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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Shouting into the storm – and EU 2.0

Guardian

Everyone in the UK knows that of the national daily papers, it’s really only the barely-read (and increasingly unreadable) Guardian (c.311,000 sales per issue) and Independent (c.190,000 sales per issue) who are in favour of the European Union.

The Times (c.595,000) and Sun (c.2,916,000) follow their owner Rupert Murdoch’s eurosceptic lead. The Telegraph (c.833,000) and Mail (c.2,205,000) play to the middle-England, vaguely xenophobic gallery. The People (c.667,000) is also instinctively anti-EU in most of its approaches, most of the time. The Express (c.735,000) does what the Mail does, only with less panache. If you count the similarly unthinking Star (c.667,000) and Sport (c.93,000) as newspapers, they’re also primarily anti-EU on the rare occasions they bother to mention it.

Then there’s the effectively EU-neutral Mirror (c.1,425,000) – which will run anti-EU pieces quite happily, but also take on pro-EU government propaganda just to be different to the Sun – and largely impartial Financial Times (c.130,000).

So, daily – according to those ABC figures – that makes 13,055,000 anti-EU newspaper sales and 1,555,000 EU-neutral sales, compared to just 501,000 pro-EU newspaper sales.

(Chuck web readership on top, the basic split will barely change, as despite the Guardian‘s online popularity, much of GuardianUnlimited’s readership is not UK-based – and the more UK-dominated websites of the other newspapers have seen a huge boom in readership in the last couple of years. In terms of blogs, there’s pretty much only three regularly-updated British pro-EU blogs: this place (which is only loosely pro anyway), Jon Worth and Richard Corbett. Between us, we might manage a dozen posts a week, and a few thousand readers. Meanwhile the anti-EU British blogland consists of dozens of blogs with daily updates, and includes the likes of Tim Worstall and EU Referendum – who between just the two of them often put out a dozen posts a day, generating tens of thousands of visitors a week.)

But, of course, the EU is excruciatingly dull, so EU stories rarely ever make the papers. The only EU stories that sell are “Brussels bans…” or “Meddling bEUreaucrats want to take away your…” scare stories. Because, as with anything, bad news sells. Who’s interested in “Government initiative achieves everything it sets out to achieve”? We all want to hear about the cock-ups and imaginary conspiracies.

So even though the Guardian is mostly pro-EU (it still maintains a few loose ties to the traditionally anti-EU Labour left, after all), it’s very odd that it has decided to devote a leader to praising the EU today.

The timing is, of course, all thanks to the rumbling monster that is the supposedly growing popular support for a referendum on a complex legal document containing some 60,000 words and that can only be fully understood by continued cross-referencing to numerous other complex documents. (Well, the referendum campaign and the fact that we’re still in silly season waiting for parliament to come back from its insanely long summer holiday, so there’s nothing else to fill the paper with, at any rate…)

But it’s still rather odd. Guardian readers are usually of the instinctively pro-EU kind (“Well, it sounds lovely, doesn’t it, Prunella? People of all nationalities coming together to help each other out and stuff?” “Exactly what I was thinking, Quentin. Sod the reality – the idea’s lovely, isn’t it? Now let’s pick up an organic soya milk fair trade frappuccino on our way to the Islington recycling point, shall we?”), and no one else is going to read the thing. Why waste space blathering on about how the EU’s good for Britain?

But, you see, that’s the delight of discussing the EU in a positive light in this country. I remain firmly convinced that most people aren’t actually fully anti-EU, just not remotely interested. Most people aren’t interested in Westminster politics, after all – why the hell would they be interested in what goes on in Brussels? Add to that the sheer complexity of the EU – I’ve been writing about it almost daily for three years, and there’s still large chunks I don’t understand – and little wonder that apathy and lack of knowledge and interest is easily converted to knee-jerk hostility in a country with an overwhelmingly anti-EU public sphere.

So the Guardian‘s leader is utterly pointless, though making some good points. What us rare pro-EU types need to do to win converts is not list the benefits of EU membership or the positive things that the EU has achieved – because such things are both incredibly dull to read and ridiculously easy for anti-EU types to rebuff with sarcasm and humour.

What pro-EU types need to do is find a way of making the EU interesting – because that’s the only way it’s going to start gaining popular support in the UK. But with the current set-up, it is interesting only to hardcore politics geeks and people who like slow train wrecks. Its current set-up is too vast and dull ever to appeal to the masses, and it has also utterly lost the unifying ideal with which it set out fifty years ago. The missed opportunity of the constitution (why not a US-style text full of catchy soundbite ideals? I mean, seriously, why?) is one that no amount of after-the-fact hand-wringing is going to be able to fix.

It’s time for pro-EU types to start looking rationally at the situation, and to realise that the time to win converts to the cause is long past. Anyone who really wants the EU to succeed in the decades to come shouldn’t be defending the current behemoth of overlapping institutions that make up the thing, but attacking it.

The EU doesn’t need a reform treaty, it needs to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. Start proposing that kind of radical change, with EU citizens involved at every stage of the rebuild, and the next stage of the EU – EU 2.0, if you will – should actually end up with genuine popular support. Without that support as its foundation, it’s only going to crumble.

14 Comments

  1. Nosemonkey, UK public opinion is a real wonder, still no sign of being part of Europe although the first application for membership was made in 1961.

    Actually, the United States of America has done more for European integration than Great Britain.

    Europe 2.0 would, in my opinion, be based on the citizens of the Union: democratic and federal.

    Regards
    Ralf Grahn

  2. Your right, the Eu as it stands has reached the point were revolution instead of evolution is reached. The orignal foundations set down 50 years ago have reached their limits, Europe and the world have changed radically over the intervening 5 decades and far greater challenges are ahead.

    Of course, the Eurosceptic press dont want to change, they would rather the evolution contouned until total log jam results, while national governments like the current system as it limits democraitc accountalbility and leaves power in the national excutives.

    However, if we are to build on what has been achived over the last 5 decades, change is needed……though I would have gone for a phoneix, reborn out of its own ashes, into something new with the same basic precepts.

  3. Ralf – Yep, democratic and federal is the way forward. Unfortunately, though, in the UK “federal” has become a dirty work when it comes to the EU – even though it could just as easily mean a multi-speed EU as a superstate.

    Hence my growing conviction that everything needs to be begun afresh to shake off the baggage of the last half century – even though it’s incredibly unlikely that such a thing will ever happen. Grand projects don’t seem to have the appeal they once did – they’re too easy to mock and criticise, and take too much effort to bring into reality.

    EE – The phoenix analogy’s a nice one, and is the most likely outcome of the current stagnation. It will most likely take decades for the EU to fully collapse – though that collapse is surely coming if proper, significant reforms aren’t forthcoming – but when it does, something similar will take its place, as for a good chunk of Europe it is (in its broadest sense) an entirely necessary concept.

    Unfortunately, I’m finding it increasingly hard to see the successor to the EU being anything other than a less ambitious beast altogether – not so much an impressively fiery phoenix as a disappointingly smouldering pigeon.

  4. I hope that you get your referendum, VOTE NO and leave.

  5. “What us rare pro-EU types need to do to win converts is not list the benefits of EU membership or the positive things that the EU has achieved – because such things are both incredibly dull to read and ridiculously easy for anti-EU types to rebuff with sarcasm and humour.”

    And FACTS! I think your slip is showing!

    The Pro EU types do not need converts to the cause, in the main they would seem to prefer to keep the great unwashed out of the debate altogether.

    “The EU doesn’t need a reform treaty, it needs to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch.”

    Quite so! This I see as a major difference between the two sides in the debate, one side accepts the problems exist but believe the EU is capable of being reformed, the other basing their view on history do not, thus feel it best we leave.

  6. Dear oh dear. Polly Toynbee was saying something very similar about the press bia, (and when you’re on the same page as her, you should be concerned). Luckily for Barosso’s Empire, they get to splurge millions of pounds of our money to convince us (especially school children) of how wonderful they are.

    The reason the treaties are unreadable is clear – THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE READ, LEAST OF ALL BY THE COMMON PEOPLE.

  7. Ken – At the risk of sounding like the typical pro-EU official spokesmen (all of whom seem to come across as patronising idiots and almost always do more harm than good to the cause they’re trying to promote), when it comes to the EU, pretty much all facts depend on interpretation. E.g. it’s possible to prove how much the UK directly contributes to the EU’s coffers via tax (a quantifiable fact), but far harder to determine the economic return, and practically impossible to determine what the situation would be were we not members, which is the only way to determine if that economic return is a good one. You reckon it’s not worthwhile, I reckon it is – but there’s no way that either of us can conclusively prove those opinions.

    Pretty much every area in which the EU is involved has the same problem – no one can tell with any certainty what the situation would be were we to be outside the Union, and without knowing that it’s all just speculation based on interpretation of the (very) few indisputable facts that are available.

    Trooper – She wasn’t, was she? Christ… I do hate it when I’m on the same side as Toynbee…

    Still, as for “the reason the treaties are unreadable is clear”, I agree – it is clear, though not entirely in the way you suggest. The reason they’re unreadable is because they’re incredibly complex legal documents that need to use very precise terminology which is capable of being directly translated into all twenty-three official languages of the EU while retaining the same legal meaning.

    Legal documents are impossible to read at the best of times (check out the small print on any contract you’ve had to sign recently) – that’s why we hire lawyers (or, in the case of international treaties, diplomats) to deal with them, rather than asking some random guy off the street.

  8. J Clive Matthews, yesterday I noted that Peter Sain ley Berry took up Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech on foreign policy and Europe on EUobserver http://euobserver.com “Sarkozy is right: We do need a debate on the future of Europe”.

    What kind of Europe should we have in 2020? A democratic one, answers Sain ley Berry.

    Good for him.

    Regards
    Ralf Grahn

  9. Re the fact that the newspapers are vastly eurosceptic. Interesting that, for there’s an academic argument (one which I susbcribe to, it does seem well founded) that newspapers don’t create the prejudices in their readers’ minds. Rather, they follow them. Much like any other business in fact, they find out what petential customers would like and then try to give it to them.
    So the numbers you use really show that the bulk of the UK population is eurosceptic.

  10. Tim – I buy the general premise (certainly from my experience of journalism, you’re told to play to the prejudices the readership is believed to hold), but the problem is that the situation becomes self-perpetuating and escalating.

    For example, you’re a newspaper proprietor. In the early 1980s you believe your readership is mildly eurosceptic (a reasonable assumption), so you start running mildly eurosceptic stories. This then confirms the readers’ euroscepticism, so you continue to run eurosceptic stories, which gives the readers the impression that the EU is even worse than they originally thought, so you start running even more negative stories – etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum – and soon other papers with loosely similar politics start thinking they ought to be doing the same to tap into the market. It’s been a gradual process over the last 20-30 years, I’d say, since the rip-off that was the 1975 referendum started creating additional resentment of the (then) EEC – a process massively heightened when the decidedly anti-EU Murdoch took over the Times.

    The same is true, I’d say, of papers like the Guardian / Independent and their obsessions – like environmentalism, say. Run an article or two about global warming, readers respond, run more, readers start thinking it’s a big problem, run yet more – soon other papers start to think there may be a market for this sort of thing – and the next thing you know we have crusties in fields near Heathrow, pop stars doing charity concerts at Wembley, and the leader of the Conservative party whacking a windmill on his roof.

    The other thing is that the UK press (like most of the population) tends to lean vaguely to the centre-right – hence Labour’s shift in that direction to get elected. Over the last 30 years, the centre-right has come to identify and be identified with euroscepticism – back in the 70s/early 80s it was always Labour and the left who were most opposed to the EEC/EU.

    (Massive generalisations there, I know…)

  11. Language is clear when the writers want it to be understood, and not clear when the writers want the meaning to be hidden or ambiguous.

  12. I like the bit about following reader’s prejudices by giving them more, which reinforces and even develops those prejudices.

    This is exactly my experience is of working in journalism.

    Here in Warsaw I am used to having to get stories about ‘Poland’s anti-Semitism’ and its relationship with Israel, for instance. When I tell them that it is….well, complicated to say the least, they start to lose interest. Complicated is much less palatable than giving them and readers a story they essentially think they already know…

    Makes you wonder what the point of normal day to day hackism is, really…

    And I agree the future of the EU will be much less about some ‘grand narrative.’ The EU ‘Constitution’ treaty was the product of a bunch of people feeling cut off from those they were meant to represent. So they tried to come up with some grand scheme to inspire us all. It has failed. Great constitutions – French, US, were products of real movements and even revolutions. You can’t make this stuff up in some kind of Brussels Grand narrative factory.

    Keep the free movement of people etc and junk the rest.

  13. Beatroot,

    “Keep the free movement of people etc and junk the rest.”

    You need to ask yourself whether that’s likely, and if not, start considering withdrawal. To save you the trouble, I’ve already considered it, and it ain’t at all likely. People stay in all sorts of unsatisfactory relationships with partners who are dishonest, overbearing, generally unsuited etc because they don’t want to be alone, vulnerable, they believe if only they could sort out the problems it would be great … but sometimes you’ve just got to walk away.

  14. Pingback: The state of British EU news coverage | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia