“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever!”
George Orwell, 1984
Alphen, Netherlands. 30 December. Ed Lucas wrote a piece in The Times this morning which left me saddened and worried. Entitled, The EU empire’s a mess but we must stick with it, Lucas offered a vision of the future EU ‘empire’ that was closer to fascism and sovietism than liberal democracy. Now, I must confess I know, like and respect Ed Lucas and most of the time agree with him. His writings on Putin’s Russia are both realistic and persuasive. However, when I read this morning’s piece I wondered at times if Ed was describing Russia rather than the EU and had somehow got the titles wrong. Indeed, I searched in vain for irony which might have redeemed the future EU Ed has on offer.
Democracy is dying in Europe. That is in effect the central argument of the piece which can best be described as “oh well, democracy was not that important”. Rather, the piece implies an Orwellian vision of an EU that sacrifices democracy for efficiency and influence as something we are all simply going to have to accept. Never!
Ed’s EU ‘empire’ is constructed on three mini-empires – singlemarketland, euroland, and Schengenland. He suggests that in the emerging blocworld (my invention) such structures will be the only way Europeans can be a) efficient; b) competitive; and c) free (to move). His central assumption is that by aggregating European state power via supranational structures Europeans will retain not only credible influence over big power, but the capacity for decisive action.
The assumption is dangerously flawed. First, the Soviet Union also contained diverse and disparate cultures many of which were forced into a currency and trading union that was inherently unsustainable. Second, the assumption that by aggregating power said power can then be turned into decisive action is also nonsense as it is more likely to simply become unwieldy. Indeed, the EU bears greater resemblance to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld carried as it is on the back of three giant elephants, themselves atop a ginormous and lumbering turtle, than anything vaguely resembling the US.
Only finally does Ed admit that democracy is a “problem”. However, he then goes onto say ‘tough’. If ‘you’ want singlemarketland, euroland, and Schengenland then such ‘considerations trump democracy”. In any case, he suggests, there is always the European Parliament. Oh really? Is that what passes for democracy in your vision Ed? A packed assembly that dilutes the value of citizens’ votes tenfold and which spends more time legitimising distant power than holding it to account.
There is an implicit irony in the piece which is unless challenged by democrats Ed’s Orwellian vision may be proven correct. Democracy is indeed dying in Europe for the same reasons it died just after it began in Russia, and died before it even got started in China. Europe’s elites are offering people a choice in the form of the European Project; security and prosperity or democracy. It is of course a false choice and it is a choice dictators have offered over the ages to justify the over-concentration of power in a few inefficient self-serving hands. However, that is the choice on offer as we Europeans enter 2016.
However, what disappoints me most about Ed’s piece is a complete lack of alternative vision. How about this? Political union is scrapped. The EU reverts back to a European Community of states. Some states able to qualify agree to a single currency, but under the control of nationally-elected parliamentarians who rotate through an oversight body. Other states remain part of a single market which is the core of the project. There is a new political settlement between those in a shared currency and those without to ensure legitimacy, accountability, representation and influence are distributed in a manner befitting a super-alliance of democracies.
In the wake of the November Paris massacre I said I would abandon my support for Brexit. I had seen what damage the Scottish independence referendum had done to Britain’s capacity to act in a crisis. Make no mistake Europe is not just in one crisis but several and Brexit will indeed critically undermine the capacity of Europeans to deal with them. However, the solution is not to abandon everything that we stand for, to spit on the legacy of my forebears who fought and died in the fight against Fascism and sovietism only to create an EU that looks very like Orwell’s Big Brother. If that is what is on offer I want out of the EU and my country with it.
In 1984 Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth. He is tasked with re-writing history to justify the current political position of the Administration. Smith changes newspaper and magazine articles to remove ‘unpersons’. However, in the end Smith is broken by ‘the Party’ and forced to accept the assertion that 2+2=5. Sadly, I fear something not dissimilar is going to happen during the run up to next year’s Brexit referendum now that it has emerged that both Downing Street and the European Commission are going to rig the vote by massively outspending those campaigning for Britain to leave.
2+2=5? Is this all we have to aspire to in Europe, Ed? Is the only justification you can come up with for your ‘empire’ is that its collapse could be marginally worse than its survival? You are right, the EU Empire is indeed a mess and needs fixing. However, we must not “stick by it” at any cost, which is precisely what you appear to be suggesting.
Happy New Year, Ed!