Saturday, 24 May 2014

Independence movements like UKIP and the SNP are enemies of the EU project

Like many Scots I have mixed feelings about the EU, I’ve even in the past been somewhat sympathetic to some of the Eurosceptic arguments. I’m becoming more and more in favour of the EU however, and this has most to do with my reflecting on the arguments for and against Scottish independence.

What do I like about the EU? Well I like the fact that I am able to live and work in any EU country. I used to work at the University of Copenhagen. I sometimes wonder if it might not be nice to retire to one of the Canary Islands or Portugal. I rather like the fact that there’s passport free travel in the Schengen zone and on the whole wish that the UK was a part of this. It would make life easier for my Russian husband. It’s much easier to be able to use the same money in Spain and Germany.  The thing I like most about the EU however is the single market. This is the major achievement of EU integration. The fact that we have access to European labour markets is one of the main reasons why the UK economy is doing so well just now. People complaining about Poles coming here to work understand nothing about economics.

What don’t I like about the EU? Fundamentally I don’t like the fact that power rests with unelected officials or the European Commission. I don’t like the fact that unelected people, whether they be civil servants or judges, can tell democratically elected politicians what to do.  I don’t like the way the EU seems constantly to try to make everyone follow the same rules. Some of this is necessary no doubt, but some is petty and pointless. The thing I like least about the EU is their attempt to have monetary union without a political, fiscal and transfer union. For all the convenience for tourists like me it has been a disaster especially for southern Europe.

What sort of Europe would I like to see? I suspect that many people in Scotland would like to see an EU like the one we voted for all those years ago, a trading block of sovereign independent states. But this is not on offer, and really we’ve been kidding ourselves if we thought that it was ever on offer. It is even less on offer now. The structural problems in the Eurozone can be solved only by breakup or by much closer integration. There may have been a time when large, sovereign, independent states could maintain a currency union without a political, fiscal and transfer union, but that time has clearly passed. There may be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps the sheer speed of modern currency transactions and the way markets work today makes such currency unions undesirable. Really the reasons don’t matter. The Eurozone is an experiment in currency union without political union and the experiment has failed. This is one of the main reasons why Quebec has pretty much recognised that independence is off the agenda. They know that the rest of Canada would never agree to a currency union. It would be crazy for them to do so.

The breakup of the Eurozone could turn into a catastrophe that would make 2008 look like a blip. But anyway if the Eurozone were going to breakup, it would have done so by now. The EU then is going to move towards becoming a single nation state a United States of Europe (USE). It has no choice. It has been moving towards this goal anyway from the beginning. What I hope is that this USE comes to resemble the USA. The USA has a democratically elected president and bicameral parliament. Each state in the Union has considerable devolved power, but is neither independent nor sovereign. If that model existed in the EU, I would grab it with both hands. I would also recommend that the UK join such a USE. It would be stupid not to. I strongly suspect over the next 20 or 30 years that this will be the choice for semi-detached countries like the UK or Denmark. The choice will be between remaining an independent nation state and remaining in the EU.

In the 60s the French blocked the UK from joining the EU, correctly fearing that we would act as a hindrance to EU integration. Countries that focus too much on their independence and their sovereignty are always going to act as a block to the EU project. But they cannot possibly allow this now. Too much is at stake. Eventually for the Eurozone to work, each nation state will have to forget that it is independent and treat everyone in Europe as if they were a fellow citizen. Thus wealthy Germans are going to have to be willing to transfer money to impoverished Spaniards in exactly the same way that they transferred money from West Germany to East Germany.  If that doesn’t happen and happen rather soon the impoverished parts of Europe, including France, will not sit idly while they endure permanent recession and austerity. They will break the Eurozone no matter what the cost.

It should be obvious now that the slogan “independence in Europe” is at best a misunderstanding at worst a lie.  If Europe becomes the USE we would have a devolved parliament in Edinburgh and we would vote hopefully for a democratic president and parliament in Brussels. But we would not be independent, for sovereignty would be in Brussels, just as sovereignty in the USA is in Washington. Fundamentally this is no different from what we have now. We have devolution and we are going to get more of it if we vote no. Sovereignty, beyond mere flag waving, in the end is not on the agenda no matter which way we vote in the referendum. It’s becoming an archaic concept.

There are huge advantages of being in a union of states. The USA has such economies of scale that it would be wealthy even if it only traded with itself. A democratic union of states in the EU would likewise be massively advantageous economically and socially. It would bring living standards in southern Europe up to those in northern Europe. But the price that has to be paid for this is that the various parts of Europe give up nationalism. If you can’t work successfully in a four nation state like the UK how do you suppose you’re going to work in a 28 or more member state like the USE. If the Scots and the English cannot bear to live together in one nation state, how are we to live together with the peoples of Europe in one nation state? If you’re unwilling to transfer your wealth around the UK, what are you going to say when told that you must transfer it to Portugal or Greece? Nationalism is the enemy of EU integration. So long as people focus on resurrecting historical borders, they will not be looking towards a future when such borders are no more. People who understand the European project realise that it is not only unnecessary for a place like Bavaria to seek the independence it lost in 1871, it would also be futile and self-defeating. Secession is the opposite of what is required and for this reason, if for no other; the EU would look on an independent Scotland’s application with distaste as something unhelpful and not to be encouraged.


Scottish nationalists who really want independence as opposed to merely creating a border between Scotland and England realise that real independence is incompatible with EU membership. It is for this reason that many of them are just as much Eurosceptics as UKIP. This position at least has the virtue of being consistent and logical, but it ignores the merits of countries pooling their sovereignty and working together. The process by which the UK came together all those centuries ago is precisely the example that the EU needs to become a successful nation state. There too former enemies are putting aside their differences and finding what they have in common and pooling their sovereignty to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. They must find our focus on refighting medieval battles rather quaint. 

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