EU in or out: It's decision time
In the second article of a two part series on the European Union referendum debate, James Perry has come to a decision. He wants in.
Back in March, I was musing on these pages about the forthcoming EU referendum. My point was that my vote was up for grabs. This is because I am going to vote for the things I care about: peace, social justice, fraternity, prosperity (in its broadest sense) and community. There is no way I will vote for fear, irrespective of the fear-monger. Whilst at the time the Brexit and Remain camps were both building a case based on fear, I felt that either of them could build a positive case for the things I care about – and was yearning for one or both of them to do so.
Well it is now obvious that this ain’t going to happen. Fear is what we are being offered by both sides, most notably the Remain camp. There is a leadership vacuum and we must make our decision in that context.
Testament to the negativity of the referendum campaign is the fact that I’ve had to seek out the founding principles of the EU. No one has been building an argument based on what they are. When I found them, they looked a lot like the list I made in March of the things I care about: The ‘Constitutional Treaty’, which covers the goals of the EU, explains that its core goals are “to promote peace, the Union's values and the well-being of its peoples”. It seeks “to create an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers”. It seeks to establish:
- an internal market where competition is free and undistorted;
- sustainable development, based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment;
- the promotion of scientific and technological advance;
- the combatting of social exclusion and discrimination, and the promotion of social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child;
- the promotion of economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States.
In addition, the Union respects cultural and linguistic diversity and ensures that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.
Wow, sounds great. How then did the EU come to today’s point of deep, even existential, crisis?
At the outset it seems that – as it translated these founding ideas into a set of institutions – the EU did so with the subtext of ensuring that a demagogue such as Adolf Hitler could never again emerge in Europe. Understandable, perhaps, and consistent with ‘peace and well-being of peoples’. But basing a system on fear is never going to end well. The sclerotic, expansionist Brussels blancmange that resulted makes some peoples eyes swivel. But more seriously, with the Euro project, it has created a chimera.
Whether by cock up or conspiracy, the politicians have created a currency union which requires fiscal union to survive. Persisting in a single currency without fiscal union exerts pressure on the patchwork of cracks and fissures already evident within the Eurozone. Economic forces open them up as political forces seek to close them down. Until the Eurozone embraces fiscal union (or abandons monetary union), the Euro will be an ever more toxic instrument of division and confrontation in Europe. Just ask the Greeks and the German/French axis. Last year they (yet again) kicked the ball down the road, but the day of reckoning will come.
All this before we start talking about the refugees, and the underlying causes of that crisis. The recent Faustian pact between the EU and Turkey is yet another example of how far the EU has strayed from its founding principles. Most of us have forgotten Ukraine (i.e. Russia). The list of problems is long and our consciousness can only handle so much at once.
It does seem that the EU is on a trajectory towards more division and more weakness. The visible horizon offers no relief.
Into this place of stress, the prime minister of the EU’s second biggest economy deemed it wise to throw the ‘in-out’ question. And so we are compelled to make a decision. It turns out that it is impossible to thoughtfully respond to this question without going deep. So I suppose it has the benefit of forcing us disgusted observers off the political sidelines. It is an important and defining question. How frustrating then that the debate has its genesis in party-political blood-letting rather than in a vision for our country.
But we are where we are, so here goes: with all my heart (and I did not know this until the last few weeks) I will vote to remain. At this moment in history, as one of the great nations of Europe, now is the time for Britain to lean in. To assert our fraternity and solidarity with our European brothers and sisters – mercifully from our position outside the Eurozone. The time has come for us to fully take our rightful leadership position in this great continent. To help it as it charts a better path to the future, by rediscovering its original purpose. Rediscovering those great principles upon which it was established, and which it has, latterly, so sadly lost. Morality and purpose were at the heart of the project. Materialism and managerialism have obscured that heart. Our job is to vote to remain with the constitutional heart of the EU, and in doing so to stand against the corrupted corpse that has been allowed to build up around it.
With all my heart (and I did not know this until the last few weeks) I will vote to remain
As we do so, it is time to call out our government. Their approach to this campaign has been irresponsible, and not for the first time. Using taxpayer’s money to make this negative case in defiance of the law and the Electoral Commission leaves a nasty taste. But using a playbook of fear to solicit votes on the basis that “we know it’s awful but it’s better than the (terrifying) alternative” is poisonous. We might (as did the Scots) vote for nanny. But the day after? Playing the people corrodes trust in the state. Gaining a remain vote in this way will result in deep disgust with Westminster – just as it has in Scotland, and likely will after the London mayoral campaign. After expenses, tax havens, hacking, lobbying and so on our society can ill-afford such wanton destruction of political legitimacy.
All this means that Britain may be persuaded to vote for something that we are told is odious but necessary. If we do, we will (QED) be left with something odious. This will create an enduring bolshiness in our attitude to Europe. So the most obvious outcome of the negativity of the Remain campaign is to create the perfect conditions for us to fail in Europe. So the thing we must fear, and we really must, is fear. The antidote to fear is courage. The courageous response to the Brexit debate, in the current geo-political & economic context, is to lean in. On no account should we hold our nose and vote to remain. The only rational way to vote Remain is to dance into the polling booth with joy in our hearts for what Europe might be, based on its founding principles – a force to promote values of inclusivity and fairness, fraternity and justice, mutuality and self-determination, community. It is our community to shape. Bon courage, mon braves.
The views expressed above are those of James Perry and are not in any way representative of the organisations the author is associated with.
Header image: European Parliament, Strasbourg