EU Referendum’s Richard North makes the very fair point that
“The cause of Euroscepticism is not best served by this ranting as it presents us with the added difficulty of having to overcome the “loony-fringe” label before we are even able to get the message across.”
This sounds remarkably similar to my own complaint from the other day that
“Most of the pro-EU lot do no service to that side of the debate, usually painting eurosceptics with the broadest of “little Englander” and “xenophobe” brushes, sounding utterly patronising and making us all look like self-righteous arseholes”.
Neither side of the EU debate are happy. It seems as though none of those purporting to speak for either the anti or the pro camps are particularly in tune with what the people they claim to represent actually think.
Neither side is entirely happy with the constitution. But the referendum is – and has been since it was first mooted – being portrayed as a referendum on whether or not we see benefits to EU membership, not on the constitution itself. Both hardcore eurosceptics and hardcore pro-Europeans are presenting it as if the true question is “Do you want to be part of the EU?”
If we could calm it down a bit, both sides of the argument would reject the constitution – albeit for different reasons. Then a new constitution (or treaty, if you don’t like the “c”-word) could be drawn up, ideally with a provision in it for certain nations to set up a second tier of EU membership where the relationship stays much as it is (although tidied up and with further safeguards put in place), while others can go ahead with EMU and closer integration unimpeded by the less enthusiastic member states. Then we can, if necessary, hold a referendum on which group we want to belong to. I’d say that’d be ideal for all concerned.
Instead, us pro-EU lot are feeling pressured to defend the very concept of the EU – past, present and future – in the face of constant attacks from the antis. This is despite the fact that the real debate should be over the constitution, and from what I can tell, most of us pro-EU people don’t like that much more than most eurosceptics do, but see it as necessary to pass simply because it has been transmogrified into a personification of the EU itself.
I think the EU is a good thing for Britain. I reckon a new treaty to tie up all the loose ends of six decades of European integration is necessary. I don’t think the current constitution does the job as well as it could and should. But I may end up voting in favour of it anyway (I haven’t yet made up my mind) purely to register my support for Britain’s membership of the EU itself. That is not what the vote should be about, but that is what it is being turned into.
Tuesday edit: Yesterday someone posted a comment to this old post, in which I accused dear Dr North of doing precisely what he is complaining of in the quote above. The comment is, I think, worth copying here – it is very similar to my initial reasoning for abandoning my former eurosceptic ways:
I used to be very anti-European for what I thought were clear and rational arguements: That government should be closer to the people, that it was bad enough having one interest rate for 3 countries and Northern Ireland, without having one for the whole of Europe, etc.
My turning point was when a met a hoary old man on the high street one Saturday with a campaign to “bring back the pound”. I am 40, and I know FA about pounds and ounces. I did decimals all through school and I just thought “Whoaa, what planet did he come from?”. He was also launching into an emotional diatribe about Brussels, cheese, chocolate and bananas, that just turned me off.
That was my eye-opener to the fact that a lot of what you read in the papers about Europe is just wonky and the fantasy of some scary types. I still have reservations, but I realised that I am generally in the “pro” camp, because I have nothing in common with the wild and wooley eyed brigade. ~Nan
Wednesday edit: In the interest of balance, another response (in the comments to this post), from the other side of the fence:
7 years ago when a young stagiere I was walking round Brussels in a red t-shirt with Europa emblazoned across the front. While verring on the sceptic side before the Iraq war the behaviour of France and Germany cemented my previous scepticism more firmly. I still think that Britain overall gains from being a member through cheap flights and EU workers based in Britain, but the more I learn about the policies and regulations coming from Brussels, the corruption, lack of accountability, stitch ups and poorly conceived polices, the more I think that generally I’ve made the right decision.