Daniel Hannan MEP: Nine myths about the EU | Conservative Home
The EU has secured peace in Europe
Hmmm. Was the EU a cause of peace in Europe, or a consequence of a peace built on the defeat of fascism, the spread of democracy and the security of NATO?
All right, it’s always hard to settle these hypotheticals, so let’s ask the question in broader terms. Does jamming different nations together in a single polity typically make them get on better or worse? Look at the conflict zones around the planet, from Chechnya to South Sudan, from Kashmir to Ukraine. By far the most common cause of unrest is people’s sense that they have been included, as it were, in the wrong state.
Or if those places seem too remote to be germane, consider the EU itself. Ponder the effect that the euro has had on relations among its participant states. Listen to the way Greeks now talk about Germans and vice versa. Would you say political integration is quelling or stoking animosities among Europe’s peoples?
The EU is the world’s largest free trade area
Actually, it isn’t a free trade area at all, it’s a customs union. This may sound like a technical distinction, but it’s of critical importance. A free trade area is a common market, within which goods, services, capital and sometimes labour can circulate without hindrance. Examples are NAFTA in North America, EFTA in Europe and ASEAN in South East Asia. A customs union, by contrast, surrounds itself with a common external tariff, and conducts all trade talks on behalf of its member nations.
Why does this matter so much? Because every continent on the planet is now experiencing economic growth except Europe. Individual EU states can’t sign bilateral free-trade agreements with, say, China or India; they have to wait for Brussels to do so on their behalf. For a country as naturally inclined to open commerce as Britain, this is a real disadvantage, since we are in effect dragged into a protectionist common position by French film-makers, Italian textile manufacturers and what have you.
China’s free trade agreements with Iceland and Switzerland came into effect in 2014, but the EU says it has no plans to sign one. The four EFTA countries, unlike the European Commission, are currently negotiating a free trade deal with India. Britain, despite its legal, linguistic and ethnic ties to that rising giant, can’t sign a bilateral treaty with India. We have cut ourselves off from our common law, Anglophone hinterland, and confined ourselves in the world’s only shrinking trade bloc.
The EU has boosted competition
Never mind the EU’s global protectionism, though. How about the claim that it has at least ensured free trade and competition within Europe? Well, it’s certainly true that it has eliminated internal tariffs. Yes, there are some remaining restrictions – I have constituents who have been trying for decades to work as ski instructors in France or language teachers in Italy – but, in general, a free internal market exists across the EU.
Here’s the thing, though: it also exists across the rest of Europe. Iceland, Andorra, the Isle of Man, Macedonia, Switzerland, Serbia, the Faroe Islands, Albania – all are part of a European free trade area. Last year, the EU signed association agreements with Ukraine and Moldova, leaving only one European state – Belarus – outside the common market. Free trade and EU membership are two separate things.
The EU underpins democracy
Oh yeah? Cast your mind back to 2011 when the elected prime ministers of Italy and Greece were toppled in Brussels-backed coups. In both countries, Eurocrats were brought in to head what were, in effect, civilian juntas, whose purpose was to pursue a series of economic policies that would have been rejected at the ballot box. Or consider the EU’s response whenever a referendum goes against closer integration, as in Denmark, France, Ireland or the Netherlands. Public opinion is treated as an obstacle to overcome, not a reason to change direction.
Such hauteur is perhaps unsurprising given the way the EU is structured. Power is vested in an appointed bureaucracy which, astonishingly, combines executive and legislative power. Jean-Claude Juncker is the latest in a series of Commissioners to have been appointed after being thrown out by the voters of his own country. Is it any wonder that such institutions should be suspicious of what they call “populism” and the rest of us call “democracy”?
The EU is a force for good in the world
Only in the virtual world of Commission press releases, MEPs’ resolutions and Council communiqués. In real life, it is refusing to back the anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba, funding Hamas and – to the horror of Washington – declaring its readiness to sell weapons to Beijing.
Not that that’s the worst of it. I can’t think of any policy that causes so much preventable poverty as the Common Agricultural Policy. The harm it has done to agrarian economies, particularly in Africa, is devastating. Abolishing it wouldn’t cost Europeans a penny. On the contrary, it would significantly reduce food prices, thus benefiting everyone, especially people on low incomes. But, of course, that would mean handing back power from Brussels to the member states, so it won’t happen.
Without the EU, countries wouldn’t work together
This is perhaps the most pernicious myth of all. Whenever you point to some expensive, wasteful or corrupt EU policy, integrationists glibly tell you that, since X is a European problem, it requires a European solution. Never mind that this is generally an argument for global rather than European integration. It makes the idiotic assumption that without the EU, there’d be no co-operation among states.
Thus, for example, Euro-integrationists will tell you, as though imparting an original insight, that “criminals don’t recognise international borders!” Indeed they don’t and, long before the EU began to extend its activities to the field of criminal justice in the 1990s, there were extensive international provisions in place: the Hague Convention, Interpol, extradition treaties, deals recognising the time spent in another country’s prison and so on. What goes for crime goes across the board.
Think of the global agreements that deal with, say, international phone numbers, or banking secrecy, or airmail, or permitted food additives. These work without requiring Commissions or Parliaments. Indeed, as Owen Paterson pointed out last month, they are the real “top tables” from which the United Kingdom is excluded. Where Norway or Switzerland sit in their own right, Britain is one of 28 states represented by the European Commission.
The EU makes its members more prosperous
According to the IMF, every part of the world grew in 2014 except the EU. Africa, Asia, North and South America and Australasia have all recovered fully from the 2008 crash, but Europe has picked up a bug that it can’t shake off. Incredibly, the Eurozone faces its third recession in six years.
Which are the richest countries in Europe? The Legatum Institute, which publishes a global prosperity index, identifies Norway and Switzerland. The United Nations runs a quality of life league, which looks, not only at wealth, but also at literacy, longevity and the like. It, too, puts the non-EU duo at the top. Maybe we should infer something from the data.
The EU gives its members collective clout
Norway has a population of five million, but its diplomats have been active in negotiating peace deals in South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Israel/Palestine. At the risk of stating the obvious, you tend to have more influence when you have your own foreign policy.
Anyway, the idea that you need to be part of a bigger bloc to be successful doesn’t stack up. If it were true, China would be outperforming Hong Kong, Indonesia would be outperforming Singapore – and the EU, for that matter, would be outperforming Switzerland. What counts is being able to tailor your policies to your own needs.
Federalism has passed its high-water mark
Three words. Jean. Claude. Juncker.