20 June 2016

Britain and the European Union

I am sympathetic to the idealism that led to the formation and development of what is now the 28-member European Union. I also see great value in having hundreds and thousands of bureaucrats, from all the member states, in Brussels, talking to each other; their children going to the same schools.

But, more and more, the people who work for the European Union; the administrators and politicians, are seen as - and indeed are - a separate caste. They have seldom worked outside government and they enjoy safety-nets and benefits that are decreasingly available to private-sector would-be employees, especially the young. The processes and institutions of the EU are opaque. The decision-makers are unknown and unelected. They dictate policies that are hugely important to ordinary citizens, such as those concerning immigration, without consulting the public and so without getting buy-in. Ordinary people cannot vote these people out and cannot engage in the policymaking process. There are few consequences for failure at any level of the EU bureaucracy. All this would be less intolerable if the European Union showed any sign of adapting to the wishes of the broader population. But I don't see that.
So I fear that this project is going too far, too fast, and without the consent of the vast majority of the public. If I could be persuaded that the EU and the people running it were keeping the peace, then I'd forgive all their hauteur and all their extravagances. Nothing would be worse than another European war. But the signs as I interpret them -  in Austria, France and elsewhere - are that we are seeing exactly the opposite: the European project, in widening the gap between politicians and ordinary people, is planting the seeds of exactly the sort of vicious nationalism that made its founding so necessary.

A vote in favour of Britain's leaving the EU might lead to worthwhile reforms. So might a close decision, either way. But I wouldn't bet on it. For British voters, I'd suggest that a Leave victory would help to close the gap between themselves and the people who make their laws, and reduce the risk of contagion from what looks increasingly likely to be a mean-spiritedly (at best) or murderously (at worst) nationalistic continent. 

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