THE UK IS very seriously contemplating an exit from the European Union. They view it as a sickly institution, sapping the vigour from parts of their economy while offering benefits in free trade that could be gained from a less involved partnership. They’re right that the EU is an unwieldy behemoth, and we ought to be thinking about our relationship with it while we hold the presidency of the union.
The British have never been in love with the ever expanding bureaucracy and regulation emanating from Brussels and Strasbourg, and the recent troubles in the union have emboldened eurosceptics and brought the UK Independence Party into the mainstream of politics.
Our neighbours will very possibly have an in-or-out referendum on the matter after the next general election, around 2015. The current indications are for a strong out vote, though things may change with time and as various interested parties – from big business to moderate europhiles – become more vocal about staying in.
This will make for interesting times here in Ireland. When they sneeze, we tend to catch a cold and even the brooking of a discussion on membership of the EU in Britain will lead to a contagion of ideas here at home.
Rock the boat
Irish politicians are a funny small-minded lot. When he was being interviewed by Sky News about Ireland’s presidency of the council, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that Britain would be “rocking the boat” if they were to withdraw from the EU, as if the act of rocking a boat in and of itself were a bad thing. The political leaders of Europe should be thinking about what it is that repulses so many people, in Britain and other European countries, about the EU; rather than thinking of eurosceptics as the counter revolutionaries to their workers paradise.
The European Union as an institution, rather than an idea, is a giant, unwieldy, slow, messy and burdensome waste of time, money, effort and breath. The EU is so profligate it has two capitals it moves itself between every few months at great expense in order to keep the French happy.
You have a president of the council; a president of the commission; a president of the parliament; and a rotating presidency of the union. Enda Kenny once proudly told us all that he’s a vice president of the European People’s Party, as if it would give him more clout with fellow party member Angela Merkel. Unfortunately, every single national party leader is a vice president. In the EU you collect offices like kids used to collect Pokemon.
It is bureaucracy writ large, with so many civil servants, special advisers, offices and quangos to its name that it would make a Fianna Fáiler flush when sitting down to work out all the allowances and expense regimes.
Think about it from an historical perspective. When we sit down and learn about opulent and grand governments, we tend to be thinking about the likes of France before the revolution or Rome before the fall. In a few hundred years when bored teenagers are learning about the European Union, little details like the two capitals will likely be the touchstone to discussions of waste and profligacy that eventually led to its downfall.
The European Union as an idea, rather than an institution, is a great one. A binding of nations in a peaceful, profitable zone of free trade, movement and shared security. To achieve this you need some measure of harmonisation between countries, but the EU does not have any limit on where it should stop encroaching into national business and as a reasonably democratically unaccountable institution you get eurocrats making work for themselves in systematically codifying every area of national life.
The EU is a perfect example of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.” If European leaders aren’t prepared to deal with this problem, which is at the heart of the troubles many citizens have with this institution, then they must expect euroscepticism to grow.
Politicians tend to be more pro-Europe than citizens, which is probably due in part to their love of super-sized government. We’ve seen that in rebuke after rebuke delivered by Irish and other citizens over the years; and more rebukes that would surely have been given if so much European businesses wasn’t cosseted away from the hands of unappreciative voters.
Instead of seeing the institution as a bloated one in need of reform, they see attacks that must be repulsed at any cost. Create a new quango to look into the issue of too many quangos and leave it at that.
I’m not a eurosceptic in the sense that I would like us to break up the EU or just leave it if and when our cousins do, although I do believe we’d be wise to consider our relationship to Europe in conjunction with our closest partner in many endeavours. I am a eurosceptic in the same way that I’m skeptical about government at home: I hate bureaucrats who waste my money.
Every time a eurocrat expenses a lunch with other ‘crats over which they discuss the new regulation, body or office they’re going to create or expand for the sake of making work to do I become a little more eurosceptical. What would turn me into a europhile would be a smaller EU government, better run towards the core goals of deepening trading relationships and with more democratic accountability towards us citizens, who have been more like passengers along for the ride than invested stakeholders in recent years.
The British don’t want to leave the European Union because they’re arrogant twits who hate all the other arrogant twits in Europe. The country in which the Prime Minister operates his office from a terraced house is annoyed at Johnny Two Parliament EU because it’s a self-serving super quango. They’re right too. Instead of tut tutting at them for daring to rock the boat, European politicians might consider what they’re going to do to fix the rot before their Byzantine Empire collapses under the weight of its own opulence.
Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.