Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The state of EU debate

A subject worth another look every year or so – especially with EU elections looming in 2009 – is what sort of discussion (if any) the European Union is inspiring among its citizens. After all, I remain top Google result for “EU debate” (and second only to the EU’s own Debate Europe forum without the inverted commas), and the nature of political discourse surrounding the EU was one of the reasons I first started blogging about the whole thing. (Largely to slag off some of the nuttier anti-EU types, at first, but I’ve expanded a bit since then…)

I last had a look at EU debate nine months ago, which provides a fairly handy overview of how nothing much has changed during the time I’ve been blogging (Don’t believe me? Here’s a post on the subject from four years ago) – and that followed an intensive series of posts on the possibilities for building a genuine European demos that I did for openDemocracy (that’s the thing that I got shortlisted for that Reuters award for).

As such, for me to do another post on the subject is largely redundant. Thankfully, however, the newly revamped Kosmopolito (at an all new address and with an extra vowel) has had a stab, and brings a different, yet complimentary, take to the whole thing. One point in particular that stands out, however:

It is still cumbersome for non-experts to monitor the EU decision making process. Especially the internet and new online tools have the potential to make it easier to monitor and control EU decision making processes. Even though the europa.eu portal contains most of the information, it needs a serious relaunch. A new EU portal needs to be transparent, with a focus on policy processes that makes it easy to follow documents, combined with some interactive elements.

This cannot be stressed enough. I’m actively interested in the EU. I’ve been blogging about it for five years. I know my way around most of the sources of EU information available online, and I know (roughly) where to start looking to delve deeper into particular subjects. Yet even I still find it difficult to find what I’m looking for sometimes. (Where is an EU equivalent of TheyWorkForYou or The Public Whip? The only thing similar is Brussel Stemt, a Dutch-language site tracking the votes of Dutch MEPs – as far as I’m aware there’s nothing else out there.) The Europa portal has a near impossible task in trying to provide so much information in so many different languages, certainly, but it remains one of the most confusing, unintuitive sites on the web.

One of the major reasons why Euromyths spread so quickly – and also why the Lisbon Treaty has sparked so much opposition – is that the people find it impossible to find out information about the EU for themselves. (As noted the other day, to argue against the classic straight bananas Euromyth necessitates hunting down an obscure EU regulation and then trawling through and attempting to understand seven pages of legal jargon. Far easier just to believe what your newspaper tells you.)

If information is hard to come by or hard to understand, the power of the press and other self-professed experts to influence public opinion is massively increased. When the experts and the press are themselves ill-informed (as most journalists writing about the EU and many national politicians commenting on it sadly are) or biased (as is certainly often the case in the UK), the public is – intentionally or otherwise – going to be misled and misinformed. A misled and misinformed public in turn leads to misinformed debate, and that to an ineffective democracy. (Indeed, it’s arguable that part of the reason the public are so uninterested in the EU is that they’ve been consistently misinformed about just how important it is to their daily lives – if only they knew, claim some eurosceptics, they’d be up in arms.)

I’m afraid I can’t see this situation changing any time soon. EU debates outside the Brussels beltway remain largely non-existent, dominated by lack of solid factual knowledge and understanding (by both sides) and a lack of interest from anyone bar obsessives (as Jon Worth noted is still the case as recently as June, and as I’ve been saying for years). Hell, sometimes even the obsessives aren’t that interested.

——-

As a related aside to the lack of interest thing, a couple of days ago I was interviewed by a journalist from a French newspaper for an article he’s doing about the world of EU blogs. He seemed genuinely shocked at how low my readership figures are (though, thinking about it, I realised I was being old-fashioned and forgot to add in RSS and email subscribers, who are arguably the most important, and which would double the figure I gave him).

Interest in EU blogs is certainly low compared to the readership that can be gained by other political blogs – the top UK political blog along probably getting more readers than all the EU-focussed blogs put together. Yet if I compare this site’s stats to the weekly sales of the Economist’s EU-centred newspaper European Voice (PDF), they’re pretty much comparable. Knowing how magazine readership figures are calculated (i.e. take copies sold and multiply by a factor of 2-4), this blog’s readership is probably also comparable to that of The Parliament Magazine (PDF).

At its height, this blog was pulling in as many readers in a month as either of these two fully professionally-produced magazines – and at one point as much as both of them put together. Take out the free copies both publications send unsolicited to various MEPs, Commissioners and other EU institutional staff, and it’s a toss-up who out of the three of us has more actual readers.

Which really just goes to prove my point that no one’s interested about the EU. Without interest and participation, how can we have a good debate?

22 Comments

  1. “how can we have a good debate?”

    Eh? Who wants a debate? Can’t we move directly to the execution?

  2. Have a look at IPPRO MEP as well. More statistical, but handy for keeping an eye on how MEPs are behaving.

  3. Jon – ta, that is handy (if not as handy as I’d hoped). Shows Kilroy to be even lazier than I thought… He’s only bothered to sign in 52% of the time for the last year – and as we all know, signing in doesn’t mean he actually bothered doing any work… Compare that to fellow eurosceptic types like Hannan or anonymous UKIPer Nattras, and that’s shocking. Kilroy’s disgraced fellow former UKIPer Ashley Mote may have a worse attendance (possibly due to all that time in prison and his subsequent difficulties in leaving the UK…), but even Mote’s managed to make 46 speeches. And that’s 46 more than Kilroy…

  4. Glad you did the extra research on it! :-)

    Essentially the stats at IPPRO-MEP are good, but the interface needs some work.

  5. One editor of a newspaper said that they dont print many letters about the EU because they tend to be one sided ie anti EU.This makes the subject a little boring (and helpful to the EUrophiles who want to proceed by stealth).
    It`s something noticed by a EUrosceptic. The EUrophiles either want to just prattle on about the Glittering Generalities (peace, trade, affluence ,all untrue) or about technicalities and how to fine tune this project.
    Latest news about the Post Offices- no mention about the EU on PM programme Radio 4.

  6. I am thinking – was the hidden pun intended in the article header intended?

    Fact is that debate and opinion about the European integration process has (almost universally) been framed in terms of disparate national (member state) perspectives.

    For a more coherent and detailed articulation of this conclusion, see Juan Díez Medrano’s fascinating analysis of differing attitudes to European integration in three member states: Germany, Spain, and the UK – “Framing Europe” – http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7671.html

    From the outset the author explains how his original idealism in favour of a truly European future was remorselessly ground down by the findings uncovered during his research. How opinions about European integration are routinely framed through the lens of disparate individual member state perspectives.

    I’ve said it before, both here and in various debate forums but the statement bears repeating; European integration cannot ultimately succeed if it continues to be essentially predicated on the basis of an orthodoxy provided by the “Europe of Nations” geo-political template.

    Perhaps, when integration consisted of just six member states all emerging from the collective horror of European civil war and its ensuing carnage, this model sufficed but a Europe of twenty-seven (and potentially rising) member states faces entirely different challenges in the 21st Century and simply cannot function effectively using this framework. The European Constitution/A.K.A. Lisbon Treaty debacle conclusively proved that axiom. If the “idea of Europe” is to endure it needs another way and, for me, that difficult but necessary pathway lies in eschewing the apparent anchor of certainty provided by respective individual member (Nation) states.

    A step-change in the European public mindset is required if the constitutional log-jam predicament (the seeming lack of substantive change in four years revealed in this article reinforces the notion of paralysis) we find ourselves in is to be undone. Such a quantum leap will require a realisation at the most basic level that some policies have now quite naturally assumed “European” resonance, whilst others obviously remain more local in character. For me this is where debate about the EU should routinely focus; who should do what and how?

    The original Laeken declaration certainly aspired to supply answers to this relatively simple challenge but failed miserably.

    If certain areas of policy are now so obviously European, doesn’t that mean that the citizens of Europe require a democratically accountable form of governance? If they do (and I’m assuming here that the vast majority of ordinary people endorse the concept of democracy as the best way to go?) surely that means a politicized European arena with real European political parties contesting European elections on the basis of European manifestos?

    Acknowledging the existence of a “European” agenda leaves, by a simple process of elimination, other vital areas of government activity for lower tiers to assume competency over? However, even here there is a another problem and one that confronts the larger member states more acutely and it is a growing realisation that many of these tasks are now more appropriate to smaller more immediate geo-political entities.

    In Spain we see this pressure for greater sub-national autonomy most readily in places like Catalunya, Euskadi, Andalusia and Galicia but even a unitary and still essentially centralised United Kingdom administration is not immune as we have seen with the emergence of sub-national units of accountable governance in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and even Greater London.

    This is a trend replicated across Europe and it presents a unique predicament for the larger member states. If they acknowledge the existence of growing public enthusiasm for increase levels of autonomy whilst simultaneously conceding the inevitability of certain policy areas spiralling outside their orbit of influence, this pincer effect throws into question the very viability (in the long-term, say 50-100 years) of individual member states. If these natural trends are allowed to persist, what will we need France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the UK for if they don’t actually do that much stuff of significance anymore?

    This is why we see the intransigence of individual member state governments and their increasingly desperate attempts to seem relevant and meaningful. This, in large part, explains why the European Constitutional process unravelled in such unseemly manner, once the big boys, the movers and shakers, actually got involved.

    The long-term interests of European Citizens – well they come very much second best in this deadly serious game of power politics?

  7. “a step cahange in the European public mindset is required ”

    Is all you need to know about this kind of EUrophile.

  8. Thanks Robin for your “substantial” contribution to the debate. Perhaps it might be more constructive to address the points I have raised rather than denigrate the lack of a spell-check facility.

    Let’s assume here that you’re in favour of the UK exiting from the EU, toute suite. How precisely is an independent (that term itself is debatable) UK going to not only survive but thrive in a truly globalised commercial environment?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/16/global-economy-recession-g20-summit
    Please don’t regurgitate the same old stuff about how much the UK pays into the EU – that’s old hat. I’m interested in constructive ideas about how the UK, operating in relative isolation, is going to establish a niche market for its workforce so that prosperity will increase in relative terms for the majority.

    Secondly how is an independent UK going to become an intrinsically fairer society with more equitable governance distributing finite resources more evenly? I ask this in the context of the UK as it currently functions – a highly centralised and bureaucratic state with gross socio-economic disparities obvious to all but those with highly selective vision?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/14/cornwall-independence-fair-funding

    Hope you can come up with some really useful suggestions?

  9. A reply to the second point first;

    An independent UK can decide for itself, by the way the population votes for representatives to an independent (from Brussels) parliament, how it is going to tacle those issues. ie; it could vote Labour, Conservative or whatever. It could also decide for itself how to decentralise. I favour elected judiciary and chief constables as well as local councils.
    I also want the senior civil servants brought to book (actually I would like to hang them.)

    Your first point;

    For god`s sake why do we have to be in this project, and how does it enrich us or protect us or even give one benefit to us ?
    There`s the Commonwealth, the rest of the world and one mindset I would like to change is the establishments one. Change it so they stop thinking about their system and how they look in the world, and move to the more continental thinking of looking after the people who pay their bloody wages. A businesslike attitude.
    Ther`s no niche market for us in the EU. There is though the destruction of jobs, trades, businesses and whole industries because we are unsuitable to be in the project.
    Can you give one example of one proper job, business or industry that thrives because we are in the EU ?

  10. Robin,

    From the outset, I’ll explain that I’m not a slavish adherent to the EU as currently constituted. Please view my responses in that context. Yes, I’m pro-European in so much as I believe the future of the people living on these islands is inherently European but I’m deeply disappointed with many of the institutional forms European integration has spawned during the post-war era.

    I’ll address the domestic UK scenario in this initial response – the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe is more nuanced and therefore requires a little more thought.

    I asked: “how is an independent UK going to become an intrinsically fairer society with more equitable governance distributing finite resources more evenly? I ask this in the context of the UK as it currently functions – a highly centralised and bureaucratic state with gross socio-economic disparities obvious to all but those with highly selective vision?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/14/cornwall-independence-fair-funding

    You replied: “An independent UK can decide for itself, by the way the population votes for representatives to an independent (from Brussels) parliament, how it is going to tacle those issues. ie; it could vote Labour, Conservative or whatever. It could also decide for itself how to decentralise. I favour elected judiciary and chief constables as well as local councils. I also want the senior civil servants brought to book (actually I would like to hang them.)”

    The degree of independence currently exhibited by the Westminster Parliament is open to debate but the fact remains that it is still the UK’s sovereign law making chamber, thus retaining a seminal role in shaping the UK’s political direction and, through its capacity as a law making chamber, the everyday lives of UK citizens.

    For me, adherence to democratic principles should be paramount above all other considerations. You used the phrase “it could vote Labour, Conservative or whatever” in your reply. I’m assuming you’re referring to the UK electorate so let’s focus on their role in the UK’s democratic landscape.

    These matters are relative in nature, but I’m alarmed by and highly critical of the form of governance adopted by the UK, the levels of interaction and engagement between leaders and led and the general validity of the UK’s democratic credentials.

    During the 2005 election, just 61.4% of the electorate voted; the registered total necessarily excluding three to four million individuals who, for one reason or another, aren’t registered and have effectively disappeared from the democratic radar screen. In 2001, the corresponding figure for those openly expressing political preference through the ballot box was 59%.

    Summary of the 2005 election result:

    % of votes % of seats
    Labour 35.2 55.1
    Conservative 32.3 30.6
    LibDem 22.1 9.6
    Others 10.4 6.2

    The UK has no written constitution, it is almost unique in that respect, which has allowed a very flexible framework to develop (flexibility has its advantages of course). One particularly disturbing democratic feature of this post war evolution process has been the extent to which the Executive function now dominates the Legislature. Through the twin evils of patronage and whipping – the usual carrot and stick approach – the party boasting an overall Commons majority and thus forming the government, effectively wields virtually absolute control over the entire legislative process, allowing the Executive (Whitehall bound cabinet members headed by the Prime Minister) to force through a raft of legislation endorsed at the ballot box by a relatively small % of the adult population – taking into account those who either abstained or weren’t registered in 2005 this figure for active support is around 20%.

    Now I don’t know about you but these factual outcomes don’t seem remotely democratic or representative yet we are constantly assured that the UK is a representative Parliamentary democracy?

    These democratic anomalies oblige mainstream political parties to adopt apparently bizarre behaviour patterns, which seem strange until you begin to understand the fine detail of how the UK’s arcane voting system works.

    • In 2005 Election across England as a whole 64,613 more people voted for the Conservatives yet Labour won 92 more seats than their main rivals? http://electionresources.org/uk/house.php?election=2005&country=ENG
    • In 1983 the Liberal/SDP Alliance secured 22.6% of the total popular vote and won 22 Parliamentary seats (3.54% of the total) – in 2005 their Liberal Democrat successors received the backing of a virtually identical 22.1% of the active electorate yet they won 62 of the seats on offer (9.6% of the total) http://www.barnsdle.demon.co.uk/vote/ukRes.html
    • The Conservative Party, through the generosity of their single biggest benefactor, (Lord) Michael Ashcroft, are now systematically targeting the bulk of their financial resources in a limited number of marginal constituencies, in order to skew the results in these key locations and thus the overall result of the next election. Spending deliberately designed to circumvent string election campaign expenditure caps http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brown-moves-to-prevent-ashcroft-bankrolling-tories-in-marginal-seats-394804.html

    It would appear therefore that the mainstream political parties have all learned to “play this game of charades” according to the rules?

    The UK’s (almost unique in Europe) marjoritarian voting system has delivered effective hegemony on the part of two mainstream parties who swap absolute power, Chuckle Brothers style. FPTP has also fostered an adversarial culture hardly conducive to good governance. A fairer voting system, such as Multi-Member STV would deliver a far more diverse political landscape, perhaps reflecting a more Eurosceptic degree of UK public opinion, in which a much larger numbers of parties were represented in Parliament, amongst them potentially, UKIP, BNP, Greens and English Democrats. It would also lead to the adoption of consensus politics rather than the traditional form of political one-upmanship represented by Prime Minister’s Questions and directly opposing benches in the chamber.

    So when you claim that “It could also decide for itself how to decentralise” with “it” being in this instance a UK Parliament elected in the manner described above, I think most rational individuals are entitled to question how you arrived at that conclusion?

    The fact is that the UK will remain, barring a quantum leap shift in political complexion (a development rendered virtually impossible by the manner in which the voting system entrenches two party hegemony) a highly centralised, bureaucratic and relatively unaccountable (put the keyword phrase “Non Departmental Public Bodies” into a search engine and see what comes back) state, with effective political power resolutely seated within the Westminster village bubble. I don’t have the figures to hand but I am reliably informed that in public spending terms, compared with other similar EU member states, the UK has a much higher % of revenues either raised or directly controlled by its central administration (Whitehall). In fact the UK’s level of public spending concentration is only exceeded by Malta. When one considers that Malta boasts a population roughly equivalent to Bournemouth, this does not reflect particularly well on the manner in which power remains highly centralised in the UK.

    For a clear example of how the UK’s entrenched culture of centralism impacts, negatively, on huge numbers of ordinary people across the UK, just try researching into markers of social exclusion and poverty http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/searchres2.asp?ct=2&term=%22Social+Exclusion%22 and you’ll quickly discover how the UK’s peripheries suffer gross socio-economic disparities compared with London (which does have pockets of depravation) and the South East, which routinely come top of any surveys of well-being.

    Does this really paint a picture of an engaged and equitable society?

    Please don’t try and tell me that this scenario is a direct result of EU membership. These negative trends were established well before the UK initiated its developing relationship with the rest of Europe. These are malign features of an essentially British political and democratic environment, external to European influence.

  11. Apoligies for minor factual error in the above – the year for the Liberal/SDP Alliance should read 1987

  12. Peter,
    I agree with the main thrust of your post above. I too would like to see less centralisation, more democracy, more accountability and more empowerment to the individual. I cant see how this would ever be achieved by us being in the EU however. In fact I can just see a democratic decision by a local authority, judge or police chief being overuled by a Brussels court – if the elected body had the temerity to try to fulfill the wishes of the local populace.
    If I may labour an issue, I was an international haulier on TIR work. We pay in every other country, EU or non EU (infact we paid more when countries joined this club), no foreign haulier pay here. When in correspondence with the mandarins at Whitehall, amongst their excuses, the biggest one they give is;
    “European law forbids us fron charging foreign vehicles ”
    Which as you can guess is not true. There are EU laws, but that does preclude the charging of foreign vehicles , for this to be true it would be
    Britain Alone Cannot Charge Foreign Vehicles. This basically, comes to the essence that Britain is unsuited to be in the EU. Whitehall cannot get any good deals out of it. For there is one very important matter about this project;

    A member State Can Discriminate Against Its Own Citizens.

    This is not an important issue with the other countries, between their bureacrats and their citizens, because they both feel they are on the same side. Britain though, is totally different.
    I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that the EU debate is quite stale because EUrophiles and EUrosceptics talk past each other (and I do believe it is mainly the fault on the EUrophiles side).I have in the past asked Europhiles to “sell” us the Idea of the EU, to tell why we should be in. I`m afraid we only get Glittering Generalities, like we need it for increased trade (no evidence shown ) Prosperity (again no evidence shown) peace (ditto,but would be hard either way ) or vagueness that equates to brotherly love to a set of people for no other reason than that they are not from another continent (which seems racist to me). Dont forget that for many people like me, not only our bank balance, job,trade and industry but our WHOLE WAY OF LIFE has been stopped because of this Britains membership of this project.
    I hope you understand now why we move fron dubious, to cynical ,to hostile, to anger about the EU.

  13. Robin – now I’ll address the UK’s relationship with the EU and in more general terms the current status of European political discourse.

    I asked: “Let’s assume here that you’re in favour of the UK exiting from the EU, toute suite. How precisely is an independent (that term itself is debatable) UK going to not only survive but thrive in a truly globalised commercial environment?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/16/global-economy-recession-g20-summit Please don’t regurgitate the same old stuff about how much the UK pays into the EU – that’s old hat. I’m interested in constructive ideas about how the UK, operating in relative isolation, is going to establish a niche market for its workforce so that prosperity will increase in relative terms for the majority.”

    You replied: “For god’s sake why do we have to be in this project, and how does it enrich us or protect us or even give one benefit to us? There’s the Commonwealth, the rest of the world and one mindset I would like to change is the establishments one. Change it so they stop thinking about their system and how they look in the world, and move to the more continental thinking of looking after the people who pay their bloody wages. A businesslike attitude. Ther’s no niche market for us in the EU. There is though the destruction of jobs, trades, businesses and whole industries because we are unsuitable to be in the project. Can you give one example of one proper job, business or industry that thrives because we are in the EU?”

    The simple response to your first outburst is why not? Examine any atlas at the page marked “Europe” and you’ll find the British Isles appearing as part of the map. In front of you lies a fundamental reason why the future of the people living on this island is European – both you and I live in Europe so we’re European, like it or not!

    Therefore, we (the inhabitants of this island) have to fashion a sustainable, mutually beneficial and peaceful relationship with our nearest neighbours because we don’t live in caves anymore, fiercely defending our immediate territory from anybody who doesn’t look, feel, sound or smell like us. We venture forth and interact with our fellow human beings because that’s how modern sophisticated societies function.

    The extent of that interaction and cohabitation with our fellow European citizens increases with each passing year. Well over a million Britons now live permanently scattered across various EU member states, benefiting directly from the right to permanent and unfettered domicile, many more either work permanently across Europe and/or commute to the continental mainland as an integral element of their working lives. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/in_depth/brits_abroad/html/europe.stm

    There are many conflicting viewpoints about the benefits of EU membership; not least those of a trade related nature. Staunch proponents (usually politicians trying to grab a headline) advance the case on the basis of an alleged three million UK jobs directly reliant on EU export trade but fact is the UK runs a significant deficit with the EU, even when invisible service and financial trade factors are taken into account. Many claim that there is a potential net outflow of jobs resulting from this trade imbalance http://www.global-vision.net/files/downloads/download456.pdf
    Both viewpoints are flawed because they perceive trade as an essentially liquid commodity capable of conversion into jobs at any given location, irrespective of other external, yet crucial influences.

    The UK is an open trading economy – in terms of capital flows, Britain has the highest ratio of inward/outward investment to GDP of any leading economy. During the post war period UK’s trading pattern and balance of trade in goods and services has changed, reflecting shifts in comparative advantage and global market forces.

    The inexorable growth of UK – EU trade since 1973, stimulated by the establishment of the Single Market economic trading zone in 1992 means that the majority of UK trade in goods and services is now with the EU. UK trade with the North American continent has declined, but the USA remains the UK’s largest single export market. Over the last ten years the share UK export trade in goods to the EU bloc has averaged out at 55% of the total. [Source: ONS database]

    For me, these facts lead to one inescapable conclusion – the UK’s economic and social destiny lies in Europe, nowhere else. In the same way that the huge and enduring benefits of established peaceful European relations in a continent routinely rent asunder by war for an entire millennium have now been largely discounted in the public mindset, the bonds of Commonwealth flowing primarily from shared linguistic heritage are now fading from immediate memory.

    So when you pose an entirely reasonable challenge: “and how does it enrich us or protect us or even give one benefit to us?” there is no straightforward and unequivocal answer.

    What I can give is a rather holistic response using such broad terms as: “Renaissance”, “Enlightenment”, “Industrial Revolution”, “Liberal Democracy”, “Secular Society” and “Rule of Law”. These phenomena are all essentially European in origin. Yes, the UK has played a strong role in their emergence but Britain cannot lay exclusive claim to these shared historical features.

    The clearly established and intimate nature of current European socio-economic cooperation and openness can only progress if it is driven by a willingness to genuinely engage in a process leading to closer integration with our near neighbours.

    You seem to perceive the world in a rather compartmentalised fashion – Nation States, in their traditional form, as the sole arbiters of cultural values, the exclusive mechanism through which legitimate identity is projected. Within the context of Europe, one is British, French, German, Spanish et al and these vehicles are the only legitimate devices through which expression of collective political aspirations can manifest themselves.

    Unfortunately, the world isn’t like that anymore. With each passing year, the profound levels of interdependence and interconnection now existing between states increase remorselessly. The single most important prescient outcome emerging from the recent global financial turmoil and consequent knock-on negative economic effects has been a ruthless reinforcement of this self-evident axiom.

    It might even be argued that the advent of the European integration process, culminating in the institutional form provided by the European Union, was as an opportune response to globalisation, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalisation rather than an integral element of interconnected trans-national trade.

    In an increasingly uncertain global environment those with the necessary scale, to justify expensive infrastructures, research & development, investment in training and also exert sheer economic clout will (generally speaking) accrue more successful geo-political outcomes than smaller individual entities acting in isolation.

    During the last twenty to thirty years, the UK’s manufacturing base has been systematically “hollowed out” by global competitive pressures, rendering the entire UK economy increasingly dependent upon a burgeoning service orientated sector. In order to “balance the books” large chunks of UK corporate real estate have passed into non-UK ownership. For the UK to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace it needs to develop successful trading policies based on innovation. Despite your gloomy assessment there are successful export based companies in the UK, there’s just not enough of them at present. You boldly state that there is “no niche market for us in the EU”. Well if that’s the case with our major trading partner, there’s little hope left for an independent Britain.

    There’s also a growing body of informed opinion http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/29/economy-labour-recession-gordon-brown backed by sentiment emanating from the currency markets http://fx.sauder.ubc.ca/cgi/fxplot?b=GBP&c=EUR&rd=365&fd=1&fm=1&fy=2007&ld=31&lm=12&ly=2008&y=daily&q=volume&f=png&a=lin&m=0&x=
    http://fx.sauder.ubc.ca/cgi/fxplot?b=GBP&c=USD&rd=365&fd=1&fm=1&fy=2007&ld=31&lm=12&ly=2008&y=daily&q=volume&f=png&a=lin&m=0&x=
    advising that the UK economy is not in a fit state to compete on the global economic stage but you appear to want the UK to isolate itself still further, presumably due to an abiding ideological distaste for the UK’s continued dalliance with our European cousins – this approach seems to defy logic – does the phrase; “cutting off one’s nose to spite your face”, spring to mind?

    Finally, engineering the UK’s disentanglement from “Project Europe” is not quite as simple as it seems? http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markmardell/2007/10/divorce_simple.html The European integration process has assumed a degree of self-fulfilling momentum such that disassociating the UK from Europe and finding alternative geo-political allies might prove beyond the means of an independent UK?

    Robin, despite appearing to strongly support a strategy involving closer links with our European partners, I remain deeply critical of the institutional format European integration has assumed. The orthodox “Europe of Nations” geo-political model, which you want the UK to disengage from and sail off into an uncertain future, is no longer fit for purpose, well past its sell by date.

    You are alarmed by concentration of power in opaque circles of unaccountable governance. I share your concerns but given my support for closer integration, based on the entirely pragmatic reasons detailed above, how does one square this circle?

    For me, the most likely solution lies in a fundamentally misunderstood principle; Federalism, simply because it possesses the capacity to deliver a radical changes in two key areas.

    First by breaking the stranglehold exerted by an entrenched and pervasive centralising mindset amongst UK political élites – a feature of the UK’s constitutional framework you have openly acknowledged – leading to the potential for an inherently decentralised British State.

    Secondly – and I accept this can only happen over a much longer timeframe – the potential to initiate a comprehensive process of policy appraisal, leading to the possibility of realigning political power to more appropriate levels of governance. There is a certain irony in realising that whilst Nation States of a traditional European type are now too small and insubstantial on the global stage to effectively shape the course of events in many crucial areas; migration flows, the operation of global financial markets, climate change – they are also now too large to deliver equitable homogeneous governance in many others; the perception of post code lotteries in several key areas such as healthcare, law & order, education and housing.

    Closer examination of these malign features leads one to a rational conclusion that perhaps the shape and size of governance in an integrating Europe needs to radically change in order to adapt to such dynamism? Certain policy fields of a more localised nature should devolve downwards to smaller more immediate tiers of accountable governance, resulting in the kind of decentralisation principle you endorse, whilst others should naturally gravitate upwards to institutions more suited to managing tasks rapidly spiralling outside the remit of traditional European Nation States.

    For the latter element of this policy realignment process to retain legitimacy any nascent European tier of governance should feature direct accountability to its “European” electorate. Politicizing the European arena – something that would happen quite naturally in any policy rationalisation process – would lead inevitably to the establishment of democratized institutions, a European Executive function drawn directly from the ranks of an elected European Legislature with the government of the day formed by the party (or coalition of parties) boasting majority support through the ballot box from said electorate.

    I must emphasise that this policy realignment evolution and reshaping of Europe’s geo-political map cannot happen overnight. This is a slow progression of osmosis with power gradually leaching in both directions, downwards in the case of larger member states to increasingly robust sub-national tiers, effectively counterbalancing others moving upwards to a developing tier of democratic European governance.

    Maybe in 50 to 100 years future generations will be faced with a challenge deemed unthinkable in our era; what do we need these historical vestiges called Germany, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Poland et al, for anymore – they don’t actually do any important stuff now so let them wither and die? However, rest assured that these are subject matters neither you nor I will have to deliberate upon.

  14. Peter,
    I will now go para by para of your post asI`ve printed it out.
    1;
    firstly there seems to be a bit of a paradox in your writings. Do you believe in the nation of Britain or not. If not there is no need for you to worry about its workforce over and above any other nations workforce, more later.
    The “old hat” of the billions shovelled in is actually a more telling piece than just the stupidity of it. Most EUrosceptics WANT to believe in this project. We pay for it and would prefer it to be in our interests, but EUrophiles cant sell it.That alone shows it to be a bad deal.
    The UK would not be in relative isolation. It would be like most countries of the world- not in the EU.

    2Para;
    Repeat of mine
    3 para;
    I dont need to look at an atlas. I was a TIR chauffer remember ? I travelled throughout the EU, out of it and back in again.
    In this globalised world of fast communications and travel, we dont need to throw everything we`ve got into this Europe just because it`s there.
    We,the inhabitants of this island can have a peaceful relatinship with all peoples, not just Europeans.

    4 para;
    Our interaction and cohabitation have increased with all parts of the world, not just Europe. Most of those Britons go to the Spanish coast and dont do it because they love Europeans or Spaniards. The number is dwarfed by those that live or wish to live elsewhere in the world, like Canada or Australia.

    5 para;
    The three million jobsis a scam put there by some Pro EUrophiles and the BBC. They would be there anyway. You have not mentioned the jobs DESTROYED by the EU.

    6 para;
    Agreed

    7 para;
    Just 55 % between neighbours in a protectionist bloc. Not a good advert for the EU.

    8 para;
    Social destiny in Europe ? Why ? Just because their Europeans. Sorry but put those type of words in LePens mouth, the BNPs or even The Great Dictator and they would look the racist thoughts that they are.

    9 para:
    10 para;
    Those thoughts and happenings occured before the EU was even thought of.

    11 para;
    Maybe it can, but without us. It can also happen between any countries inor out of the EU anywhere in the world.

    12 para;
    Yes I believe in the nation state- if everyone in it also does. So for example I would happily see the United Kingdom dismantled if thats what the constituent parts want.
    “only legitamate devices through which people can express themselves” ?And you want them to be replaced by the EU ?

    13 para;
    Agreed

    14 para;
    Sort of agree

    15 para;
    Only Up to a point. Small nations can be richer than large nations.
    Still no need for us to be n the EU.

    16 para
    Part agrre
    You misread me. We can have a niche market in the world, wedont need the EU.The EU is not the 100% solution to our problems, just as pulling out of it is not 100% solution to them either. But it`s a start, and the EU is a problem. We are unsuited to it.

    17 para;
    Misread me again.I dont want the UK isolated. Do you want the EU isolated ?
    Also the ideology seems to be with you, and your mention of European “cousins”. Why are they my cousins ? Because they`re white ? Aryan ? Sorry Peter but thatseems racist.

    18 para;
    Not easy, not impossible but must be done.

  15. 19 para;
    Agreed. It seems a mid 20 century answer to the 21 century.

    20 para;
    Agreed
    21 para;
    Agreed, maybe for the rest of Europe.
    22 para;
    Agreed with the description f the UK state, not with your solution-more EU.
    23 para;
    Disagree that countries are too big for one issue and too small for another. Problems can be solved without the EU.
    24 para;
    Sorry but you are just making excuses to cut out the national governments.
    Localism I agree with. Supranationilism (and the comcomitant fascism) I disagree with.
    25 pare;
    As this is your vision, you can only presume I would disagree with it.

    26 para;
    Again this is giving the peasants a Duma to decide a local issue, but the Tsar of the EU to control everything.

    27;
    Those “vestiges are what do the negotiating, and carry the allegiance of their populations
    Go to any discount stores and you can buu national flags. For an EU one you have to go to a specialist on the internet. This is because the EU does not hold the allegiance of anyone but a small clique. Sorry.

  16. Robin

    I’ll try to condense this response into a concise summary because there is a danger our discussion will become bewilderingly complex and increasingly irrelevant

    Firstly please stop resorting to “ad hominem” attacks quoting the term “racist” because this is simply counter productive. The term “European” in this context means anybody who has been either born or made their permanent home in Europe, irrespective of their ethnic background, so let’s knock any reference to race on the head right from the outset?

    With regard to use of the general term “European” you appear to have simply avoided acknowledgement of the indisputable fact that we (you and I) are also European along with approx 500 million other individuals. The geography of the British Isles – where it is – and the implications that simple fact has for the long term strategies the people living in Europe might collectively adopt, now and in the future, is profoundly relevant to this discussion but you have simply avoided its existence – why?

    Yes, Britons have spread out across the entire world, partially as a result of Imperial legacy but also due to the intrinsically interconnected nature of a modern global environment. I merely mentioned the fact that people from Britain now benefit from rights of permanent domicile across Europe that were simply unheard of during the first half of the 20th Century – strangers were generally treated with suspicion and hostility but now you or I can go and live/work more or less anywhere within Europe – that’s a right flowing quite specifically from the European integration process.

    Regarding the EU’s economic influence – I would argue that I have quite specifically mentioned the potentially negative economic aspects flowing from EU membership. You keep repeating a mantra of jobs destroyed as a singular result of EU membership but you don’t seem to be coming up with any evidence to support this assertion – please be more specific because I can’t understand where you’re coming from on this point – this feeling is reinforced by your response to my sixth paragraph, which you clearly agree with? I’ve also pointed out the general global nature of the UK trading but you don’t seem to think a 55% share of total UK trade being EU orientated represents anything significant – do you think it should be 100%?

    I only offered a variety of broad cultural phenomena as further evidence to support my contention that Europe shares many features – I’m not trying to justify the existence of the EU on the back of them.

    Where did I say that closer engagement with European integration would specifically prevent the inhabitants of this island from interaction with the rest of the non-European world? Please show me and I’ll retract any claim or inference of this nature.

    You agree that the world cannot act on the basis of a compartmentalised (Nation State) mindset but almost in the same sentence contradict yourself by claiming their sanctity as exclusive markers of cultural and social identity – you simply can’t have it both ways. Please explain this apparent conflict? You even partially acknowledge the role of European integration in providing a bulwark against the storms of economic globalisation, which merely confuses me even further?

    You accept the general efficacy of scale in determining more favourable geo-political outcomes but instinctively reject the potential of closer European integration as a mechanism for delivering such leverage – is there something you find inherently unpalatable with European cooperation – given the context of unavoidable geographical proximity this approach seems utterly irrational – by the way success is not always a simple matter of financial gain?

    In conclusion I have to say that your general approach to future potential UK and European governance solutions seems to defy all traditionally accepted elements of common sense – you constantly utilise the collective pronoun in your responses, yet you’ve already acknowledged the intrinsically interconnected nature of modern human existence and you’ve similarly accepted much of the argument I have advanced regarding the impact of globalisation in diminishing the efficacy of individual Nation States to act isolation.

    However, you specifically exempt the UK from these worldwide trends – seeming to believe that if the UK disengages from the EU this will somehow begin a (miraculous?) process of regeneration – I am at a loss to understand your reasoning in this matter?

    This pattern of irrationality is repeated in your earlier responses regarding domestic governance. You acknowledge virtually all of my descriptions of a dysfunctional UK democratic landscape and many of the solutions I offer as sound and the fact that these are malign features of specifically British origin, yet in conclusion you simply revert to type and blame the EU for these “British” flaws – this seems to depart from common sense to me and I not sure how your approach to problem solving can resonate with anybody else?

  17. Peter,
    I will also try to be concise
    Firstly about ad hominen attacks.Pot Kettle,Black spring to mind. You implied I was a caveman who hated foreigners and was unaware about the geographical location of Britain.Is this just to me or to all EUrosceptics ?
    Your Third para;
    I have not avoided this issue. I pointed out that we dont need to become embroiled in a project that is damaging to us just because our nearest neighbours are 23 miles away.Our future is intertwined with ALL the world, not just the EU.
    The migration that is happening throughout the EU is not beneficial to Britain. A few cases of (wealthy) Brits buying up properties in France or Estonia does not make the Free Movement Of People an advantage for everyone here.
    I have already proved one example of Britian losing jobs and trade due to the EU _my own industry. If you have any doubts I can show you at Dover port, and wager on it to make it interesting. other jobs have been lost in fishing, farming and general manufacture. (I dont know what line of business you are in but you should think carefully about future decisions within the EU).
    I never said that you think closer intergration within the EU would prevent cooperation with the rest of the world. Please point out where I have.
    I said that the nation states have to act and react with the world at large, as they have always done,and will do in the future.I only tentavely suggested that the EU may be of benefit to other countries (due mainly to the subsidies they get) but not to the UK.
    The EU may bring about the general effiacary of scale (?)and the other things you mentioned- for other countries perhaps. But not the UK.We are not suited to this project. Our Foreign Office and Whitehall is incapable of getting any benefit.
    Your conclusion I can only say I completely disagree with, both in what you attribte to me and your assertion that your thinking is traditional Accepted or even commonsense. You are now reverting to the “everyone agrees with me so you are wrong ” argument.How can you prove that ?
    I specifically want to make the UK aware of ALL the worlwide trends- my job depends on it.

    I completly refute that my observation of the lack of democracy and accountabilty is irrational. In fact I put it to you that your idea is irrational– replace national elected representatives with the (dysfunctional) EU but have a bit more localism here and there.I haven`t blamed the EU for the initial flaws in our democracy, but acknowledge our membership greatly adds to them.

    I expect you will be ending the debate here.It`s usually along the lines that I am “failing” to see some truths that EUrophiles hold.

  18. Interesting to see that Peter Davidson is still pumping out posts that are volumous in words and miniscule in content. The economy is global and small countries outside the EU are among the richest in the world. If a country (Singapore?) is open to this global she will prosper. If it is stuck in a closed mentality or the semi-open mentality (France?) of being inside a protective EU then it suffers long-term decline.

    This overtaking of the common market by the global market is one of the two key trends contributing to the obsolence of the EU (the other being the disastrous effect it is having on democracy).

  19. Robin (& Ken)

    Apologies for my temporary absence – I had to meet a deadline for completion of an essay as part of my OU politics degree. This task consumed the bulk of my intellectual resources for the last ten days.

    I’ll endeavour not to extend the complexity of this response.

    I will simply focus on the core theme within my argument; a purposeful assertion of the malign impact upon the everyday lives of ordinary people, flowing from overt centralisation of (relatively) unaccountable power, wherever that nexus happens to be located. No doubt you will retort that this is exactly why you rail against the EU and I am not going to dispute your general concerns because many of them are valid in principle.

    To provide some context, this in-depth academic analysis, Devolution & Power in the UK – July 2007 http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/catalogue/book.asp?id=1070 (chapter 11 contains a detailed account of how a federal Regionalised Britain might function more efficiently and illustrates direct comparisons with examples provided by other EU member states), concludes that Britain remains an essentially centralised political entity, suffering from gross socio-economic disparities, with consequent impairment of social cohesion, increased public cynicism and perceptions of inequitable governance. This paper from July 2001, counterpoints these conclusions by demonstrating how elected tiers of sub-national governance would provide credible solutions to many of the shortcomings still present within Britain http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/files/publications/unit-publications/77.pdf

    It is in our reasoning processes that you and I seem to diverge? I take information, painstakingly researched, analysed and deliberated upon by experts, like that provided above and draw objective conclusions from it. You, on the other hand, whilst acknowledging many of the fundamental flaws raised by my critique of current UK governance, simply ignore such evidence if it conflicts with your innate abhorrence toward any form of UK involvement with the remainder of Europe. It is this inability or unwillingness to accept the notion of commonality – principles clearly established in one polity may be applicable elsewhere – that puzzles me?

    Repeatedly within your narratives, you seem to accept the potential of closer European integration combined with the utilisation of a federal framework, in providing models for radical decentralisation, but at the crucial moment you expressly exempt the UK from this analogy, simply implying that it is immune from the benefits this might bring, even though you have acknowledged elsewhere the potentially positive effects flowing from the dispersal of effective political power.

    I only have one simple challenge to make to this seemingly illogical and irrational reaction on your part – Why?

    Please explain, in objective terms, why (to use your words) “Britain is unsuited to be in the EU”

  20. Peter,
    Welcome back.
    I think you are drawing completely the wrong conclusions of our (or at least mine) of our viewpoint.
    Yes we agree that Britain is too centralised in its governance. No we cant see why it cannot be decentralised without going further into this project, even if there were more localised and federal layers in it.
    WE could have elected juges and chief constables, stronger parishes, town, borough and city councils, county councils, regional assemblies if there was a need (I dont think so) and then Parliament ,maybe independent from the Scottish,Welsh and Northern Irish (who would be better off with the rest of Ireland, but that`s their business).And there is still no reason to be in the EU.
    I`m afraid I dont accept your view that you reach your conclusions by icy analysis of the facts, like Sherlock Holmes elder brother, and we are irrational Mordors.Your views are not completely impartial from sentiment, as you espouse the EU for reasons that we share history with them, are nearer to them and that they are our “cousins”, which I`m sorry to say ,as you dont like it, seems more akin to the sentiment of fascists (albeit mild)than someone who has empathy with all the people on all the continents.
    So I dont see our response as irrational or illogical.It is borne out of experience of this project for a start.And we DONT want to be anti EU for a laugh. We know we pay into it. We have seen where it disadvantages us. We want to see where we get an advantage from it. We want to be shown that its a benefit, even if not for ourselves personally, but EUrophiles cannot show this. Glittering generalities wont work. Actual facts will.
    (so if you can tell us of any jobs,trades etc that are lost in all the other countries because of the eneptitude of their bureacrats and EU that would be a good start)
    Britain is unsuited to be in the EU because our politicians,and especially our civil servants, are not up to the job.

  21. Robin

    I’ll simply respond by highlighting your numerous erroneous assumptions.

    You cannot apply federalism in layers as you assume. Federalism or a variant of it, is applied universally throughout any constitutional settlement

    Secondly, you seem to believe that because I support closer European integration, by default I am cheer leader for its current institutionalised manifestation, ie the European Union

    I have news for you – I Do not support the EU in its current form – and I believe I made my disposition quite clear almost from the opening sentences in this discussion.

    Third, as I have tried very hard to explain (but you don’t seem to be picking up on this); power can only be wielded in an effective manner if commensurate fiscal autonomy is also present (this principle is very apt given the recent publication of the Calman Commission’s initial report). This is why economies of scale are so important and why sub-UK tiers of accountable governance actually make sense – see the second link in my most recent post for an in depth explanation

    Fourth, once again you revert to type by randomly throwing in an entirely irrelevant comment:

    “And there is still no reason to be in the EU”

    How does this fit into your dialogue – what exactly does it refer to?

    Please present a coherent argument backed up with evidence, not a series of rambling knee jerk reactions.

    The only logical element within your narrative is money – the fact that the UK pays more in (allegedly) than it gets out. I can rationalise that argument but of course there are responses, but I won’t go into those here, merely mention in passing that in Iceland there was until recently overwhelming opposition to closer ties with Europe, for very similar reasons. We (the Icelandic people) don’t want to be part of this European integration idea because we’ll have to put in more than we’ll get out of it.

    One rather large financial crisis later and suddenly the boot is on the other foot – substitute the fishing industry for road haulage and you could be one of the those people referred to in the following article http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/03/iceland-eu

    Any second thoughts?

  22. Peter I will also try to be brief.

    Point 1;Ok dont call it federalism.Call it parish politics,local acountability,county council politics, city wide stategy Etc etc. Point is we have more democracy,within England or the UK. There is no need for an EU for that. In fact an EU of whatever form is just another tier of centralised decision making.You seem keener on federalism than democracy and accountability.

    2 point;Yes I know you dont support the EU in its current form, you wish for further integration and the nations subsumed more into a EUropean demos.

    3 point;Convoluted academic conjectures dont make a simple point true.Commensurate fiscal autonomy to who ? The parish council, the nation or the EU ? If you`re saying a currency is linked to sovereignty who would disagree with that ? Economies of scale are usually best achieved by smaller enterprises (the time larger organisations get economical is when they downsize ).

    4 point;”And still there is no reason to be in the EU” is relevant to a discussion on Britain and the EU.
    It`s like being in a model railway club and paying for it when you dont have an interst in models or railways but are forced to spend time at the events.
    The coherent argument is my own empirical evidence of having a job and business that takes me all round the EU, through it, out of it and back in again.Would you care to meet me at Dover docks and have a wager on the amount of foreign lorries versus the British ones ?
    Almost every day you can read about the EU project impinging on peoples jobs, businesses and lives, and most EUrophiles dismiss this as of no consequence because They have a bigger picture in mind.
    Perhaps Iceland, similar to Scotland 300 years ago, may well be better off in the EU (a subject to be loked at) but Britain wont.

    I dont want to be unkind here but you assume because you read some information about the EU (do you think we dont ?) you are digesting it, letting a Solomon like wisdom of your inbuilt checks and balances reach the only conclusion there is to be drawn and your opponents are “knee jerking” in a wild and stupid way based on no reason what so ever. I have layed my cards down about the biggest part of my dealings with the EU could you be so considerate and tell us yours ?
    I have tried to advise EUrophiles how to get a more sympathetic hearing from the more open minded sceptics and perhaps give us “second thoughts”,but you seem to talk across the issues raised , like the effect the EU project has on peoples lives. Dismiss this and your cause can only get weaker.