This month, Britain will hold a referendum on staying within the European Union – or leaving, entering uncharted waters as the first member state to withdraw from the EU. Much has been said, over the last couple of months, to push the case for going and staying, with wildly optimistic and depressingly pessimistic scenarios put forward by both sides. This is not a referendum anyone can afford to ignore. It will set the course of British (and profoundly influence European) politics for a generation.
I’m voting leave.
And the reason for this is simple. I do not trust the EU.
At base, the EU is a political project. Worse, it is a bureaucratic project. Yet, in so many ways, it fails to offer the advantages – such as they are – of either, while magnifying the colossal disadvantages of both. This is no small matter. Politicians are often driven forward by wishful thinking while bureaucracies grow – and keep growing – as long as they can. As anyone who has worked in a large organisation can testify that each department will fight to obtain and use as much as it can – and, as they grow, they lose sight of what the organisation is designed to do. The European Union has that problem on steroids.
This is combined with a second problem – a serious democratic deficit.
In any large organisation, there is a fundamental problem that tends to cripple and eventually destroy them. On one hand, the people at the top work hard to gather more and more power into their hands – efficiency is a common excuse – but on the other hand, the people on the top tend to lose their perspective. From a strictly bureaucratic point of view, a dozen or so people being killed might not be a serious problem; from a personal point of view, the death of a single person is a major disaster. Or, using a different example, from such a point of view all problems look the same and thus can be solved with the same solution.
Put slightly differently, every problem is a nail and so can be solved by whacking it with a hammer.
This explains many of the problems we commoners have in doing battle with the bureaucratic cockroaches who infest every major organisation. The bureaucrats we meet, face-to-face, might actually understand the problems, but it isn’t them who makes the decisions. A bureaucracy has no room for individual initiative. It simply cannot work unless everyone follows procedure, no matter how bone-headed or outdated procedure happens to be. The person on the ground, the person with the greatest understanding of what is actually going on, is the person without the power to handle it.
Combined with political wishful thinking, the consequences have been dire.
The problems besetting Greece – and Spain, Portugal and Ireland – owe a great deal to political wishful thinking. The Greeks lied about their economic position – and the EU, determined to keep expanding, didn’t bother to perform any sort of due diligence. This created a problem that can be summed up like this; the Greeks thought the EU would back their bills, the banks also thought the EU would back the Greeks … and the EU was under the impression that they wouldn’t need to back the Greek bills. Greece went into debt on a colossal scale and couldn’t pay.
The thing that galls me about this is that, when we were renting a home for the first time, I had to pay six months in advance because (as a writer) I don’t have a steady income. I have no monthly paycheck that is fixed (barring getting fired). The renting agency refused to allow me to rent until I paid up front. Later, when we started to buy a home, I had to prove – again – my ability to pay. And I was dealing with relatively small sums of money, even by the standards of a renting agency.
Did the EU not think to do any due diligence before accepting Greece et al into the EU?
The EU rests on a series of increasingly faulty assumptions. Can a number of countries, each one having a different political culture, inch towards political union without friction? Can those countries work together when they have very different interests? Will the populations of those countries, increasingly nationalist as the economic good times come to an end, tamely accept the EU handing out increasingly irrational and illogical rules and regulations that cast a long shadow over economic growth and political development? Will even the oldest and cleanest governments resist the temptation to cheat when other countries cheat and face no consequences? And can the Euro actually survive when its mere existence has made the economic storm raging over Europe far worse?
Trust in the EU is practically non-existent – and why should it be otherwise? The EU has a profound democratic deficit. Brussels has shown a frightening lack of regard for the democratic will of the EU’s population. We voted against the EU constitution – and realistically, who could love such a document? – only to be told that parts of it would be implemented anyway. The gulf between the EU’s government and its people has grown so wide that the government has no real conception of the problems facing ordinary people, choosing instead to focus on dunderheaded ‘green’ projects and political correctness – issues that bring high costs to the ordinary citizen. And, as we have recently seen in Germany, governments are growing increasingly concerned with looking good, while showing a terrifying lack of concern for the rights of its citizens.
The EU rose out of the ashes of war, backed by the American security guarantee. (The assertion that the EU ensured peace in Europe is utter nonsense.) It’s designers believed that nationalist thinking was largely responsible for the horrors of World War Two and worked hard to exclude democracy from their planning. And they may have been right. Nationalism certainly played a major role in Hitler’s rise to power. But in choosing to ignore the feelings of the people, in choosing to make it clear that the average person had little say in the EU’s development, in choosing to mock and degrade those who could be branded as reactionary (and the usual barrage of charges of Bad Think, Political Incorrectness, Etc), the EU destroyed its own legitimacy …
… And from their lofty height, we all look the same.
In short, the EU’s bureaucrats and their political masters have chosen to ride The Plan down in flames, rather than admit that they might be wrong.
The EU needs to be reformed. But the EU has shown a profound unwillingness to reform.
It is, in short, a fatally flawed structure, one that shows no respect for its populations, who increasingly fear and hate its influence. It may have played a role – and yes, it was a significant role – in building the modern Europe. But it has become a bureaucratic entity that, like all bureaucratic entities, is beyond reason, willing to smash social trust and harmony – and even undermine its own economy – in the name of an increasingly unattainable goal.
And, in doing so, it undermines its fundamental reason for existence.
There is much to be gained from peaceful cooperation between counties. Leaving the EU will not see us cast out of NATO (which isn’t an EU organisation in any case), nor will it automatically halt security and intelligence cooperation. It isn’t as if we don’t cooperate with countries already outside the EU. But such cooperation must take place with one eye firmly on our own interests. We should not sacrifice our interests and surrender our concerns purely to benefit the EU or anyone else.
I do not say that leaving the EU will not cause us any problems. There will be profound dislocations up ahead – although far less than we might expect with an independent Scotland – and probably quite a bit of pain. There’s no logical reason for the EU to wish to hurt us – particularly as such actions tend to cause blowback – but bureaucracies are rarely logical and react badly to any challenge to their power or their justifications.
But the EU is steadily collapsing. Perhaps it would be better to get out now, before the entire structure shatters beyond repair.