Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Withdraw or become a federal superstate

According to Ken at EU Realist, in response to a comment I made to his post on the report on the BBC’s EU coverage, one of the main eurosceptic complaints about the BBC is that the case for withdrawal is rarely aired. My reply ended up lengthy, but may (at a push) be of interest:

Seriously? Now I can’t give you any specifics here, but I’ve got the impression that most times the BBC holds any kind of EU based debate they generally call in people from the two furthest extremes. Most of the pro-EU lot they get in 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, and the anti-EU vox pops often seem to be chosen for being hardcore pro-withdrawal voices.

The impression I’ve got of the majority of eurosceptics is that they largely object to further integration, and think that in certain areas we’ve already gone too far – not that the basic idea of a European trading and co-operation union is a bad thing. Plus I can – to an extent – see their point.

The withdrawl arguments seem utterly insane to me – other eurosceptic stances hold a lot more water and could, if the withdrawal question could be sidestepped, actually be an area where the pro and anti camps could find common ground.

As I’ve said many, many times, the majority of pro-EU folk know full well that there are major flaws with the current system (Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, lack of democratic accountability etc.), and want sweeping reforms of (almost) the entire thing. There are also plenty of pro-EU people (myself included) who aren’t convinced that the UK should join the single currency for the forseeable future.

But whenever any EU-based arguments are raised (in the UK at least), they always seem to end up boiled down to the most extreme viewpoints: pro-EU = federalist, anti-EU = withdrawalist etc. It’s just not that simple, and is preventing us from having a real and constructive debate. Any government attempts to claim that a “No” vote in the constitutional referendum is a vote to withdraw will simply give fuel to the more extreme eurosceptics, and distort the debate further.

It’s not helpful for either side for the debate to be so polarised – after all, even pro-EU people (again, myself included) are fully aware that the proposed constitution is flawed. It’s just we also don’t buy the claims that it is a final settlement, so reckon that – if everyone who wants reform can finally start acting together – we can make the best of its good points and get rid of the bad. (And yes, I know that we’ve been trying to do that when it comes to the EU for 30 years, but I reckon we’ve failed because we haven’t presented a coherent and united reformist front – we’re too busy bickering among ourselves to tackle the problems head on.)

In short, the argument between the UK pro and anti camps shouldn’t be boiled down to the utterly simplistic “withdraw or become a federal superstate” dichotomy, as it has often been. It should be over the extent to which reforms of the UK’s existing relationship with the EU are necessary – both camps agree that they are, just not how much. Only a minority on either side would argue for the most extreme options available.