Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

“The EU is a political project”

I’d been trying to find a link about this story on and off all day. Basically yet another of these “former advisors” of Tony Blair who seem to pop up every now and again has emerged from the woodwork, and his comments are liable to be distorted beyond all recognition. The chap in question was Tony�s policy adviser on Europe from 1997-2004, and is basically making points similar to many of those I’ve raised in the “EU Debate” section of the archives to the right there.

Although many of the points raised are fair enough, typically what is not acknowledged is the sheer impossibility of being “honest” when it comes to the EU. The primary contention of the ex-advisor, Roger Liddle, is that there needs to be acknowledgement that the EU is a “political project” from the pro-EU camp in the UK.

Well, erm… Yes… Obviously it’s a political project, the question is to what extent – and on that no one can agree. That’s the real problem.

Is it “political” in the sense that it’s shifting towards political union, that it’s being carried out by politicians, that it’s related to governments, that it affects the people, or any of the other many interpretations of the term?

Equally Liddle could call for the pro-EU camp to “admit” that the EU is federal. Because it is – by a broad definition. What it is not is “federal” by the definition many opposed to the EU claim it to be pushing towards – namely that wonderfully scary-sounding “United States of Europe”, which summons up ideas of a single, continent-wide state organised along a federal system similar to that of the USA. (Nor is there much indication that this is the direction the project is heading towards any more, despite occasional statements to that effect from various European politicians, but that’s yet another question entirely).

The major problem remains that there is precisely no agreement on terminology:

  • “The EU’ is often used as shorthand for the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers – all separate institutions – as well as all 25 EU member states (when they are in agreement), and even – scarily frequently – for non-EU bodies like the European Court of Human Rights.
  • “Europe” is also used interchangably with “the EU”, despite not being the same thing.
  • “Eurealist” and “Eurosceptic” are largely interchangable, and generally mean anti-EU, despite their etymologies suggesting that they should mean something entirely different.
  • “Federal” means everything from the basic “recognising a central authority” to the loaded “dominated by a central authority”.
  • “Sovereignty” is frequently mentioned, but rarely defined, and calls for its “return” are often aimed at Brussels alone while ignoring the loss of sovereignty entailed by our obligations to NATO, the UN, the World Bank and innumerable other international treaties.
  • “Integration” can be used both in the sense of harmonising existing systems to allow them to run in parallel or the sense of “gradual, ever-increasing domination by Brussels”.
  • Even concepts such as “British culture” and “British law” are often used confusingly – frequently ignoring the rather different situations and experiences of Scotland.

Add to all that the lack of consistent application of standards (calls for “Democratic accountability” in particular seem to ignore many of the entirely undemocratic aspects of the British political system), and the entire thing gets very confusing.

Until we can get an agreement on the precise meanings of the terminology of the debate, honesty is – as I have pointed out many times before – impossible. This latest escapade simply proves it once more – an admission that the EU is “political” in its nature can easily be held up by those opposed to the EU as an admission that it is heading towards a superstate, when what is actually meant is something far less sinister. Because of this, such an admission simply cannot be made – it would be presenting anti-EU campaigners with an open goal, and be an horrendous PR move thanks entirely to the distortions and misunderstandings that would ensue. Simple honesty can no longer work without very careful media management to ensure that statements are taken to mean what they are intended to mean. And in the British climate, such media management is impossible.

Both sides are equally guilty in this, and have been at it for decades. It will be very hard to tackle this problem at so late a stage – and impossible unless both sides agree to sit down and agree not only to apply a consistent usage to all the various terms, but also to argue the pros and cons on an individual basis and on their merits.

Which, let’s face it, is never going to happen – it’s far easier to smear all anti-EU people as xenophobes and petty nationalists and all pro-EU people as federalists and traitors, and then whinge like a slapped child when the opposition uses the same tactics in return. While that’s all very well and good, all that ends up happening is that regular people get ever more disillusioned with the entire political process as the debates get ever more infantile and confusing. Which is not helpful for either camp.