Daniel Matthews-Ferrero writes that the future prosperity of Britain depends upon it taking an active role in a strong and united Europe, ready to meet the challenges of the future
The British debate over European Union is dominated by virulent and impassioned arguments for isolationism, and by flaccid and at best lukewarm arguments for the status quo, (or for token reforms.) And federalism stands as nothing but a grotesque caricature in the British debate. This article seeks, as far as possible, to redress this imbalance and give federalism a voice, no more, no less.
A self-reflective notion of Europe and the idea of a fully-fledged nation-state both trace their origins to the period around the French Revolution. One of the founding fathers of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, lamented during these precarious years that the “the glory of Europe is extinguished forever,” due to the principles unleashed by the revolution–and their implications for the rest of Europe, especially Great Britain.
The European idea and the nation-state therefore share a common historical starting point. The international system that emerged – and which we now perceive as natural and eternal – drove Europe into a prolonged era of imperial competition and war–along with the greatest economic progress in human history.
After the Second World War, the widespread perceived need for European solidarity lay the seed of a basic tension that has driven European integration ever since–that is the tension between the member states of the union (wanting to minimise sovereignty lost) and its more federal institutions (striving for a more streamlined European approach to global issues.) The 1957 commitment contained within the Treaty of Rome to progress towards an “ever closer union” epitomises this.
European integration is driven by the contradictions born from the inconsistent compromises that arise due to the basic tension between federal aspects of European Union and the member states. Central architect of European integration, Jean Monnet, said: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan,” but that instead, “Europe will be forged through crises.”
We have been in the midst of such a decisive crisis.
Economic and Monetary Union was achieved as a compromise without the appropriate underpinnings of fiscal and banking coordination, or enforcement powers. The federal-national tension therefore created a contradictory and consequently unsustainable compromise that the economic crisis is forcing to be resolved. The European “economic” crisis can only be understood in these terms: as a political crisis. But the trend towards European economic decline was already present, and so the crisis must be taken as an opportunity to improve our long-term economic standing, or all the human costs will have been in vain.
The economic position of the US state of California is often in flux, but at various points its economy has been so large that if it were its own country, it would be richer than Great Britain. California effectively went bankrupt. Yet Greece, which constitutes a comparatively small percentage of the EU’s economy, has wrought far more havoc on the European economy. This highlights the fundamentally political nature of the crisis–considering the disproportionate chaos induced by a country as small as Cyprus reinforces this point.
There were also uncanny resemblances between the economic situation of the US state of Nevada and that of Ireland during the height of the crisis. Two fundamental differences set Nevada apart and explained the differing experience of these two areas during the crisis. First, the comparative lack of labour mobility in Ireland, despite it historically being one of the European regions with the most labour mobility. And second, Nevada did not have to worry about public spending seizing up when it needed it the most, thanks to a reliable federal spending commitment. Of course, Ireland did not have anything like this luxury and suffered a brutal recession as a result.
I have described the relationship between EU member states and the European institutions, as a “tension,” but it is important to realise that it is in many ways fundamentally complementary and the moving principle of integration. There has been a need for more Europe, which is why the previously unthinkable act of nation-states voluntarily and gladly surrendering sovereignty became necessary, but simultaneously, the lack of a single European demos necessitated the enduring significance of the member states. Incidentally, this same logic has driven internal quasi-federal and federal arrangements from the UK to Germany and Spain, where there also exist tensions that can explain developments.
While the contradictions that have driven European integration are useful and necessary, those that exist within the Eurosceptic debate are much less useful, and much more logically problematic. Two contradictory arguments run unconstrainedly side by side, that of the impotence and inertia of European Union, while simultaneously bemoaning its alleged relentless undermining of national sovereignty.
A recent manifestation of this contradiction can be seen with the anti-Juncker campaign. It is alleged that nobody knew who Juncker even was, or what the competences of his post are, so his appointment is an undemocratic farce. Yet it is simultaneously argued that the UK can no longer guarantee its membership of the EU as a result of his appointment, since presumably voters at a referendum would be thoroughly traumatised and influenced by the appointment of a man they don’t know, to a post they don’t care about. This evidently thoroughly rotten ideology sadly dominates the British debate on Europe.
Britain was Western Europe’s sole clear victor in the Second World War, and still possessed the world’s largest empire as a result of its prolonged stint as global hegemon. This has instilled a particular character in Britain, that has guided our behaviour towards European integration ever since. However, if Britain is to have a real say in the world of the future, it will have to do so as a member of the European Union. Germany, despite being the largest member state, and contrary to popular opinion, most often finds itself outmanoeuvred by Qualified Majority Voting on EU legislation, (in the tiny minority of cases in which QMV is used instead of unanimity.)
When Britain is not adopting the obtuse stance exemplified by the recent Juncker debacle, it generally does fantastically well at negotiating–as highlighted by the Conservatives’ recent outmanoeuvring of UKIP in the European Parliament. Historically, Britain has been at its best when cleverly negotiating within Europe; it has never succeeded through isolationism.
We cannot predict the nature of the crises that will drive future European integration by their very nature, but future trends all suggest more Europe will become necessary.
The growth in use of the English language across Europe, global warming and its effects on Africa in particular, rapid population growth (again particularly in Africa,) and increased multipolarity with the rise of the BRICS and Asia are all examples of future trends that suggest more Europe would be logical. The basis for future geopolitical multipolarity and uncertainty is already being laid by Europe’s relative economic decline. This decline could be put down to simple convergence between the west and the rest, but America and other Western states have not experienced this relative decline.
This point is made all the more significant when considering that the US has fairly consistently had a GDP per capita around 50% higher than even the West European average, which should in theory make it relatively easy for the EU to catch up.
Despite the huge implicit defence-spending subsidy gifted to us by the US through NATO since the failing of the European Defence Community in 1954, we have been unable to maintain our competitiveness. It would be a mistake to assume this is entirely unrelated to the fact that despite constituting just 7% of the world’s population, the EU accounts for around half of its welfare spending.
Across the political spectrum, people are quick to find excuses for our continent’s steady decay. And although in the UK we may think ourselves immune and separate from any European malaise, Britain is actually leading this European march towards global insignificance.
The EU has the potential to mitigate the effects of this insidious decline, and eventually (if we vest enough trust in European Union) we could halt and reverse this trend. The EU offers European states the best way of adapting to the new post-war paradigm in international relations. Daniel J Elazar effectively described the essence of this paradigm shift:
Whereas before, every state strove for self-sufficiency, homogeneity, and, with a few exceptions, concentration of authority and power in a single center, under the new paradigm, all states have to recognize as well their interdependence, heterogeneity, and the fact that their centers, if they ever existed, are no longer single centers but parts of a multi-centred network that is increasingly noncentralized, and that all of this is necessary in order to survive in the new world.
The EU is clearly best equipped to deal with this new reality than any other existent arrangement. Under this new paradigm, and with our economic decline, federalism will become necessary precisely to save the sovereignty of our nation-states. What would sovereignty stand for in a world in which European states each comprised a tiny and insignificant fraction of the global economy, surrounded by self-interested powers on this small corner of the Eurasian continent?
Strong economies such as Germany and Japan do not have strong coercive powers in the international system to match their economic might, for obvious historical-political reasons. And while Europe is described as an “economic giant, political dwarf,” the opposite could be said of Russia. Nonetheless, our relative economic share of global GDP broadly underpins our potential influence, and is particularly important when considering that the EU’s primary bargaining tool is currently economics and soft power based.
In short, we should care about this fundamental secular trend and stop automatically finding excuses that justify complacency in the face of catastrophe. The brief blip in human history during which life has been tolerable for average citizens in at least some of the world is a very recent and unique phenomena, induced by the spread and dominance of European ideas. We ought to do more than shrug as we witness the basis of this miracle wither and die.
The British debate on Europe needs some fire in its belly, since the only way to truly witness the British lion roar once more is by being within a strong and united Europe. We should mould it in our image as far as is possible, which would be not only to our own benefit, but also in the benefit of all its member states and humanity. If we fail to do so as the opportunities begin to present themselves, Europe may behave as the frog slowly heated on the stove.
Britain could steer a united Europe towards a brighter future, helping to countervail the numerous global problems that are certain to present themselves, perhaps on a scale unimaginable in our current complacent state. (For example, if global temperatures rise by above 4 degrees Sub-Saharan African agriculture will collapse, which coupled with Africa’s population quadrupling over the coming decades provides an explosive mix on Europe’s doorstep.)
If we fail to play our part, and if Europe were to fail, far from it being a time for handwringing, we shall witness European global influence, culture, and ideas as they rot and decay in the face of fundamental shifts in the international landscape.
Europe will not be built all at once, but in response to the crises that will inexorably confront it. In the face of these calamities we must make a choice, to federalise or to die.