Christopher Howarth is a senior researcher working in the House of Commons. Prior to this he worked for Open Europe, as a Conservative Foreign Affairs Adviser and senior researcher to a Shadow Europe Minister.
Whether the Prime Minister’s EU deal fulfils its primary purpose of getting him through the EU referendum, we will soon find out. Either way, it will not survive first contact with history.
For the deal, designed more as a speech-filler than something to make a speech about, does not provide answers to any of the EU’s structural design problems or help it come to an accommodation with the 21st century.
I have argued previously that it lacked ambition (here), surrendered a veto in return for little in return (here), will do nothing to address destabilising migration flows (here), and does not protect our national democracy (here) – but, more fundamentally, we are being asked to make a generational decision based on a deal that is not future-proof.
Firstly, it fudges and postpones the question of how non-Euro states can co-habit in an EU dominated by the politics of the Eurozone. Britons will remained barred, by currency, from many of the top jobs, such as President of the Commission and the Economics Commissioner. We have little recourse if shared resources such as the EU budget are diverted to victims of the Eurozone crisis, and can do little when faced with a majority 65 per cent plus Eurozone vote. The Prime Minister’s deal fudges the issue rather than address and reconcile the colliding interests.
The second biggest design flaw that the deal does nothing to address is the EU’s free movement of people policy. How does the EU reconcile free movement (more a political than economic concept) with widely differing wage levels? In single states, such as the United States, we see population flows from the rustbelt to the sunshine belt, ameliorated by federal transfers of funds. Yet, even in America, we have seen Detroit go into a tailspin of depopulation and debt. In the EU, the depopulation of indebted states increases the debt for those remaining, and the emigration of qualified medical and other staff leaves holes in the fragile national budgets of the poorer EU members. This is not sustainable – yet the renegotiation provided no answers.
The next biggest flaw is the EU’s faltering democratic underpinning. How does the EU accommodate the political tensions resulting from the austerity and migration it is often responsible for – particularly when the EU deprives states of the means to respond? How do member states integrate new EU citizens into an EU rather than a national identity and, if they do not, is that compatible with free movement? What will happen when a far-right politician does win in Austria or France? The EU will act by freezing them out of its decision making process exacerbating the problem. The EU has no answers.
The next design fault that has not been addressed is what to do around the EU’s periphery. The introverted Eurocrat looking out from Brussels sees the EU as God’s own creation removing internal borders, with external borders ever expanding. This looks very different from the other side of the wall. Moldova and Turkey do not see the EU as bringing the continent closer together – more as an obstacle to good relations. If the EU remains a political project wedded to free movement and state building it will drive its neighbours away, a process already advanced in Turkey. A reformed EU would find a flexible way to accommodate its neighbours such as Turkey in the Euro-Atlantic world rather than exclude them.
Structural design faults and inflexibilities are some of the reasons the EU does not work for the UK. The Europhile dream of going back in time to prevent the Second World War through the technocratic imposition of EU integration, already out of date in the 1970s, has no relevance to 21st century Britain. Our citizens are more likely to exercise free movement with Australia than Austria, New Zealand than the Netherlands. We see our trade not in terms of customs unions for goods but with the world. The end point of EU integration always was to reduce national differences, the unique genius of Europe: if we are not fellow travellers to that destination we should leave the train.
No structure is perfect. You could no doubt list the imperfections in the UK, but the key difference is this. We have tried to reform the EU and failed. The EU’s lodestar is an unchangeable set of treaties, laws and charters. It is stuck in the mould of its 1950s makers. An organisation without the ability to reform will ultimately fail. To remain in is a risk we should not take.
So what happens if we do leave? Well, contrary to the Number Ten briefings there will be no World War Three. The sun will still come up in the morning and we will have more control over our laws, borders and trade. We will continue to cooperate with the French and others on defence both bilaterally and via NATO. David Cameron will still meet Angela Merkel, but we would also discover that we are not alone in Europe. We will trade with the EU, just as non-EU states such as the US do. Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and others will be able to join with the UK to jointly negotiate pan-European trade agreements that can help soften the EU’s artificial external border and allow these states to cooperate not as members of a European nation, but as equal members of the European family of nations.