Whatever the reasons for Britain’s EU membership, I concluded last week, they cannot be economic. So have I turned into a newly converted eurosceptic? Far from it. I remain an unrepentant EU fanatic.
Where I differ from many pro-Europeans in the
There is a big difference between why we are who we are, and how we rationalise our position later on. In the 1980s, pro-Europeans could still shut up an average eurosceptic with the nuclear argument that the EU has brought peace. Who could be against peace? By the time this was no longer considered sufficiently sophisticated, the argument became increasingly economic.
In the late 1980s, pro-Europeans would pull out a very important looking research document showing, beyond reasonable doubt, that the single market would bring a rise in gross domestic product by 2 per cent. Who could be against getting richer? It was all bogus, of course, but persuasive for a while. When the euro debate started, the same happened again. The euro was indefensible on economics alone. But this did not stop some of its advocates from defending it in those terms. The EU’s history is littered with economic errors. Remember the exchange rate mechanism?
When you reduce EU membership to economics alone, you invariably end up where the
The pro-Europeans are paying the price for failing to point out the non-rational reasons for membership. If you just base it on rationality, you may find that people consider it rational to enter into an alliance when the benefits are clear and then leave it when they are not. Without any emotional glue, the EU is very hard to defend as an institutional framework designed to last forever.
Why have pro-Europeans allowed themselves to be pushed into this pseudo-rational trap? Do they really believe that the single market has brought those benefits? Or that it is so wonderful for the
Maybe the pro-Europeans concluded a long time ago that the best way to win the argument against the eurosceptics would be to appear pragmatic. So they avoided talk about European unification, common citizenship, all the ceremonial stuff that one can find in the preambles of the European treaties. But those preambles matter, not in a legal sense, but because they express a sentiment and provide direction. If you do not share the sentiment, you are far more likely to agree to a divorce when the common destiny no longer seems expedient.
This is why I would be careful not to jump to the wrong conclusions from last week’s poll by
There is a clear and present danger that Europeans may turn away from
If one must have a rational reason in favour of EU membership, it is probably best to stick to politics, not economics. EU member states share common values and common interests that deserve global representation and enforcement. The best rational argument is thus the idea of the EU as a superpower - as opposed to a superstate.
There are clearly pan-European interests at stake in a world with many emerging industrial powers. The EU would be a far more stable and potent partner for the US and
But even for such an argument to work, you need to have some notion of “Europeanness” as part of your citizenship. I struggle to think how those who have avoided precisely this type of argument in the past will of all sudden be able to pull together an emotionally and rationally coherent argument ahead of an increasingly certain referendum.
Copyright The Financial Times 2013.