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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Britain, the Conservative Party, David Cameron and the EU

If you want to understand Britain’s rather odd relationship with the EU, you could do far worse than read this really rather good overview in this week’s Economist, especially considering its focus on the Conservative party – likely to form the next British government in a little over six weeks’ time.

There are only a couple of flaws (e.g. mentioning a figure of 50% for the number of European laws stemming from the EU, when readers of this blog will be aware that it’s more in the region of 10-30%, depending), and much insightful analysis that tallies 99% with my own views. It also provides one of the best short summaries of the last 40+ years of UK-EU relations I’ve seen.

Below the fold, a few highlights.

Update: It should also be read in conjunction with Charlemagne on eurosceptic think tank Open Europe and the nature of the British press to give the full picture on why the UK is so insistent on remaining utterly ignorant on all matters EU-related.

On Tory (and British) euroscepticism:

“all the signs are that the new intake of backbench Tories will be bursting for a row over Europe. Back in the years of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the Conservative Party was divided on the subject, but now it is largely united—in Euroscepticism. Almost the only divide is between those who dislike the EU but think it would be better to stay in, and those who would prefer to leave. According to a survey last July by ConservativeHome, a website, over 40% of prospective Tory candidates favour either a “fundamental” renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership or outright withdrawal. The strength of backbench opinion makes a Tory bust-up with the EU a lot more likely…

“The explanation for such views is to be found partly in the country’s geography and history, partly in its experience as a member and partly in ignorance and prejudice.”

On the reasons for British euroscepticism:

“The average Eurosceptic in Britain has acquired an impression of constant rule changes that always increase the power of EU institutions. This reinforces their existing prejudices, such as the belief that what Britain joined in 1973, and what Britons voted yes to in 1975, was in essence a free-trade area that only later transmogrified into a putative political union. True, the British government did not exactly spell things out (its white paper in 1971 said there was no question of losing essential sovereignty), but the European project, with its promise of ever-closer union, always had an overtly political dimension.

“Making things worse is a profound ignorance of what the EU does and how it works. The mistaken belief that the EU is responsible for as much as 80% of all legislation in Europe… and a lack of understanding of the role of national governments, including Britain’s, in passing EU laws, have fostered the belief that an unaccountable and undemocratic machine in Brussels is somehow usurping the ancient role of Parliament. The media reinforce this belief, especially such Eurosceptic newspapers as the Sun and the Daily Mail (neither of which troubles to keep a staff correspondent in Brussels).

“Ignorance of how the EU works is, of course, to be found right across the continent. But it is deeper in Britain. Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think-tank, notes that Britain is unusual in that “people can get to the top in the media, business and the City without knowing anything at all about the European Union.” Such knowledge can, he suggests, even be a career obstacle. The contrast between Westminster and Whitehall is telling. Parliament is full of people who are proud to have little or no understanding of the EU.”

On the Tories’ approach to the EU under David Cameron:

“The mistake over leaving the EPP was not that the Tories have had to switch their seating arrangements in the European Parliament (although the party has always underestimated the significance of that body in EU lawmaking). Nor was it that the Tories are now tarred by association with some apparent extremists, notably from Latvia.

“The real problem is that a majority of EU heads of government, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, belong to the EPP. This group now holds regular meetings ahead of all EU summits. When it came to choosing a new president of the European Council last November, it was the EPP that pushed Belgium’s unknown prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy. Because of his walk-out from the EPP (which infuriated Mrs Merkel, in particular), Mr Cameron as prime minister would be excluded from such discussions.

“His exclusion will also make it tougher for him to achieve his EU goals. Two things will make these especially tricky. One is that any general opt-outs from social policy or from the charter of fundamental rights would require treaty change. But after the long struggle to ratify Lisbon, most EU countries are allergic to any suggestion of a new treaty in the near future. The second is that the Tories have no obvious bargaining chips that they can play to sway their EU colleagues, who will be reluctant to concede any further opt-outs to a Britain that many consider to be already far too semi-detached from EU policies.”

12 Comments

  1. Hey Nosemonkey, I’m pretty sure, a few months ago – you wrote a blog about what it means to be European. I’ve been looking for it again, but can’t find it. Did you write such a thing, or did I make it up?

  2. Possibly this one? Not sure – don’t think I’ve ever done one post summing up what it means to be European, because I still don’t really know…

  3. The Economist says the Tories are EUsceptic, funny, as one I do not see that.

    Certainly some of them make noises but as you rightly point out they do not have a hope of achieving their stated aims hence all we can expect is more noise. Thus the Tories are not EUsceptic. If they were they would know the only way of achieving a different settlement for the UK would be to leave the union and negotiate for what they say they want. The noises are for the election they hope that they can bolster their vote if they hint at empty half promises unfortunately we have heard it all before.

    Also David Cameron has already shot his bolt over the EU and we know he is not to be trusted real EUsceptics will not be fooled by the Tories again.

  4. Ken – from the Oxford English Dictionary:

    Sceptic
    1. Philos. One who, like Pyhrro and his followers in Greek antiquity, doubts the possibility of real knowledge of any kind ; one who holds that there are no adequate grounds for any certainty as to the truth of any proposition whatsoever…
    2. One who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge in some particular department of inquiry… popularly one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement…
    3. One who doubts, without absolutely denying…
    4. Occas. used with regard to the etymological sense: A seeker after truth ; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at a definite conclusion”

    You are not a sceptic, because you have made up your mind. By the true definition of the word, I’m infinitely more of a sceptic about the EU than you are.

    (How did I come to my present position? By becoming sceptical about eurosceptic claims.)

  5. And how does the the Oxford English Dictionary define EUsceptic?

    Funny I did originally include a mention of the process of defining meanings to help ones argument but deleted it.

    In any case the Tory party is not EUsceptic they have no doubts about the value of our membership and only offer unachievable goals for electoral purposes.

    The difference is I see them as doing so on purpose to mislead the voters, whilst you perhaps think they are honest in their intentions but are unfortunately not clever enough to work out your posted problems over their so called aproach for themselves.

  6. Ken – the word you’re looking for is cynic. A sceptic looks at something and distructs it. Therefore an EU-sceptic would be distructful of the EU.

    A cynic, on the other hand, looks at something and automatically believes the worst. Which is precisely what you and your fellow self-professed “EU-sceptics” do when it comes to the EU.

    As for the Tories not doubting the value of our membership, this is not true of all of them (as there is a sizeable minority of Tories who favouor withdrawal), but is also due to the Tories inhabiting a world where their political policies have a genuine chance of being adopted. This means that they have thought about the consequences in a slightly more rational, objective manner than most EU withdrawalists.

    Are they intentionally misleading the public about the chances of changing the EU from within? I don’t think so – I think they genuinely believe they can do it.

    And you know what? If they hadn’t pissed off the entire continent with a bunch of childish toys-out-of-pram moments like the EPP withdrawal and cozying up to Vaclav Klaus, I genuinely think they might have been able to get somewhere. Because much of the rest of the EU is pissed off with the UK as well – the Tory dream of a semi-detached membership could well suit the rest of the EU very nicely indeed.

  7. Of course the withdrawal from the EPP was firstly the price Cameron had to pay for his place as leader and secondly presents a more coherent settlement between the stated polices of the party in the county and the party in the EU parliament, the EPP being committed to European integration.

    You are of course quite right that several Tory MPs are EUsceptic unfortunately they are not he ones making party policy and they have a history of loosing out in the end to the federalist in the party.

    If the leaders of the party genuinely believe they can achieve their aims I feel they are both foolish and deluded and have no understanding that the history of such attempts has always led to failure. That is why I see it a clear choice between their lying to the public because I cannot believe they can possibly be that naïve.

    I do not think for one minute that if the rest of the EU wants a semi detached UK they would also throw their toys out of the pram and stamp their feet crying because the Tories left the EPP. It would after all be a natural position for a party who was opposed to further integration, what was unnatural was their membership of the grouping in the first place.

    What we both agree is a that conservative government would have very little chance of achieving the stated aims. Cameron and his team are destined to become just one more UK government that says one thing over the EU and does something entirely different when in power when they find their aims unachievable.

    The real difference if one of perspective you and the Tory leaders believe the EU can be reformed from within, I and many like me are ready to admit that the present EU is so structured as to make that impossible.

  8. Ken,

    I do wish you’d stop writing EUsceptic. The word eurosceptic is such a nice, perfectly balanced word. EUsceptic, on the other hand, is so heavy with capitals on the one side it looks like it’s going to fall over and crash down through all the words below.

    You should be happy to have a label like eurosceptic. On the other side we’ve got europhile – which makes us sound like child molesters. If you want, we can trade. You can have eurocynic and we’ll take eurosceptic (because those of us that are broadly pro-EU are often also highly critical).

    P.S. I do understand that you probably call yourself an EUsceptic because you refuse to conflate the EU with Europe. That’s fair enough. But can’t you strike a balance between driving your point home and using handsome verbage?

  9. Nosemonkey,

    Ken and other EUrosceptics like myself have come to your blog to test our opinions . If we are not abused by others and stay then surely its fair to say that we are looking at your side of the debate.

    It also apears that EUropean politicians are throwing their toys out the pram.Viz what you describe about Merkel.The fact that the EUro parliment has to have these groupings, and the horse traing within them is another reason for us to leave the EU.
    Then agian to us withdrawalists you EUrophiles always threaten unreasonable action from the rest of Europe, instead of the grown up attitude that if an club, organisation or association is not to ones benefit then surely it`s best for all if the party concerned just left .

    Joe,

    Hope you and the wife are doing OK.

  10. Ha! I am not at all skeptical about Europe, The term eurosceptic does leave the door open for those who try to argue along the litte Englander lines, or perhaps could be confused with those who are sceptical about the Euro, hence I use EUsceptic to denote the political construct. If it please you however i will use Eusceptic perhaps you are right that is does look better.

    Yes I do understand that many who support the EU do so in the hope that they can change it to something other than its present form, I see that as really only supporting the present EU with all its faults.

  11. The percentage of laws that come from Europe always varies. All I know is that it’s somewhere between 1% and 99%.

    It’s also hilarious that both critics and proponents use the numbers to further argue their cause. I’ve seen the same number of 50% used by skeptics use it to highlight the too-powerful Brussels and federalists who use it to highlight the importance of closer European integration.

  12. Hi

    I thought you might like to have a look at my take on the Conservative stance towards Europe – a short film featuring William Hague, Guy Hands and Klaus in discussion:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPdI3GfKk0k