At just 18 years of age, I would be understating if I were to claim that my political consciousness is anything other than budding. I know there is much to learn, a great deal of which will only come through experience. But there are certain things which strike a chord even with one whose political philosophy is still forming; certain issues that evoke a fervent interest for no other reason than the fact that they seem to be completely commonsensical. In my short political life, many issues have taken a similarly central mantle, however there is a principal example which offsets all others; an issue that has been – and continues to be – responsible for many hours of debate and discussion amongst my peers, my family and anyone else who is willing to give me chance to make audible my standpoint. This issue is that of British membership of the European Union.
Now, I am well aware that such a stance is far from unique. But my qualm is not with a Europe based upon economic interdependence; I am the first to stand up and say that secure, economic cooperation is of great importance in an increasingly globalised sphere where smaller countries may well experience difficulty in negotiating trade agreements with bigger powers. But at what point did this mutually beneficial trading bloc transmogrify into the overbearing, political pseudo state of which we are all now citizens?
The answer is blurry; the EU’s approach has been an insidious slide towards a federal Europe, making use of the neofunctional model of integration to soften the blow of a diminished role for the nation state. What was once a trading bloc designed to eliminate the prospect of future European wars has become a socialist project to unite Europe politically, legally and economically. Since 1975, the British people have been granted no say as to whether or not they are in favour of such a shift. This is something I find particularly curious; why is it that continued membership of an economic entity was felt to be important enough to warrant a referendum, but every stage of political union has been felt too inconsequential? The question of governments leading the UK blindly against its will spans across the political spectrum, from Maastricht through to Lisbon.
But what I am keen to highlight in this post is perhaps the most ridiculous assertion of all: that the EU is an inevitable path, without which the UK would suffer heavily. This is something I’ve always failed to get to grips with; all things superfluous to economic union aside (i.e. everything post-Maastricht), I feel are mutually beneficial, and actually serve a valuable purpose. Now, given a return to the pre-Maastricht arrangement is an impossibility, what of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)?
EFTA has, for many years, made it possible for countries such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland to operate hugely effectively without the imposition of European judicial supremacy. Indeed, these countries are obliged to adopt EU directives with little say in the content, but as Daniel Hannan MEP pointed out a few years ago, the measures are nearly always of a very trivial nature. Fundamentally, they do not concern issues of epic proportion such as legal supremacy, agriculture and fisheries. Hannan goes on to point out that such measures have only numbered 3,000 since 1992, compared to a staggering 18,000 that the UK has adopted in the same time frame.
It is also interesting to observe the seeming ease with which an EFTA state may trade with the EU, in spite of the EU's deliberately insular economic area. Over 60% of Switzerland's exports are EU-bound, compared to around 40% of the UK's (from within the EU!). Admittedly, whilst Swiss goods can enter the EU freely, citizens do not enjoy the same liberty. But who is to say that EFTA cannot be expanded and improved? It could, as far as I can see, be moulded into a group of sovereign nation states whose only common link is of an economic nature.
In the face of this contradictory evidence, we are still told that independence from the hold of the EU comes at the cost of stability and economic security. Those who argue the EU would not grant us favourable trading terms upon secession forget two important points: firstly, the World Trade Organisation would not permit any sort of protectionist embargo against the UK anyway. Secondly, even if they were to do so then it would be a classic case of cutting off their nose to spite their face. Besides this, we would be negotiating trade terms with the EU as a nation leaving the EU for EFTA, not just as a member of EFTA. This means that - at the start of negotiations - we would be fully under the direction of acquis communautaire; we would not be opting in rule-by-rule, but opting out of unfavourable legislation and restoring national control over areas that the EU has no real mandate to dictate over anyway.
It is, however, for you to make up your own mind on the necessity of political union and the prospective fortunes of a UK that is “with” the EU but “not of it”, however I ask you to do so with both sides of the argument in mind.
*************If you would like to write a guest blog, email me 750 words. No guarantees I will use it, but I will do my best!