Thursday, November 13, 2014

Are you in or out already!?

Great Britain's animosity toward the European Union (and, for that matter, most things Continental) is longstanding and antedates the formation of Union itself by a margin measured in centuries.  Brits always had a distaste for the rest of the Europeans; in fact, one can hardly think of any nation on the Continent toward which Brits feel any affinity.  Europhobia--mostly masquerading as "Euroskepticism," and colloquially denoting an opposition to formal European integration--has been part and parcel of the British political (and, by extension, legal) life since the country acceded to the European Union forty or so years ago.  The hostility toward the E.U. unseated some of the most powerful politicians and even whole governments (the Major administration being the most infamous instance).  With the inexorable popularization of the United Kingdom Independence Party (U.K.I.P.), Europhobia has broken through to the fore of the political discourse and has now come to vex all the three mainstream factions, eager to amortize U.K.I.P.'s successes by animating their own rhetoric, burnishing their anti-European credentials, and disseminating promises about "getting tough on [insert putative Euro-generated problem here]."

U.K.I.P. is agitating for a referendum to be organized as soon as possible on the straightforward matter: Does the voter wish Great Britain to exit the European Union?.  Though rarely averred explicitly, U.K.I.P. proposes that leaving the E.U. would not entail severing all contacts with the organization, but that the interaction would be downgraded to one of trade and commerce.  The incumbent British premier, David Cameron, is also sounding out (or, as the case might be, sounding off) about his country "renegotiating" the terms of its engagement with the Union.

The proponents of Great Britain's independence from the E.U. commonly propound the following arguments:
  • The European Union is undemocratic and unaccountable.
  • It is expensive, with the E.U. demanding "disproportionate" contributions to its budget from Great Britain.
  • It is the provenance of innumerable quantities of migrants, who augment the British population count, infringe on British values, and negatively impact its economy
  • It saddles the country with petty regulations, such as those appertaining to Occupational Safety and Health or the apocryphal tale about the "correct" curvature of supermarket bananas.
  • It infringes on British "sovereignty," particularly with regard to the stupefying decisions in human rights cases ascribed to some amorphous "European courts."
  • It causes Great Britain to sacrifice possible closer relations with its Commonwealth.
(The foregoing is an illustrative, not an exhaustive, list.)

The ineluctable conclusion is that the country leaving the E.U. would be a bonanza in economic, political, cultural, sociological, and many other terms.

However, the Europhobes ignore or do not even reckon with the following:
  • If the E.U. is "undemocratic," what is Great Britain?  It is a country with a bicameral parliamentary system.  Yet, one of those chambers is fully appointed and appointments are made on very arbitrary, capricious, opaque, and all around dubious grounds.  The other chamber's deputies are elected through a system where a faction that garners scarcely 40% of the popular vote translates that into holding more than 60% of the seats.  Lastly, the head of state is an individual who holds that position by nothing other than accident of birth.  The European Union is surely a paragon of democracy in comparison.
  • If the E.U. is "unaccountable," then what is the British parliament?  Is one seriously contending that the government in London is more "in tune with" someone living in, say, Manchester (let alone Edinburgh or Derry) than are the organs of the European Union!?
  • There has been much acrimony about the E.U.'s recent demand for extra remittance to its quasifederal budget from Great Britain on account of the latter's well-performing economy.  If that is somehow egregious, why is it not equally egregious that the taxes from the affluent Home Counties are deployed to fund the welfare payments of the putative poor or that they are redistributed to the more indigent areas in the north of the country?  After all, a Sussex taxpayer hardly has more of a connection to a politician in Brussels or a Greek in Athens than to a Scot in Glasgow or to an Irishman in Belfast.
  • Further regarding the allegedly exorbitant cost of the E.U. upon the longsuffering British taxpayer, it turns out that each Brit pays less than a hundred euros per annum to the E.U.  Considering the ability to travel (and settle) in 27 states without any restrictions, avail--freely--of all those states' health care (whose quality very often exceeds that offered in G.B.), and accrue indirect benefits of Great Britain's membership in the Union, that is a pretty good deal.
  • As far as immigration, formal studies are unequivocal in determining that European Union migrants are net contributors to the British economy; yes, even after the "flood" of impecunious and supposedly indolent Romanians and Bulgarians.  Moreover, E.U. migrants share many of the majority Brits' demographics (ethnicity, religion, cultural and historical heritage, etc.).  The drain on the economy is not effected by E.U. migrants.  Nor are E.U. migrants the ones who are slow or ill-disposed to integrate in the British society.  Nor are they the ones whose values and culture frequently clash with the natives'.  The preponderance of the antecedent would be non-E.U. immigrants, and withdrawing from the E.U. will do nothing to stem the tide of them.  Indeed, Great Britain would lose many of its most industrious, productive, and best educated residents by withdrawing.
  • It is correct to observe that the E.U. has issued edicts that boggle the mind; howbeit, in many cases it was the zeal of the national (and particularly municipal) organs that caused E.U. regulations and directives to be implemented in absurd and frustrating ways.  In any event, do the Europhobes credulously argue that exiting the Union would or could cause the "meddlesome" Union diktats to be rescinded?  If Great Britain is to continue trading with the E.U., its goods and services will have to conform to Union-wide standards, and that means that the "busybody rules" instituted per E.U. laws will have to remain in situ.
  • As regards the human rights charge, Europhobes often (whether due to ignorance or out of intellectual dishonesty) conflate the European Court of Justice with the European Court of Human Rights.  The former is an E.U. organ and its decisions have occasioned groundbreaking progress in e.g. consumers' rights, whereas the latter is not in any way connected to the European Union, belonging as it does to a completely separate set of treaty instruments.  Withdrawing from the E.U. would in no way rein in "human rights gone mad" pursuant to either the European Court of Human Rights' decisions or the Human Rights Act-inspired British courts' judgments (that Act incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law).  For that to happen, Great Britain would have to exit the E.C.H.R. mechanism, the political and legal fallout from which would be far more perilous than that of exiting the E.U.
  • Concerning the Commonwealth, firstly, by "Commonwealth" what is commonly meant are Canada and Australia; its other significant member states are--not to put too fine a point on it--economic and political basket cases.  A question then insuperably arises: How can it make more sense to trade with countries on the other side of the world with populations numbering a few ten million than with a bloc just across la Manche whose population exceeds a half billion?  Besides, what makes the Europhobes believe that the Canadians and Australians are idly sitting around just waiting for the "mother country" to come knocking on the door seeking to rekindle ties of yore which opportunity they would eagerly and readily exploit?
  • What, therefore, practical benefits from withdrawing from the European Union do the "Euroskeptics" envision, other than being able to pull up the drawbridge and wave their flag again on their isolated little island?  Can they genuinely be so naive as to aver in earnest that exiting the E.U. would render Great Britain once more the place of, per John Major, "long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers[, ... 'o]ld maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist' and [...] Shakespeare [...] read even in school."?

For the record, many of us outsiders would indeed very much prefer Great Britain to exit wholesale.  After all, ever since joining, the state has been nothing but an albatross around the Union's neck, retarding its progress and subverting its operations.  Great Britain, as an enfant terrible, forever insists on opt-outs from this and rebates from that.  As if being the one Trojan horse is insufficient, the country is one of the foremost (possibly the only) advocates of allowing Turkey (yes, Turkey!) to become a full member-state.  If that is not proof positive that Great Britain wishes to corrode the E.U. from within, it is hard to imagine what might be.

The legal grounds for a British exit are incontestable.  The E.U. treaties are just that, and a country can derogate from or fully withdraw its consent from a treaty at any time.  The political repercussions and implications for Great Britain's international reputation (q.v. Guzman's theory of compliance) are another matter, but that is for the British people to ponder.

It is rather transparent the fact that the British society--such as it might be--has not yet reconciled itself to the loss of its empire and to the profound societal changes culminating in what many would describe as a state of anomie, all of which came to pass within two or three generations.  Great Britain went from being an imperial power that controlled a fourth of the planet and in which everybody "knew their place" to an island living on past glories, playing second fiddle to the superpowers that be, and having its values diluted by the newly-empowered, irreverent lower "classes" and heterogeneous immigrants alike.  That is quite a humiliation and it is natural for one coping mechanism to consist of harking back to yesteryear and latching onto whatever doctrine might be promoted as able to recreate the environment from that bygone era.

However, that will be impossible.  The world has irrevocably changed and the notion that a state such as Great Britain (and for how long even that, i.e. before it disintegrates owing to an inevitable future Scottish referendum?) can be more successful alone than as part of a strong commercial and political union is nothing short of utter nonsense.  It does boggle the mind though that even many reasonable and educated British people's kneejerk reaction is one of such myopic ignorance and parochialism.

If Great Britain does come to its senses before it is too late, it will undergo the type of radical reform that the Germans subjected themselves to (not necessarily always of own volition) in the aftermath of the Second World War.  Germany is today a modern, confident, prosperous, forward-looking state right at the center of the European Union, often "calling the shots" as its distinguished insider.  What a contrast to the petulant, snobby, uncooperative Great Britain.  It does not need to be that way, but it will have to be a collective British decision.

One thing is certain: The status quo is untenable.

© 2014 Michael L.S.

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