Have you ever lain awake at night after an argument, thinking about all the things you should have said but didn’t? Well, a similar thing happened to me when I was sunbathing on the beach in Tel Aviv. I know, tough life. Let me explain…
At the end of an incredibly hectic 5-day crash course on all matters Israel and Palestine (and more than one or two araks) I had a discussion with a fellow Conservative about what it was I disliked so vehemently about the EU, which culminated in him asking me ‘which European policies do you disagree with’? In response, I mumbled something virtually incoherent about the European Arrest Warrant and democratic principle. And so it was that, having collected my thoughts after a good sleep, I started to regret the things I hadn’t said and I’ve been meaning to write a blog about it ever since!
So Will, if you’re reading, I’d like to rephrase please. I should have replied by telling you that for me, my position doesn’t rest on individual policies. It’s about the EU’s raison d’être. The vision of its founding father, Monnet, means that the treaties the EU is based upon – its very foundations – are statist in aim and transfer power from accountable national governments to distant, and in the case of the Commission, undemocratic, supranational structures.
Take the treaty of Rome, which, alongside creating an anti-market Common Agricultural Policy with a fiendishly complicated set of subsidies and environmental rules (that even today, accounts for 42% of the total EU budget), established the European Social Fund or ESF.
The ESF is the oldest of the EU Structural Funds, which are ‘dedicated to improving social cohesion and economic well-being across the regions of the Union’. It is a redistributive financial instrument, so its spending is concentrated on the less-developed regions of the EU. Now, if you agree that taxpayers’ money should be used to redistribute wealth (a fundamentally socialist principle) that all sounds well and good, but the problem in this case is that there is no European demos – that is, a common political unit – to give the redistribution legitimacy.
Fast forward to 1992, when this problem was further compounded by the creation of the Euro in the Maastricht treaty. As the recent financial crisis proved, the Euro cannot function as a national currency does for precisely this reason. While wealthy southern Germany may traditionally have been prepared to subsidise spending in the poorer north and east, German taxpayers are not willing to bail out Greece, Portugal or Spain, because there is no shared sense of identity. In fact, Bavaria and Hesse, the two richest states in Germany, last year opened a lawsuit to challenge this system of transfers, which is indicative of a growing hyper-local trend that is at odds with the grand European project.
But the Maastricht Treaty did more than create a currency designed to fix the EU on a course of ‘ever closer union’ (don’t forget that the architect of the European Coal and Steel Community, the precursor to the European Economic Community, believed that the best way to achieve political integration was through economic integration). It also gave the EU’s institutions sweeping new powers in the areas of foreign policy, defence, law enforcement, criminal justice, asylum and immigration, which the Amsterdam Treaty built upon and expanded with the Social Chapter. Later, despite being rejected by the Irish, the Dutch and the French in several referenda, the Nice and especially Lisbon treaties would broaden and strengthen EU competencies in these areas.
As you would expect, you can see the ‘big government’, interventionist philosophy that courses through the EU’s veins work its way out into European policy. Whether it’s banning high-power vacuum cleaners or 100 watt incandescent lightbulbs, forcing television manufacturers to change their ‘ecodesign’ requirements for standby functions or makers of water heaters to change energy consumption labelling, refusing to allow restaurants to use refillable olive oil jugs or prohibiting manufacturers of bottled drinking water to label their product with anything that suggests consumption fights dehydration, EU policy makers prove time and time again that they have no qualms about interfering in the minutiae of our lives.
And whilst it is true that the EU embraces free markets in some respects (though even the existence of a customs union could be said to be anti-free market), this work is undone by other EU actions. Open Europe, for example, estimates that the top 100 EU regulations cost the UK £27.4 billion a year – that’s more than the Treasury received in council tax in 2013.
None of that is to say I don’t agree with co-operation or trade between European countries. I do. I just don’t think you need the EU’s supranational structures and political machinations to achieve the best results. And that’s why, if we win a majority next year, I’ll be voting to leave in 2017.