Saturday, January 06, 2007

EU-Serf on Reforming the EU

The Serf has written a reply to the post I wrote a while back defending the EU. Apparently despite the "beguiling" nature of my argument that the EU can be reformed he is unconvinced. I'm not sure his arguments add up:

"Whether we like it or not, the EU’s founders deliberately set up a political project, of which financial and economic issues were just a part of the overall whole. Those working at the heart of the project are driven by this vision. Take it away and the very reason for the EU’s existence ceases to exist. As it is political aspects that most Brits dislike (hence the constant lies from our politicians about it being all about economics) we are faced with an immovable object. Why should the other side ever give up their reason to start the club in the first place?"

The European Union certainly had political objectives at its inception although those objectives will have varied from founder to founder but this is no reason to abandon hope for a reformed union.

Some of those political objectives were quite laudable e.g. the ending of wars between the European powers, the achievement of this was more a result of nuclear weaponry but that is neither here nor there, and there seems no reason why an attachment to a political role for the EU must necessarily be an attachment to a negative role. The EU may need a political raison d'etre but there is little reason this cannot be an essentially liberal one of free movement and trade and standards legislation to make this feasible rather than an attempt to do something like control foreign policy.

"The sight of Conservative MEPs going native is a particularly painful one for Eurosceptic Conservatives. However, with vast amounts of our cash available to buy the loyalties of those involved in the whole project, the prospects for MEPs not going native are poor. As this group is in the best position to keep us informed, this is a serious impediment to reform."

There is the danger in all politics of becoming too attached to the trappings of office to risk change which might endanger your position. However, first note that this is likely to be thanks to idealism, the EU is an MEPs ability to change the world which makes it problematic for them as ambitious people who want to change the world to denigrate it, as material rewards. This attachment will make MEPs resistant to calls to slash and burn the EU but that is simply a reason to make the case for EU reform as a case for hope rather than punitive action of the Better Off Out variety.

"Our new allies to the East are subject to a similar monetary pressure. Using our hard earned cash, the EU is bribing them to stay on side. After all what Polish politician would really wish to put billions of Euros of free cash at risk. The fact that like all free money, this cash is not really that beneficial to the recipient, is not a factor that would sway a politician who has the chance to spend it."

This makes them attached to specific policies such as development aid but these are hardly the worst of the EU (they have largely been written out of the CAP). Those Eastern European states which are currently succeeding through liberal economic policies, such as Estonia, do have a powerful interest in resisting any encroachment on the independence which allows such policies. This is likely to make it significantly easier to oppose the most harmful EU policy proposals such as tax harmonisation as well as more general infringements on the freedoms available to individual nations; Eastern Europeans understand that they are doing well out of their policy differences with France/Germany.

"Whilst allying with Stalin to defeat Hitler was a pragmatic necessity, the aftermath was half a century of tyranny across half of Europe. So whilst we can vote, campaign and generally work together with other sceptics, those found in much of Europe are actually protectionists. Their vision for the EU is in many cases even worse than the current reality. They would in many cases reject our vision for a free trading EU more fiercely than they do the current setup."

This is entirely the wrong way around. The difference between British and continental euro-sceptics highlights the difficulty attempts at further integration will face. Every measure will be too liberal to pass muster with French sceptics and too controlling for the British or Eastern Europeans. It was this conundrum which made buying off the intransigent impossible in the case of the Constitution. The logical conclusion is that integration has become a far more tenuous project with expansion increasing the amount of diversity to be papered over.

"The many people who work for the EU, from the commissioners down (and don’t forget that we have far too many commissioners) need to constantly justify their positions. This involves inevitably the production of more rules and regulations."

Bear in mind that this bias is present in any professional political body but that it produces a bias towards activity rather than necessarily more regulation. Peter Riddell noted this in the book Honest Opportunism when describing the rise of professional politicians in the UK and US. A need to justify a salary requires activity but this can be deregulating activity (as under Thatcher) instead of regulating activity.

"When the French and the Dutch made rude noises at their betters over the EU constitution, we enemies of Brussels got a little thrill at the thought of the juggernaut coming to a halt. The reality has been however that as much as Mr Blair likes to pretend that the treaty is dead, much of it is being introduced piece meal."

This is an overstatement. Most of the material which was in the constitution hasn't been introduced, some integrationists are proposing that it should be but they have yet to get their way, and there isn't a constitution which is, itself, important.

"Viewed from the prism of free market oriented Anglo Saxon philosophy, the EU is little short of ridiculous. Rules have to be made which describe in detail every little thing that we are allowed to buy, every transaction is subject to the permission of our rulers. The metric martyrs were a tragic example of rules overrides common sense."

This is the most misconceived part of the Serf's analysis. After the Second World War the Japanese could not impose tariffs but did stop imports via non-tariff barriers; it was quite conceivable that many industries would respond in the same manner to the end of protectionism within Europe. It is this that European standardisation is designed to prevent. If the EU has sometimes been overly draconian this is a response to how insidious these barriers can often be rather than anything more conspiratorial.

After all Serf's arguments for hopelessness I remain stubbornly wedded to the view, fairly unfashionable among Conservative bloggers, that for all the legitimate criticisms of the EU on policies like the CAP leaving now would be a bad idea.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this is spot on, the argument that the EU cannot be reformed has basically two justifications -

1. Certain individuals involved with European integration always advocated a superstate - therefore that's all it can ever be.

2. The EU hasn't reformed anything.

With respects to (1) I'd point out that the opinions of people like Jean Monnet on what they wanted Europe to be, or even those of a European Commissioner are not nearly as important as the opinions of national governments. Commissioners (let alone dead European federalists) cannot transfer powers to the EU level, the only party who can do this are the member states' governments through the treaty process.

Now, with that taken on board we can ask a) why governments would give all their powers away to unelected Commissioners when it's clearly not in their interest to do so and b) why if governments control the transferral of powers, can they not effectively reform the EU?

I have no answer to a), if you accept the basic rational choice argument that governments act to maximise their power it makes literally no sense to assume that they'll just give it all away. They would have to be suffering from temporary insanity to even propose giving away tax raising powers, foreign policy, health policy, education policy and any of the other things that are a pre-requisite for a superstate.

The answer to b) is that they have already reformed a great deal which has been ritually ignored. Two of the main bones of contention with the EU - that it imposes "one size fits all" regulation across the union, and that it gives to much power to national governments at the expense of parliaments - have been drastically reformed in recent years.

The philosophy has gone full circle on total harmonisation to one which emphasises mutual recognition and minimum standards - virtually none of the new policy areas since Maastricht have made reference to harmonisation.

With respects to the powers of national governments every treaty since Maastricht has increased the power of the European Parliament relative to the other EU institutions (particularly the Commission).

These are two huge reforms that have been successfully carried out and are still ongoing (as the draft constitution would testify to). To say that the EU cannot be reformed is bizarre given that the member states literally hold all the cards and downright nutty given the major reforms that have already taken place.