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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

EU competence creep, the spectre of the superstate, and how governments actually work

In our last little discussion of the likelihood of an EU superstate (in amongst and partially as an offshoot of the rather silly sidetrack about jam), Josef noted that

there is a concern that this is how the EU will form itself into a “superstate.” Not through a series of demi-democratic treaties, but through a sort of slow, suffocating creep of boring, incomprehensible, impenetrable legislation. If you write a follow up post, Nosemonkey/J Clive, then I’d be interested to hear your take on this.

This is always a danger with any democratic system which relies largely on a more or less bureaucratic civil service to get things done. We like to think that all new legislation is debated and scrutinised by our elected representatives, dissected in minute detail and put to a vote considering only the best interests of the people – but it rarely happens like that.

In the UK, the vast majority of primary legislation is passed in the form of statutory instruments – new laws drawn up by civil servants and government ministers and put onto the statute books without (most of the time) parliament so much as being informed. In the UK in 2008 alone, there were 3,399 statutory instruments passed – that’s more than nine new laws a day that have come into existence without so much as a by your leave from an elected official. (That’s about average for the last 20 years, by the by – the number of statutory instruments began to creep up under Major, but have remained relatively constant since the mid-1990s, despite various claims that Blair used them more than any previous Prime Minister as another way of bypassing parliament.)

The vast majority of these statutory instruments are amendments to existing Acts of Parliament, fiddling with the details (most of them minor). Our last little debate got sidetracked on the use of apple geranium in jams other than those made with quince. Hardly the sort of thing – the logic goes – that it’s worth wasting parliament’s time with, and so precisely the sort of thing that would be sorted out in a statutory instrument. If the approval of British MEPs was needed for each of the law changes that statutory instruments bring in, then every one of the British parliament’s 646 MPs would have to go through more than five of the things every single day of the year – as well as all the major legislation, dealing with constituency concerns, being part of the government, holding the government to account and so on. (Remove those MPs who hold government office, it’d be more like 7 statutory instruments each to scrutinise and research the utility of per day – that’s a full-time job…)

In the EU, we have much the same problem. Having accepted the general principle that area X is best dealt with at EU level, it is impractical for MEPs to then scrutinise every subsequent tiny bit of legislation to ensure that it meets their high standards, and vote on every tiny clause about different types of fruit preserve in full session at the European Parliament. Because just as we, the people, delegate our powers of decision to our representatives at Westminster and Brussels/Strasbourg, so our representatives then delegate powers of drafting new laws to the various civil servants, be they in national civil services or the European Commission.

(At which point it’s worth noting that most EU legislation is not actually drawn up by the Commission – the EC only has a staff of c.38,000 – less than a third of that of the UK Department of Work and Pensions alone, and nowhere near enough to do everything that the Commission is accused of doing. Instead, pretty much all EU legislation is drawn up by the civil servants of the various member states, checked by civil servants in other member states, and then rubber-stamped by the Commission once it’s been looked at my enough bureaucrats in enough member states.)

And so in the normal course of events, yes – dozens of new laws will likely come into force every week without having been so much as glanced at by an elected official. But such developed social systems as ours could not possibly function any other way – unless you think that the civil service should be elected, and that it’s a practical possibility to find several hundred thousand people willing to campaign for such a thankless job (not to mention several hundred thousand people willing to turn out and vote on what would prove to be an almost daily basis as retirement and transfers necessitate by-elections to fill vacant posts…) And in any case, the general principles are already always voted on by elected representatives at both national and EU level – as long as they are doing their jobs properly, they shouldn’t vote through sweeping new powers that would allow unelected bodies or people to suddenly advance major changed without anyone checking them first. (Though that’s not to say that there isn’t always a danger that this could happen, as we found out in the UK only recently with the – thankfully defeated – Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which would effectively have made parliament obsolete and allowed any government minister to make any law they liked, when they liked.)

When it comes to the EU, the real fear of competence creep was epitomised by this glorious clause (Article 308 EC):

If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community, and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures.

In other words, the EU could grant itself whatever powers it liked. Or, at least, it could after unanimous agreement from the governments of the member states in the Council, and after being passed by the elected representatives of the European Parliament – but most anti-EU types conflate Council, Parliament and Commission into one monolithic-sounding “EU” to make these things sound more scary.

So, for more powers to pass to the EU, even with the existence of the “competence clause”, you’d still need unanimous agreement between the governments of all 27 member states, plus a majority in the European Parliament. Hardly that scary – but even so, the Lisbon Treaty amended that same article (now Article 352) to clearly delineate (in line with the subsidiarity principle introduced with Maastricht back in 1992) just where competences lie between the EU and member states, as well as explicitly excluding common foreign and security policy as an area where the competence clause could be used to grant the EU more powers.

Oh yes, and Article 352 also introduced a new clause obliging the Commission to involve national parliaments in any moves to grant the EU more powers. So that’s unanimous agreement by all 27 member state governments, passing a vote in the European Parliament, and passing votes in the parliaments of all 27 member states before the EU can claim any major new powers for itself. Hardly a major worry.

In the meantime, life will continue as normal, with dozens upon dozens of minor changes to minor laws being brought into force merely by civil servants via statutory instruments and their equivalents across Europe – and then (despite some of the claims made in our last comment thread that alterations to jam legislation would require ratification by the Council, Parliament, and so on) amended just as easily if they turn out not to be workable.

Is there a danger that some of these laws will be bad ones? Of course there is. But at least they are generally being drawn up by civil servants who are experts in their field (rather than members of parliament who tend to be generalists), and at least they can be corrected with ease.

Is there a danger that such civil servant-drafted laws could slowly grant more power to institutions that we aren’t willing to give them? Well, a poorly-worded new law always has the potential to be misinterpreted. That’s what we have judges and courts for – if such poorly-worded laws are found, they can be challenged and struck down, if a simple amendment isn’t enough. After all, both the existing Article 308 and the proposed new Article 352 explicitly state that both the Council and the Parliament have to approve any new EU power-grab – and treaty law will always take precedence in such cases.

In short: Modern western liberal democracies are very complex systems, packed full of checks and balances that have been worked out over the course of many centuries. The EU is not a true liberal democracy, but shares many of its forms and functions. As such, I remain confident that there are enough checks and balances in place to ensure that the only way the EU will gain more powers is if the member states of the EU want to delegate more powers to it. It will not -can not – happen by accident. Unlike in the British system, where bad laws like the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill can easily slip through parliament if the government has a sufficient majority and MPs are sufficiently cowed, the EU has 27 additional chances of spotting them before they get anywhere near the statute books – something that the Lisbon Treaty would only have underscored by bringing national parliaments into the equation as well. Once again, it’s hardly the stuff of an impending superstate.

34 Comments

  1. Really great post! I’m glad I prodded you into writing it! :D

    It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and you present a convincing argument (especially when it comes to the point about checks and balances).

    In the past, of course, the EU/EC did promote integration in an arguably “undemocratic” fashion. There was a period in the 60s and 70s when the ECJ became the main engine for European integration. It came up with concepts like the principle of direct affect and of EC legal supremacy on its own, without any explicit reference in the treaties. Of course, member-states then adopted these new principles, so one could argue that this makes them legitimate.

    Anyway – I’m interested to see what the eurosceptics think.

    Speaking of which, I see you’ve discovered the absurdeu.com project (funded by UKIP, I gather). Expect more discussions about jam over the coming months.

  2. You seem to have a high regard for civil servants. Obviously your job and very way of life has not been damaged/destroyed by their maladministration. If you had to deal with these sneaky bastards you would put them at the top of the list for hanging.After torture.

  3. Well, if you’ve got the image of the civil service as an organisation full of evil schemers or incompetent idiots, then I doubt any of us would be able to change that. I just see it as any other organisation – full of people who are just human. There may be the evil and incompetent among them, but I don’t think that’s particularly special for any group of humans.

  4. Robin,

    Are you suggesting a world-wide ban on civil servants? Could you describe how municipalities, regions, states, the European Union and international organisations should be run henceforth?

  5. Hi, Ralf,

    You missed a great discussion about jam (or perhaps, wisely, decided to sit it out).

    Robin’s suggestion of violent revolution and the torture-murder of thousands of innocent people is a tad on the extreme side. Yes, we all hate bad bureaucracy. But an absence of bureaucracy is even worse.

    Politics is, according to Weber, all about violence. Before bureaucrats, we had princes and warlords. The bureaucratic revolution essentially changed the nature of politics. Suddenly, the emphasis was not on politics as violence. It was on politics as routine. Politics as law. Yes, even politics as mismanagement.

    Robin is proposing a step backwards, once again to conducting all politics through violence. Much more exciting. But I would rather have my job/way of life destroyed by a bureaucrat than have my life/body-parts torn apart by princes and warlords.

    I’m a bit disappointed that this is the only argument coming from the eurosceptic camp in response to Nosemonkey’s post.

  6. Thank you for this. As Josef says, eurosceptics appear a little shy of making an argued response.

    When I was working (OK, a while ago now) the only time I became aware of SI’s (Statutory Instruments), or EU Directives was when they affected my area of work. Is there anywhere where a weekly/monthly schedule of such EU output can be found? (I haven’t found it yet but maybe I’m looking in the wrong places).

  7. Eurocentric,

    Certian types of people will be drawn to certian jobs, and once in,their thinking reinforced with the groupthink of that organisation. Therefore the organisation becomes even worse.

    Ralph Garn,

    I know that all societies need pen pushers in ministries, but it`s best to try and have a society or grouping with the least amount of them, not design a project that requires too many with too much power behind the scenes.

    Joseph Litobarski,

    You haven`t had your way of life destroyed, so you wouldn`t have the same emotions about thses people than if you did.
    What is the EU for ? To affect everyones way of life in one form or another.That is what the EUrophiles want.Are we expected to love it or it`s functionaries if it affects us for bad ?

    French Derek,

    Well here`s one argued response; Nosemonkeys article was heavy about the workings and effcts of the civil servants who are needed in this project. What is the biggest weakness of Britain being in the EU ? Her useless civil servants.
    What`s the most used excuse a British civil servant makes for the maladministration of his department? – The EU .
    That`s reason enough alone for us to leave the project.

  8. I admit, I haven’t had my way of life destroyed by the EU. Which specific group (or groups) of people do you believe have had their way of life destroyed by the EU?

    You talk about europhiles… It’s true: anybody who thinks the EU is perfect is wearing rose-tinted glasses. But likewise, anybody who thinks everything the EU does is automatically a total failure is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    The EU has made the idea of renewed violence between France and Germany laughable, removed many of the trade barriers thrown up by the dissolution of the pre-1918 European empires, re-integrated post-communist economies into Europe, and put Europe on an equal trade footing with the US (and now China). These should not be ignored.

    As to your argument against British civil servants. Are you saying British civil servants are the most useless in Europe? In the world? How are you judging this? Are they the most corrupt?

    How do you know the most used excuse a British civil servant uses is the EU? And why is that a good reason to leave the EU?

  9. Joseph L,

    British international drivers for a start, then there are other groups like farmers, fishermen. Then one or two trades and thousands of businesses and allied jobs.

    I`ve never thought the EU project was a total failure for Europeans. But for Britai it is and I cant see why we just dont depart amicably and stay freinds.
    A spat or potential one between France and Germany is no reason for Britian to be in this project (or others) and are they really going to war but for the EU ? Must be funny people ruling in those countries.
    The Eastern Bloc has benefitted from the EU but again Britain hasn`t. Like it or not, the truth is we were better off when they were under the Soviet yoke. (Do not read that that is what is desirable, but what is the truth for us ).
    Yes I`m saying the British civil servants are the most useless in EUrope, and could be in the world, although they are not ,by and large, corrupt (I honestly think they are a bit too stupid to be ).How to gauge them ?a bit hard when the whole process is not open and accountable. Their main atrribute seems to be to obfuscate everything, and seem to think it`s a great virtue.
    The most used reason ? because that seems to be the first one given, and if they are not lying then what conclusion can you draw ?

  10. I don’t think that you can generalise everyone who applies for a civil service job like that. I don’t think that most people ideologize their working life like that. Also, national civil servants are rotated in through the EU level, so it’s not just people applying for EU posts because they’re fanatically pro-EU. Although you can apply directly to some posts (though that doesn’t mean that they’re automatically fanatically pro-EU or become so).

    “Well here`s one argued response; Nosemonkeys article was heavy about the workings and effcts of the civil servants who are needed in this project. What is the biggest weakness of Britain being in the EU ? Her useless civil servants.
    What`s the most used excuse a British civil servant makes for the maladministration of his department? – The EU .
    That`s reason enough alone for us to leave the project.”

    Surely that’s a reason to scrutinise the British civil service, rather than pull out of the EU. You’re saying that they’re scapegoating something, but then going on to say that we should accept their complaints, even though we know that they’re false arguments.

  11. But haven’t British drivers benefited from the Schengen zone? I had a (brief) hunt around the internet, and couldn’t find much criticism from British truckers about the EU. I did find some Europe-wide truck-driver strikes in 1998: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/174891.stm but this was because truck-drivers were exempt from the EU’s 48-hour maximum working hours health and safety legislation and they wanted it to apply. They didn’t want less EU regulation, they wanted MORE EU regulation (and protection).

    I also found an article with the title: “Haulage bosses welcome EU Expansion” from the East Anglia Times, but it’s coming up with an error – http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/businessnews/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&category=Business&tBrand=EADOnline&tCategory=zBusinessNews&itemid=IPED25%20Oct%202006%2015%3A27%3A19%3A993

    And British farmers seem to favour CAP reform rather than abolishment – http://www.nfuonline.com/x27634.xml

    The British fishing industry, of course, is facing extreme pressure. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the EU quota system. The pressure on fishing stocks is not a problem unique to Europe, though. And fishermen admit that fish stocks have grown since the quota system was introduced – http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/nov/20/immigrationpolicy.eu

    “I`ve never thought the EU project was a total failure for Europeans. But for Britai it is and I cant see why we just dont depart amicably and stay freinds.”

    Because if we left the single market, we would have to pay the common tariff. Especially now, during a financial crisis, it’s not a good time to renegotiate trade terms with the largest economy on the planet.

    “A spat or potential one between France and Germany is no reason for Britian to be in this project (or others) and are they really going to war but for the EU ? Must be funny people ruling in those countries.”

    But that’s exactly my point! The very idea now so ridiculous that you can make a joke about it. But it was taken very seriously when the British and American zones of post-war Germany were occupied and Germany began its economic miracle.

    “The Eastern Bloc has benefitted from the EU but again Britain hasn`t. Like it or not, the truth is we were better off when they were under the Soviet yoke. (Do not read that that is what is desirable, but what is the truth for us ).”

    I strongly disagree. The “carrot” of potential EU membership arguably encouraged Eastern European countries to democratise their political systems and liberalise their economies. Furthermore, the development of Eastern European infrastructure and markets through EU structural funds benefits British producers, who now have a bigger market for their goods. A secure, democratic, wealthy Eastern Europe is very much in Britain’s interests. The Cold War was the worst possible situation for Britain.

    As for British civil servants. I’m not asking you to personally prove it, just to come up with some sources for your claims.

    Apologies to Nosemonkey for, once again, hijacking one of his posts.

  12. Interesting – and you’re right as far as you go. There is indeed a massive role for Civil Servants.
    I don’t quite understand how leaders are supposed to enact their decisions (at whatever level of decision-making) if there were no civil or public servants. There’s no point saying “do it!” unless there’s someone to know you’ve done so and say “yes sir!” and go and make it happen. Even a parish council needs a secretary.
    In EU terms, ultimately Ministers have to agree or not to whatever the Civil Servants have negotiated at the technical level, and those Ministers are the government that is elected by the people. The Civil Servants collect the views of those affected and interested, try to calculate all possible implications, and put that into a coherent form for Ministers.

    But don’t underestimate the role of the European Parliament in making legislation. The role of the EP in co-deciding legislation is a lot more detailed than people might think.
    The rapporteur (member of lead EP committee appointed responsible for guiding the proposed text through the EP’s side of the plenary process) really does go through the Commission’s original proposal in fine detail – in reality they often rewrite the draft entirely, broadening its scope to cover things they think should’ve been in it from the beginning (this is particularly the case where some MEPs who have been around for a long time and do effectively become subject specialists, really knowing and understanding the implications of their proposals which frankly can be a bit annoying if it doesn’t match your analysis of the implications as a good or bad thing).
    Some rapporteurs make great use of their assistants, others rely heavily on ideas and suggestions from stakeholders (NGOs, businesses, unions… Brussels is the second most heavily lobbied place in the world after Washington) to come up with amendments to the original Commission proposal to make the text acceptable to the EP. At the same time, shadow rapporteurs and other committees can also make comments/ reports and although there’s no obligation to take these into account, a rapporteur that wants to get his or her text accepted by the whole EP will inevitably do so.
    The rapporteur presents their draft report to their committee, the committee members can propose amendments too and then the Committee votes article by article on the draft report and the amendments.
    Then the whole thing – a revised rapporteurs report plus comments from whichever MEPs want to comment – are voted on at a plenary session i.e. all MEPs. And that’s just 1st reading.

    The rapporteur and committee chair from that lead committee, plus later on the EP Vice President for Conciliation are engaged throughout the process in informal or formal negotiation with the Council (or to translate for those above with the useless sneaky bastards plus the Ministers) from whichever country holds the Presidency of the Council.
    My experience is that it’s a 50/50 process, literally co-decided between those elected as governments of the Member States and those directly elected by the peoples of those Member States. The Commission attempts to honest broker the process.

    Would be interested to know what qualities better Civil Servants are considered to have.

    French Derek – the OJ (the Official Journal) is the place where the EU’s output can be read. Can’t swear it’s the most readable of documents, but it’s there. Just Google it!

    Oh, and sorry about the jam. I wonder how many times in my life I’ll end up saying things like that?

  13. British lorry drivers did benefit from the creation of the single market. Before, if they had delivered a load to another EU-member state, they were only allowed to pick up a return load if their employer was registered in that country: ie they had to return empty most of the time. If UK lorry drivers are now having a hard time maybe someone should look closer at the costs to UK haulage companies vs those of other EU countries? eg vehicle taxation, fuel costs, etc.

  14. OK, this is a lot of detail, most of it going over my head, alas.

    For the main post, NM:

    As you say, the ‘Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill’ _was_ defeated, even in a parliament with a rather large Lab majority. As I see it, this is because there were sufficient people outside of parliament, reading the small print, and willing to tell people about it.
    If this happened at EU level, we’d never hear about it – until it was in place, at which point it would be fairly hard to get it repealed. I’d say your article 308 is a fair example.

    “…but most anti-EU types conflate Council, Parliament and Commission into one monolithic-sounding “EU” to make these things sound more scary”

    Personally, I do this for simplicity. But YMMV, and all that.

    And, whilst one hates to bring up J-A-M, what are the limits of statutary instruments? Can they be used to change lawful ingrediants in certain foodstuffs? Change the permitted noisiness of lawnmowers? Can they be used to change the items VAT is applied to? How does this then interact with the laws passed in national governments in line with the original EU legislation?

    And the comments:

    French Derek on April 2nd:
    As you say, for the most part we’re only aware of EU legislation until it’s in force, and affecting us. At which point it’s not, practically, possible to change it. I’d say this is one of the points that I dislike about the EU the most. (The other being that even if you were aware of it prior to it being passed, there’s not much you could do about it)

    Josef on April 2nd 7.21:
    “The EU has made the idea of renewed violence between France and Germany laughable”: you think this wouldn’t be the case without the EU?
    (OK, your next two points are harder to argue with)

    Josef on April 2nd 10.14:
    “And British farmers seem to favour CAP reform rather than abolishment”: Yes, personally I wouldn’t object to large amounts of tax-payers cash being thrown at my profession. And if it already happened, I’d certainly oppose it’s abolishment. The CAP is another good argument to leave the EU – or at least, reform it.

    “Because if we left the single market, we would have to pay the common tariff. Especially now, during a financial crisis, it’s not a good time to renegotiate trade terms with the largest economy on the planet.”
    We could also negotiate trade deals with other countries (and other organisations: NAFTA, the Commonwealth, etc) without having to worry about 26 other countries.

    Jo, April 2nd, 20.23:
    It’s interesting that the rapporteur “often…broaden[s legislation] scope to cover things they think should’ve been in it from the beginning”. Do they never narrow it down? Restrict it? And as for “MEPs who have been around for a long time and do effectively become subject specialists, really knowing and understanding the implications of their proposals”, I don’t regard this as humanly possible. Understanding the effects of complex legislation before it’s passed? I’m willing to grant MEPs many things; superhuman foresight is not one of them. I also don’t think that a politician becomes an expert in anything other than being a politician – but that’s a different matter.

    “…others rely heavily on ideas and suggestions from stakeholders (NGOs, businesses, unions… Brussels is the second most heavily lobbied place in the world after Washington)” This is a bug, not a feature. Porkbarrel politics is a _bad_ thing, particularly when the democracy supporting the structure is so… inadequate? Is that a fair description? Immature, anyway.

    PS NM: Is there anyway to increase the size of the comment box? Or should I be writing smaller comments?!

  15. Josef Litobaski,

    British lorry drivers haven`t benefitted on the Schengen zone .You are forgetting that if they are not travelling around Europe, they are not benefitting. If policies kill off a trade or industry, no amount of “initiatives” from the EU could make up for that.
    You may not see much criticizm of the EU from the British hauliers but there are reasons for that which are not because it is a Good Thing for them.
    1) The trade organisations and unions are werak. They seem to be a “front” organisation for the government to announce it`s new policies to the industry, rather than a voice for its members.
    2) The accepted wisdom throughout is that the EU must be a Good Thing because everyone else says so. That`s why the “bosses” in the East Anglian Times spouted such rubbish as they did.More and more though there are The Emporor Has No Clothes coming to the fore.
    3)As some leave the industry, they take their voices about it with them. There is only so much time in the world,and not being involved in a cerain activity lessens your commitment to it.

    Some British Farmers favour CAP. Most, who dont benefit or who are adversely affected will be against it. They will be in the majority but not with the most acreage.

    If we left the EU, THEY would have to pay the common tarriff to trade with us.

    Your point about the Franco/German relations still does not mean we would have to be in the EU. We are not in a lot of organisations, and they dont all go to war because of it.

    The Eastern Europeans may benefit but not us. Laudable as anty desire is for you to welcome them leaving the Soviet Bloc, this is not to our benefit.
    Just because there is a bigger free trade area doesn`t mean we benefit, especially if the terms are unfair AND we pay for the priviledge of being in the organisation.
    The Cold War was only bad for us in that there was uncertianty about a nuclear war. Economically, politically and socially we were better off. Sad but true.

  16. French Derek,

    I`m afraid you dont understand haulage. For a start, British hauliers had bilateral arreangements with other countries, so that each nations carrirrs could deliver then pick up a reload in each others countries.(And if they couldn`t, that means twice the amount of lorries need to be used- more business for carriers isn`t it ?)
    UK hauliers are having a hard time and our costs should be looked at by whoom ? Civil servants ? The ones who say that VED is “only” 5% of a vehicles costs.The ones who dont recognise that foreign trucks come to the UK.
    The civil servants who say they are looking at ways of charging foreign trucks– and have been doing so for at least twenty years. Meanwhile other counties move on and some are on their THIRD method of charging.
    Negation by Delay. That`s what we get from Whitehall.

  17. Eurocentric,

    Who and how are you going to scrutinise the civil service.? They are not complaining about the EU. Far from it. They love it. More power without accountability, hidden ways of fustrating the populace.
    The back of the book How To Be A Civil Servant by Martin Stanlet (ISBN 1 902301 08 0 )says;

    “Working in Whitehall can be great fun, and very rewarding. It is good to work to improve the lives of fellow citizens, you INFLUENCE[]important decisions, and you meet some fascinating people, a good number of them within the Civil Service.”

    There you are. You dont have to stand for election, you wield power behind the scenes.What sort of person wants to do that ?
    At the top of the civil service tree you get;

    The Snob
    The Timeserver
    The Social Engineer
    The Bully.

    The Snob and Timeserver are usually at the centre, the Bully and Social Engineer lower down (at present).the boundaries are not clearly defined, for example the Timeserver will become the Bully if you disturb him too much.,

  18. Hi, Stuart

    I take your point about France and Germany – the Cold War (including the division of Germany) fundamentally changed the dynamic between the two countries. But I think the benefit of hindsight distorts our picture.

    Between 1870 and 1945 there had been three major wars between France and Germany. No matter how hard the French tried to throttle German industry, Germany just kept rising from the ashes. France did not feel at all safe or secure, and we should not expect French politicians to have acted “rationally” given the history.

    The EU made another war not only unthinkable, but also impossible. By creating a single body (the European Coal and Steel Community) to oversee production of two of the key resources used to fight a war.

    Think of it this way, the alternative being argued at the time to the ECSC was for France to try to sabotage and undermine German attempts to develop her industry. How would German nationalists have reacted if this had been France’s policy?

    As for British farmers and CAP, yes – there are all sorts of (very good) arguments against it. It represents an extreme form of protectionism and completely distorts global free trade in agricultural products, for one thing. It’s not just a European problem, of course – the US also supports its farming sector through massive subsidies. I’m not sure what would happen to the European countryside if CAP didn’t exist – and I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

    As for leaving the single market. Yes, we could renegotiate trade deals with NAFTA and Commonwealth countries (in fact, we would be forced to) but we would be renegotiating as a single country (despite being one of the World’s biggest economies), whereas before we had been a 27-nation trade bloc. The EU is easily our largest trading partner – accounting for over 50% of all our imports and exports: http://www.fxuniversal.com/currency-profiles-gbp.html

    We can’t just not “worry about 26 other countries.”

    What would most likely happen is we would renegotiate a trade deal with the EU which would see us signing up to a lot of EU legislation (like Norway and Switzerland) but without any democratic representation at all. Democracy by fax.

  19. btw, I’m being very loose with the term “EU” when I apply it to postwar France and Germany. We should probably say “European Integration” or something like that, but for convenience I’ll just say “EU.”

    I don’t know if another Franco-German war would have taken place without the EU. Probably not. Might the rivalry have spilled over into another French occupation of the Ruhr? No idea. But I’m sure the division would have been exploited by the USSR.

  20. Hi Robin

    I’ve finally found some articles from hauliers criticising, not the EU but the UK government. You should have said earlier you were talking about Vehicle Excise Duty charges!

    http://www.roadtransport.com/Articles/2009/03/26/133335/labour-mp-says-road-pricing-is-inevitable.html

    But (as far as I know) VED is a policy of the UK national government, not of the EU. France, for example, abolished its version of the VED (the vignette) in 2001. So you’re (as far as I can tell) confusing UK and EU policies.

    “If we left the EU, THEY would have to pay the common tarriff to trade with us.”

    This is true, but it doesn’t really help anything. I don’t see how making trade between the EU and the UK horribly unattractive will advantage the UK.

    The EU will not allow the UK access to the single market unless we sign up to EU legislation. They won’t do this because it would make their own industries uncompetitive if they had to abide by EU law but we didn’t.

    “Just because there is a bigger free trade area doesn`t mean we benefit,”

    Why doesn’t a bigger free trade area benefit the UK?

    “especially if the terms are unfair AND we pay for the priviledge of being in the organisation.”

    There is, it is true, a certain amount of investment which has to take place. But the end result is a safer, more democratic, more wealthy Europe.

    “The Cold War was only bad for us in that there was uncertianty about a nuclear war. Economically, politically and socially we were better off. Sad but true.”

    Well, uncertainty about a nuclear war is a pretty big negative point. But leaving that aside, how were we better off economically, politically and socially during the Cold War?

    If we take game theory (itself a product of the Cold War) you seem to be arguing that economics is a zero sum game (one country always benefits at another’s expense). But that’s not how economics has to work. If more people can afford your products, then you can sell more products. So you become wealthier. Then you buy more of their products with your new wealth. So they become wealthier. This is a gross simplification, but there’s some truth to it.

  21. Josef,
    Certainly the correlation is perfect: several Franco-German wars prior to the proto-EU, none after. So of course, the EU can claim credit.

    Whether it deserves to, or not… As you say, the situation prior to WW2 was completely different to that after; the European powers were firmly eclipsed by US and USSR; Germany was split in two and it’s capital occupied by foreign powers. France and (W) Germany were allies in NATO (from ’55 to ’66, anyway), and we know how the US responded to Anglo-French ‘intervention’ in the Suez. To my mind, another round of France vs Germany simply wasn’t on the cards. It’s not as if France and Germany were faced with a binary choice: create the ECSC and be BFFs, or go to war. There’s a whole spectrum of options between the two, and the fact that they chose to create the (eventual) EU shows just how far they were from hostilities.

    But it’s an academic question – thankfully – and well off-topic! On another academic/off-topic point, though, I do agree with you regarding the EU helping to integrate post-communist Eastern European countries. I think they would have struggled a lot more than they did with corruption, market liberalisation, etc. if the EU wasn’t about. It’s one of the things I admire about the present set up.

  22. Josef:

    Part 2!

    In answer to “what would happen to the European countryside if CAP didn’t exist”: (and weren’t replaced by national ones!)

    A list of possible outcomes:

    1. Less food would be produced natively. Farmers would either focus on high-value/high-profit goods (eg organic), focus on non-food goods (countryside: the theme park!), or go bust.

    2. Rural Europe may well experience what the British ex-mine towns did in the mid-’80′s onwards – mass, endemic, unemployment. Going cold turkey may well prove too difficult.

    3. Land value would fall. The cost of building a new house might go down substantially, leading to more homes being built, perhaps leading to cheaper houses. Maybe. Some land might even return to wilderness/abandoned scrubland.

    4. Non-European farmers, perhaps mostly third world farmers, would be better off.

    5. If (2) is avoided, taxes may fall and GDP should rise.

    Anyone care to add? It’s a fun game, for all the family…

  23. Stuart. There are no “if’s” or “maybe’s” about the rationale driving the creation of the Caol & Steel Community. The history of the aftermath of WW2 shows that, as in 1919, France was eager to inflict punishment of a high order against Germany, notably by claiming territorial control over the Rhineland coal and steel producing areas. They were pulled back from this by the US and UK – but the political wish remained intact. Except, that is, for two forward-looking men, who saw that the only solution would be to pool sovereignty over coal and steel production. Other countries were so convinced by this approach that they joined in. The rest, as they say, is history.

    The pioneers genuinely believed in the potential of a closer form of sovereignty-sharing; and some who followed continued with that dream. But, a federal state of 27 nations, each with their own languages, cultures, economic models, etc would be impossible to govern (even if all 27 agreed to such an arrangement). And, the larger the Union, the less likely such a dream could become a reality.

  24. French Derek: I’m not argueing about the rationale behind the creation of the ECSC. The intention behind it was, I agree, pretty much crystal clear. The ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’ come in to play when you debate whether, without it, there would have been another round of France vs Germany. I don’t think that France had the capital – political, financial, or military – to go for it. But it’s an academic argument as we don’t have a handy parrallel universe to explore.

  25. Okay. I admit… secretly, I agree with you, Stuart.

    There would not have been a war between France and Germany – even without the formation of the EU. The Cold War dynamics and the change in the balance of power would have made that impossible. Furthermore, the US would have prevented France from serious punitive occupations or the kind seen after the First World War.

    However, I also agree with French Derek that this is not necessarily how French politicians viewed the situation at the time. We now know that war was impossible. They (or at least, many French politicians) thought that peace was impossible if Germany was not completely dominated, militarily and economically, by France. Would the Western alliance have been as strong as it was given this rivalry? Would the USSR have exploited this situation? Would West Germany have turned to Russia for support?

    Anyway, I’m willing to concede this point because you made a good argument and this is off-topic.

    Speaking of off-topic, Nosemonkey: you need to open a forum! Enough opinionated people come to your site that we need a place to thresh these things out. At the very least, an open thread now and again would be appreciated!

    P.S.@Stuart: A nice analysis of what would happen if we removed CAP. Now we just have to agree whether that’s a good thing or not.

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  27. Joseph L,

    The VED question is typical of an subject that may not look like an EU issue but ultimately is — and not because it was designed to.
    VED is set by the national governments. British hauliers also pay tolls and taxes abroad`but foreign lorries do not pay anything when in the UK . Why ?-tHE EU. Or the EU is part of the reason but becomes bigger than its part.This is because our civil service is useless about the EU and hides behind the EU to disguise its incompetence.
    Foreign trucks cannot be charged when in the UK because, so the British senior civil servants say, because it is against EU law.
    Notice anything wrong there ?
    British trucks are charged when they are in other countries, but foreign trucks are not charged when in Britian, and this is because of the EU.The civil servants are telling us that the EU wants an unfair market against British trucks.
    I know that is not the truth. You guess that is not the truth and the civil servants know it is not the truth.
    The whole is that we cannot charge foreign trucks that which we dont charge ourselves. So all we need to do is give the civil servants some work to do [help they cry]and bring in a new system that straightens it all out.
    In fact ,while the senior mandarins claim it`s too hard, we can buy the foreign tavxes in Dover or Ramsgate.
    That is, we can buy taxes for other countries in Britian, but cant levy taxes on foreigners when they are in Britain.
    So while some countries are on their second or THIRD method of charging, Britain hasn`t even begun.
    Sothe above shows why we are unsited to be in this project.

  28. Joseph,

    Ypour other points

    If the EU charges the tarrif, they are the ones making it difficult to trade, not us.(Why would they do so?)

    We could manufacture (?) the goods to an EU spec for the EU market. Ditto for services. As we would/should for other markets of the world.

    WE dont benefit in a bigger free market area if there are unfair conditions against us, as the point about haulage shows.

    Safer more democratic wealthier Europe does not neccesarily mean Britain becomes safer, more democratic or wealthier (evidence shows the opposite)

    If more people can afford your products, that is only good if you are making those products.If they`ve been killed off by these countries coming in, you are poorer.
    Again evidence id that we are impoverished by the accession of the NMS.

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  30. Robin
    To my knowledge the only autoroutes in France, Portugal and Spain that are toll-charging are those built and operated by private companies. Even many of these are inter-connected (inter-cut even) with sections of unpaid autoroute standard roads. It is the same in the UK, on the M6, I believe?

    The ay in which EU integration has developed over time leaves national identity and culture intact. It also leaves very many decisions to individual nation states – such as the financing of their road-building programmes. Different cultures apply to taxation, government intervention, etc. Yet common (and often necessary) areas have been deemed (by member nations, note) best dealt with by the EU.

  31. French Derek,

    France , Portugal ans Spain (amongst others ) have toll paying autoroutes, and these are part of the national,yeah even international, system. Trucks are obliged to use these roads.
    They are built by private companies and operated by private companies. Britian has the motorways built by private companies and paid for by VED, the British people. So British hauliers are obliged to pay for the infrastructure of other countries but foreign hauliers do not return that favour. How is that fair ?
    (the M6 toll is a new concept of limited length and trucks are not obliged to use it )
    It boils down to ; WE pay when in foreign countries, they dont pay when here.
    And that is after the fact we we pay yet again through the EU for roads in other countries.
    So it proves we are better off out of the EU.

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