The European Federation Benelux Region. 31 July, 2063. The Berlin-based European Government orders the European Federation (EF) English Regional Government to increase taxes to pay for the South-East European Regional Development Plan. England’s first female President and European Commissioner instructs the English Regional Parliament to duly rubber-stamp Berlin’s wishes. Comprised as it is of 60% EF appointees the Parliament duly obliges. All of Europe’s remaining constitutional monarchies were scrapped in May 2050 on the centennial of the Schuman Declaration and the creation of the European Federation. Indeed, democracy as Europeans once knew it has long been replaced by an elite-led technocracy that governs in the name of ‘stability’.
The technocracy is ‘overseen’ by a remote and weak European Parliament that acts in the name of the people but rarely has much direct contact with them. The English still get to vote but only on minor local issues. The United Kingdom also ceased to exist in May 2050 as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland became part of the EF’s British Isles Region. The last vestiges of national sovereignty were finally abandoned at the 2040 Brussels Summit which not only transferred the seat of European government to Berlin but also revealed Europe’s worst-kept secret – no decisions of any substance had been taken at the national level since 2032 and the signing of Maastricht Treaty 2.
Fanciful? That is precisely where Britain/England will be in 2063 if London continues to transfer national powers to Brussels at the rate that has been taking place since the 1986 Single European Act.
Last week the first reports of the British Government’s so-called Balance of Competences Review were published. Already dubbed the Great Whitehall Whitewash the Review has thus far concluded a) the EU does not cost Britain too much; and b) the balance of competences between London and Brussels are about right. However, the benchmark against which the reports core judgements are made are impossible to discern. The reason is that most EU member-states can point to tangible benefits of membership but with the cost of membership to Britain so high the ‘benefits’ are at best intangible.
The aim of the Review is to demonstrate ‘fairness’. Of course, I should add ‘or otherwise’ but thus far the Review is simply making the case for EU membership and does not begin to address inequities. For example, of the 1.4 million advertised jobs on a European Commission funded web-site – EURES - 814,359 are in Britain – almost 60% of the EU total. Germany’s economy is some 25% bigger than Britain’s but offers only 20% of the advertised jobs. Why and how?
On the face of it the Commission appears to be actively discriminating against British workers by offering £1000 to any British employer who will take on a non-British worker with any worker travelling to the UK offered an additional £900 to cover travel costs. And yet over a million young British workers are mired in the despair of long-term unemployment. How can this possibly make sense or be fair?
Part of the problem is the FCO itself. To be fair, those charged with preparing the Review face an almost impossible task in the current political climate. Equally, asking the FCO to review the EU is akin to asking the Pope to review the Catholic Church and whether the Holy Father should be part of it. In other words, the Review is “Yes Prime Minister’s” Sir Humphrey Appleby at his very worst.
The reports thus far also critically undermine David Cameron’s calls for EU reform, the very reason they were commissioned in the first place. Cameron is thus firmly skewered on a very uncomfortable political fence. He should now be under no illusion as to the opposition he will face from a Whitehall elite appalled that the British people should have their say about Britain’s future place in a future EU.
And it is 'futureness' which is the essential weakness of the Review. Indeed, perhaps the most telling indictment of the Balance of Competence Review is that it deliberately sets out to establish the ‘cost-benefit’ of Britain’s membership by addressing today’s EU. However, the real issue is Britain's relationship with the EU of 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050 and beyond given the reasonable assumption of Eurozone-driven 'ever closer union'.
A real British referendum would thus ask two questions. Are you the British citizen prepared to accept further reduction in both the power and influence of the British Government and Parliament and see more power transferred to both the European Commission and European Parliament? Are you the British citizen prepared in time to join the Euro? A yes vote would by definition entail an implicit acceptance of both outcomes.
If they ever get the chance in 2017 the British people face the gravest decision over their future since declaring war in 1939. However, it is precisely this decision that the Balance of Competences Review clouds by providing the wrong answers to the wrong questions. For Whitehall it is any EU at any cost.