political union. Supporters of the Project fail to offer theoretical or empirical justification for the claim that EMU is the best, and may be the only, way to deliver economic, democratic and social development.
Summary and Conclusion
On the surface the EU might appear an enlightened project, and it could be. However, the obsession with enforced conformity is not the path to harmony and mutual benefit. The EU is the wrong project to unify and pacify a fractious Europe, it can only succeed through suffocation.
What are the main objectives of the EU and are they beneficial, harmful or irrelevant? We do not see an honest presentation of the case in favour.
We need regional and global cooperation but we don’t need remote government. We need cooperative structures that can evolve to meet new challenges as they arise, not static ideologies. Only democratic accountability has been able to achieve this over the long term.
Europe’s nations are capable of making choices about how they collaborate; their peoples don’t need an unelected, supra-national body to manage them. They don’t need this EU, which is a regime imposed on Europe for out-dated reasons and held together only by an out-dated ideology. People will have their say and if imposed upon they will resist. The future of the EU is highly uncertain.