Support for the European Union has long become a matter of political faith. Amongst Europe’s leaders, to dispute its role is practically a heresy; to challenge its powers, a trigger for anathema.
Perhaps now may be the time for an injection of secularism into the debate.
It is of course ludicrously self-evident that – European idealism apart – different countries joined the EEC, the EC or the EU for different reasons. The driving motives were those of national concern and self-interest, even if some of the drafters had a bigger ultimate vision. Countries joined because of national preoccupations born of their time. Yet astonishingly, commentators and decision-makers seem to have forgotten this fundamental.
Germany’s reasons for joining the early EEC were driven by its economic and political situation in the early post-war period, and with the exception of tariff concerns are utterly different from, say, Denmark’s priorities in the early 1970s (bacon, Britain quitting EFTA) or Latvia’s more recently (a Russian neighbour, a Russian ethnic minority, and a market in need of reorienting towards the West). Equally obviously, these priorities may change with time, as threats recede and opportunities emerge.
My new book, The EU in a Nutshell, seeks to address this issue. It takes apart the bare bones and sinews binding the EU together, in the context of what countries get out of the EU, and what they put in. It explores by a whirligig of figures and facts how the EU actually functions, exploring its hidden institutions, its lobbying world, its mechanisms and rules, its budgets and costs and roles across the mass of institutions. Many will surprise, some will baffle. Some discoveries surprised and baffled me, and I’ve been following EU affairs for a decade and a half.
Ultimately though, it serves to allow readers from whatever country to judge for themselves if their national interests are best achieved through ongoing EU membership.
That includes Britain. We live with a Coalition Government, one of whose partners has long signed up to the European credo. This need not however be a veto on meaningful and immediate action. A pro-EU politician could hardly honourably veto a move across Government to conduct a fair, balanced, and transparent review of both the costs and the benefits of EU membership, Treasury-led but involving every department.
Even if Whitehall is waiting for the Eurozone Crisis to develop before spelling out its European strategy, who in government could possibly block a move to have ensure we have an informed public debating one of the crucial issues of our time? Seriously, if it risked leaking, who?