(Please don’t advocate Remain without meeting the criticisms against Europe.)
I am a keen supporter of the European experiment and think (even now) that Britain should remain in the European Union, but I am annoyed when other people write as though we had not lost the vote.
‘Mainly Macro’ grumbles that we are going to lose a lot of money if we leave, and that the broadcast media failed the country because they failed to show that all the economic experts and financial pundits were on the side of remain. Yes, of course the coffee drinking middle classes are in favour of Polish plumbers and Latvian baristas; that is simply to fail to see the complexities and problems about immigration; the ambivalence, and the double-talk. What if the unemployed of Ashington do not want to pick carrots in Lincolnshire, at 6 in the morning; can we make them?
What are the problems with the present concept of the European Union? Is it a mistake to aim at a union in which we are all more-or-less as well off as each other? So that free movement is integral, and the means to that end? If we retain free movement, we in the richer countries will have to face considerable immigration, from poorer countries in the north and east of Europe. (We do not need to fear a large inrush of Greeks, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese, because the wonderful climate and cultures in those countries will keep them at home.) Are we in Britain too generous with our benefits; should we hand out houses to anyone in Britain who has a baby and no income? Should the European Union have been restricted to countries of similar wealth and education? Too late now, you will say; but you can still decide your answer. Maybe those who crave a closer union will have to move towards a new Europe-within-Europe.
The sovereignty issue has not been properly discussed, and has been very badly handled. The Queen in our Westminster parliament remains totally sovereign — except for powers voluntarily delegated. And even those powers can be recalled by revoking those treaties by which they were delegated. It should have been made clear to everyone in Britain that we voluntarily adopt the legislation and judgements of European executive and judicial organs. If it were ever the case that we do not voluntarily accept these ‘foreign’ decisions, what do we do? Appeal, or ask Europe to reform/limit itself, or pull out of Europe. Did we do too little protesting, and too late?
The democracy issue was also inadequately discussed, and badly handled. The Council of ministers and the European parliament, which are ‘the government’ of Europe, are as democratic as our own Cabinet and House of Commons. (More so if you like, as they have proportional representation.) That bogey of the Brexiters, the Commission, is merely the civil service, the executive.
But The Commission is too powerful. The whole ethos is foreign to our British idea of government. It should not have a named President, but an anonymous director. It is essentially an authorised clique placed in power for 5 years by a complex power play between the leading countries of Europe; Junker, with 27 handpicked pals, and 23,000 employees. It sees its roles as (and I quote) to:
“— propose legislation which is then adopted by the co-legislators, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers
— enforce European law (where necessary with the help of the Court of Justice of the EU)
— set a objectives and priorities for action, outlined yearly in the Commission Work Programme and work towards delivering them
— manage and implement EU policies and the budget
—represent the Union outside Europe (negotiating trade agreements between the EU and other countries, for example.)”.
We British would expect the objectives and priorities to be set by Ministers and approved by Parliament before being sent to the Commission; likewise the proposing of legislation; only the realisation to be executed by the Commission. This ‘problem of the Commission’ (a hangover from the early days of the Coal and Steel Community) has not been tackled, certainly not solved, and may be intractable.
The Euro, as a currency, remains a problem. It would be interesting if there were, somewhere, an authority high enough to ask the following questions. If Greece can never repay its debts to European lenders, do the Greeks spend the rest of eternity paying interest; a sort of perpetual fee and a grim warning to others? What if the total sum of paid interest exceeds the original debt? Does any responsibility lie with a lender who lends to someone who cannot easily pay back the loan? Does not the charging of interest (above base rate) imply risk of losing the principle? But where shall we find such a high authority these days; for it used to be God who denounced usury, a voice less heard than formally.
We had a chance to stay and sort this, but failed. Now we leave; and when we are not picking our own carrots, we can go to sleep somewhere to the sound of our dripping ball-valves. We shall manage, as long as our more able youngsters can emigrate to countries where they are welcome.