The European Union is an obsolete and rusting vessel – a dreadnought in an age of guided missile destroyers – holed beneath the waterline by the forces of globalisation
If you have not already done so, be sure to read Roland Smith’s excellent new article for the Adam Smith Institute, “The Liberal Case for Leave“.
Smith, a newly-minted Fellow of the ASI, begins with an excellent summary of the context in which Britain joined the EU in the first place – which also has the effect of showing what a vastly different country we are now than we were at the nadir of our post-war, pre-Thatcher decline:
Let’s bypass the line that says the UK electorate were sold the then EEC on a false premise. Instead let’s look at the circumstances in Britain around the time we joined the EEC and then agreed to stay as a result of the 1975 referendum.
Back then Britain was a country beset by nagging economic problems that were coming to a head: The constant stop/go policies of the post-war period that seemed to only inch us forward while the likes of Germany and Japan seemed to leap ahead; strikes; power cuts; rations even; union power; consensus politics; corporatism; and the 3-day week. Opinion favouring free markets was out on the political fringes.
On a longer view, Britain was a country in decline. Since World War II and particularly since the Suez crisis of 1956, Britain’s empire and its confidence had declined as it grappled with a new post-imperial future. The USA and the Soviet Union were the two blocs that now mattered in the world, each having their own large economic trading zone (the USA itself and Comecon).
Indeed, large and protected blocs seemed to be the future and the EEC was apparently forging a third bloc and third way between these two giants, albeit aligned to the USA.
Then there were the walls.
The most visible walls were the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain separating the Soviet Union from the West but there were also significant tariff “walls” between blocs, countries and trading areas. These walls not only demarcated different geographic areas, they reinforced the separateness of those areas, limited trade, and ultimately put a limit on economic progress. The tariff walls in particular defined economic blocs but also made the case for them, creating an impulse for relatively like-minded countries to club together to at least forge a level of economic freedom among themselves.
Smith rightly summarises the prevailing attitude of the time:
Being “for Europe” symbolically represented a future, outward-looking, cosmopolitan and internationalist mindset. It confirmed that you were part of the new jetset or had aspirations in that direction. It was about “getting on”.
Smith goes on to note that Britain joined the EEC just at the time when all of the old certainties which underpinned it began to show the first signs of corrosion – the decline and fall of the Soviet Union bringing an end to the necessity of regional super-blocs, and the decade of negotiations which led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.
With the beginning of significant reductions in global tariffs and even the emergence of many new nations, the European Union – a protectionist customs union with explicit and long held aspirations for statehood – was already falling behind the times, as Smith describes:
Unseen and barely discussed in the 1990s, globalisation was beginning to eat into the logic of a political European Union at the very point it was striding towards statehood with a single euro currency.
Looking back, the EU was (and is) an old ideology in a hurry.
The event that was somewhat more attuned to freer globalised trading was the fanfare around the launch of the single market in 1992, except for the fact that it was and is tied to the EU’s political integrationist ambitions. But now, even the European single market is being rapidly eclipsed by the march of globalisation. A large and growing body of single market law is now made at global level and handed down to the EU which in turn hands it down to the member states.
The automotive industry’s standards are defined by the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations (known as WP.29) under ‘UNECE’ – a United Nations body. Food standards are defined by the ‘Codex Alimentarius’ established by the UN and the World Health Organisation. Modern labour regulations are defined by the ILO – the International Labour Organisation. Maritime regulations are defined by the International Maritime Organisation. Many energy-related regulations can be traced back to the global Kyoto accord on climate change and other international agreements.
Read the whole article. Roland Smith covers an extraordinary amount of ground in his essay, including more sense on immigration policy than you will ever hear from the official Leave and Remain campaigns.
While the EU’s furtive aspirations for statehood are misguided and abhorrent, many of the ways in which the European Union has developed were born not out of particular malice toward the sovereignty of its member states but merely as the result of being perpetually stuck in an increasingly irrelevant post-war mindset. Unlike many rent-a-copy diatribes against the EU, Smith captures this nuance well.
If we are to succeed against the odds in securing Brexit in this EU referendum, it will not be the alarmist cries about impending dictatorship or the abolition of the NHS which secure victory.
Reasonable, moderately engaged people – those with vague eurosceptic thoughts but who are minded to vote Remain because of the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt kicked up by the government that those with vested interests in keeping things as they are – are most likely to be persuaded to Vote Leave if they are told that the EU is not necessarily the Great Satan, but rather a hopelessly outdated mid-century anachronism thrashing around and drowning in the sea of globalisation.
Given the choice, people will quickly vote with their feet when it comes to safely evacuating a foundering ship. Which is why the Remain camp are doing their utmost to portray the EU as a faithful and seaworthy vessel, albeit one in need of a lick of paint here and there.
This important article by Roland Smith – as well as outlining a bright and positive liberal vision for Brexit – also sounds a timely warning that RMS European Union has essentially been holed below the waterline by the iceberg of globalisation and is already steadily taking on water, regardless of the course it now chooses to steer.
And the fact that the lights still burn and the band plays cheerily on as the water laps ever higher around the deck is no reason for Britain to foresake the waiting lifeboat on offer.
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