Anyway, one story I missed was the EU winning the Nobel peace prize. I assume this had the Daily Mail reading UKIP members practically foaming at the mouth and having kittens live on air. Of course many people in Greece or other parts of Europe, with city centre’s ablaze from rioting were left wondering if awarding the EU a peace prize was some sort of cruel joke by the Norwegian jury, hoping to yank people’s chain.
Firstly, I have to say that I’m not for one minute suggesting that the EU is a perfect institution, because it isn’t! But then again, you show me a system of government that does work perfectly! As I’ve mentioned in many prior posts on this blog the current eurozone crisis is solvable, indeed it should have been solved two years ago. The crisis is an artificial result of inaction by politicians across the EU.
The EU also suffers from something of a democratic deficit and needs to become more democratically accountable with more posts (such as commissioners, ministers and ultimately a president) chosen by popular vote, rather than simply being appointed. But it is better to reform the EU from within that pull out or get rid of it, as I described in my previous post the case against an English pull out from the EU.
UKIP often complain about how 60% (or is it 70%, made up figure anyway so hardly matters!) of the UK’s laws are now made by the European parliament in Brussels….or Strasbourg (that’s another thing that needs to chance, keep the parliament in one place!). I would counter by pointing out that these laws are generally about things such as stopping companies selling lethally dangerous toys to kids, protecting workers from being exploited (via poor standards of Health and Safety or lower wages) or environmental legislation (limits on air pollution, etc.). Now unless the Tories or UKIP are suggesting that it should be legal to employ small children in factory to operate dangerous machinery (of course, there’s the problem, some of them do!) then inevitably in the absence of an EU, a UK parliament would have to pass similar laws….and the UK government is hardly a model of democratic accountability nor efficiency (let he who is free of sin cast the first stone and all that!).
And of course when countries start setting their own standards you can get a bit of a patchwork quilt of standards and laws all over the place. This is confusing, as individuals or companies who trade in different nations are left scratching their head trying to figure out what the legal limits are and what isn’t. For example, back in the bad old days before the EU, UK truckers often found they couldn’t drive on continental roads because they’re vehicles were in violation of one or anther nation’s limits on, say sulfur emissions, or the head lights were the wrong size (or shape…or something!).
A lack of harmonization also means that those countries that look the other way on H&S and allow corporations to rape the environment and exploit workers, won contracts and business at the expense of more considerate law abiding nations. Corporations will often deliberately exploit this fact and try to pair one country off against the other, leading to a so called race to the bottom.
Again, in the past, UK contractors couldn’t dream of getting a contract in Greece, Italy or Spain because they knew that the local firms would vastly undercut them by ignoring safety and paying the local workers a pittance (never mind all the red tape!). One of the things the EU has done is harmonise standards and laws across the continent so that everyone is working to an agreed limit or standard.
Admittedly, there are still gaps in the system. But of course closing those loopholes, would require more harmonisation and more powers to Brussels (or Strasbourg!), which is exactly what the UKIP brigade are against (so they are being hypocrite’s when they bring such matters up!).
Also there are some problems that are simply too big for any individual country or company to ever solve. Climate change and impending peak oil are good examples. It will take united effort of many nations working together to solve these problems. A united policy by Europe on these issues (or other issues such as poverty in Africa, debt reduction, etc.) means they are at least now on the international agenda, even if the pace of action isn’t as urgent as it should be.
Transnational corporations are also getting increasingly large and powerful. Several of the world’s largest economies aren’t countries any more but private companies. The Market capitalisation of companies such as Exxon or Walmart puts them about 40th in the global table on par or exceeding countries like Ireland, Israel or Nigeria. Only a united Europe can stand up to such companies and expect to get its way. A lone UK government negotiating with such companies would be essentially told our way or the highway. Look no further than the constant Tory paranoia around putting up taxes to non-doms and the wealthy by a tiny amount for proof of how toothless a lone UK government would be.
But the Peace Prize?
But back to the Peace prize, does the EU deserve that? Well lets consider what would have happened without an EU.
For the best part of 1,500 years, since the collapse of the Roman Empire, you will struggle to find a period in history where there wasn’t some war going on somewhere in Europe between one nation or another. The continent of Europe is a patchwork quilt of different ethic and religious groups. Unfortunately the borders of countries has seldom matched the borders between these different groups. Even within the UK, look at Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
And of course quite a number of wars in European history were ultimately about expansion, with one nation trying to grab land or resources at the expense of its neighbour’s. The century before the EU saw two world wars alone, which rank as the 1st and 6th most devastating wars in human history.
Since the founding of the EU, while certainly EU countries have fallen out with each other from time to time and there has been some low level ethic conflict in places (again the troubles in Northern Ireland being a good example). But by and large there have been no major wars between any European powers. Indeed the Northern Ireland situation is a good example, as the troubles themselves kicked off when both the UK and Ireland were not yet EU members. Since then closer economic and political ties between Dublin and London have provided a backdrop for the peace process. These days many modern young Irish wonder what the hell it was all about, as the only difference really between life north or south of the border is that one country uses Euro’s for money and the other has speed limits in miles.
Indeed wars between Europe and its neighbour’s, notably Russia and the former soviet block, have not occurred (i.e. the cold war). Indeed it is unlikely that there would have been a cold war without the EU, as it would have been all too tempting for the Soviets in such a situation to basically pick one European country off after the other (much as they did in Eastern Europe). This would have probably eventually led to a confrontation with the US, which would have almost certainly resulted in the use of nuclear weapons.
Furthermore it was the period during which the Soviet Empire crumbled that was perhaps the most dangerous time for Europe. As any reader of history will know, the collapse of large empires is seldom a pretty affair. It is again, worth remembering that the first world war was essentially sparked by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the dark ages were sparked by the collapse of the Roman Empire. Fortunately, a rapid integration of former Warsaw-Pact countries into the EU prevented the sort of ethic bloodshed that tore apart Yugoslavia, occurring on a far larger scale.
So in essence what our Tory anti-EU types are advocating when they complain about the EU is that they want to return Europe and the UK to a system of Feudalism. Where European countries squabble and fight with one another for the scraps that fall from American, Russia and China’s table. Where workers can be exploited at the whim of bosses, the environment destroyed, transnational corporations are allowed to run riot and a UK parliament that has more powers yes, but not the teeth to back those powers up.
Of course I have to stop myself at this point and remember that there are quite a few Torys who’d say to all that ya! sounds like a great idea!. As they would like nothing better than to return to a time where they can sit in their country estates, pay no taxes, while we the plebs toil away for they’re pleasure.
Again, I am not for one minute suggesting the EU is a perfect institution, far from it! It drastically needs reform and clear sense of direction. But reform from within is better than the sulking outside. To borrow a statement from Cameron we’re all in it together.