The EU, Power vs Liberty

On Thursday June 24th, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The choice to stay or leave, often dubbed “Brexit” in the popular media, was often painted as a battle between the forces of progress and openness vs the forces of xenophobia and fear. 

In the reactions since the vote, we have seen the “remain” side bash those who voted to leave as retrograde bigots who at heart simply do not like immigrants and want to return Britain to some idealized past. While it is certainly true that the leave position enjoyed wide support among nationalist and even racist elements, to paint anyone who voted to leave the EU as closeted racists is a sign of just how full of venom and spite politics in the 21st century has become. There is a legitimate case for the UK to leave the EU and indeed for a breakup or strong reform of the EU as it currently exists, and that case has nothing to do with racism or fear.

The European Union started out in the post war era as a means to breakdown the commercial barriers that had for so long divided Europe and caused strife and conflict among its nations. The idea was that an economically integrated Europe would be less likely to engage in another tragic war, and that increase economic activity would provide a strong bulwark against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries it supported. That idea in of itself was a noble one, and insofar as Europeans could get rid their aggressive nationalistic sentiments and animosity toward one another, the creation the European Communities (EURATOM, ECSC, EEC) was a great success.

Things began to change though with the signing of the Merger Treaty and later the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which effectively turned a community based on promoting trade and cooperation into a potential superstate with its own currency and policy positions on a number of issues. By 2002, the Euro was adopted by most EU nations and in 2007 the Lisbon Treaty gave much more power to the EU to regulate and direct the actions of its individual member states. In particular, it centralized more power in the Parliament and the Commission. For those that may not be aware, the European Commission is an unelected body of political appointees that have the power to initiate legislation for the whole EU. The Parliament on the other hand, which is elected by popular vote, cannot propose legislation and is much weaker in comparison to the Commission and Council in regards to policy and legislative action.

Beyond the issues with the legislative structure of the EU, there is the problem of the European Central Bank, which has to manage a monetary policy for all member states, many of whom have very different internal economic conditions. Case in point is Greece, a country with a strong dependence on tourism and a care free culture compared to the much more industrious France or Germany. Facing a devastating economic crisis, Greece should have been able to devalue its currency in order to attract investment and tourism, it should have been free to make decisions best for its people and its particular cultural circumstances. Yet in order to preserve the stability of the Euro, the European Central Bank basically forced Greece to adopt highly restrictive budgetary controls or what is often termed “austerity”. This led to wide discontent within Greece and a situation whereby a powerful German state via the structure of the EU, was essentially able to dictate terms to a less powerful European neighbor. Take the irony of that in light of the reason for creating the EU in the first place as you will.

Now let’s talk about immigration for a moment, because that was a central issue in the Brexit vote. As mentioned many in the stay category tried to paint the other side as racist and xenophobic, but consider for a moment the reality of EU open movement policies in light of the current troubles we are facing with terrorism and Islamic radicalism in Europe. If for example, Germany feels it is in its interest to admit tens of thousands of migrants from Syria or the wider Middle East, and those migrants eventually obtain German citizenship, then that means those people as citizens of Germany will have the obvious right under EU rules to live and work in the UK or any other EU member state.
Now, you might not think admitting tens of thousands more Muslim immigrants into Europe is necessarily a bad thing, you might think culture and identity are irrelevant in this case, yet does a nation not have the right to decide what people and in what numbers are allowed to form a part of that nation? You see even if there are racist elements who have a Euro-skeptic point of view, that does not mean that in a more fundamental sense, the idea of taking back more sovereignty from a more or less un-elected supranational body is somehow invalid. Further, why is it that the only way to have peace and prosperity in Europe is to have the EU, why is a wide reaching trade agreement not enough?

In this day and age with the level of freedom and ease of movement we have, not to mention the internet and other globalized forms of communication, many think that the world should be as open and borderless as possible. Yet the nations of the world are still quite different from one another, in everything from economics to culture. This is even more so at the local level, where one town or city could have very different geographical, economic, and demographic features than another in the same country. Thus decisions from both a practical and liberty loving standpoint should be made at the most local level possible.

For those who blindly love the EU though, the desire for artificial unity overrides that common sense approach to politics and no policy is theoretically free from interference by those in Brussels. And as we have seen in recent years, that lust for centralized control has failed to yield positive results. Despite a recovery in the United States and other areas affected by the Great Recession, Europe is still teetering on the brink economically. This is because there are simply too many diverse cultures and economies to be able to craft a coherent economic policy except via brute bureaucratic force. 

Peoples who know themselves, and their particular situations will always be better able to craft beneficial policies than rootless technocrats who spend their lives living in one cosmopolitan city after another. The rejection of the EU by a majority in the UK does not need to mean a rejection of other countries, of Europe as a concept or even of trade and freedom of movement. It can mean and should mean, simply a desire to move towards a more local conception of politics and sense that centralized power structures untethered to real community are unhealthy and ineffective means of achieving the good in politics.  


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