Four goods and a conclusion

Four goods and a conclusion


Cyclefree says it is notable that few in the Remain camp have sought to make a positive case for the EU.  So let me make some suggestions.  (And no, this gives you no clue as to my vote.) 

  1. The EU as a force for good.

Who knows whether Western civilization will survive a Brexit.  It survived the temporary disappearance of Poland so it can surely survive the departure of a damp island in the middle of the North Sea.  But it is nonetheless astonishing and a source of considerable pride – given the murderous insanity which enveloped Europe in the first half of the twentieth century – that we have a structure which allows states to co-operate and resolve disagreements in a non-violent way and which, however ineptly, incompletely and ineffectively, has helped spread parliamentary democracy across Europe and to countries which had little experience of it.

There was nothing inevitable about this.  Democracy and liberal values have had shallow roots in much of Europe.  The fact that they are spreading, in a way that they did not spread after the first of Europe’s 20th century wars, is a credit to the EU’s efforts.  And this continues to be needed at a time when the countries surrounding Europe are going in the opposite direction.

  1. Federalism is not evil.

The best example of a functioning federal state – a super-state if you will – is the US.  Federalism has Enlightenment roots.  It is an attempt to manage political power in a large geographical area without ending up with totalitarianism or autocracy or chaos.  The EU may be criticised for how it is doing it and whether it is doing it right.  But an attempt to create political structures which help avoid the well-documented problems of recent European history or the examples of the Middle East is surely worth supporting.

  1. Some things cannot be done within countries.

Security.  Climate change.  Terrorism.  Crime.  Not everything respects borders, whether created or geographic.  And so our responses have to be adequate to the tasks.  The EU helps create a mechanism – though not the only one – by which answers can be found.

  1. Size matters.

A large market provides opportunities that a smaller one may not do.  A large fair market may be better than smaller fragmented ones.  A single currency is not obviously a bad thing.  How it is arrived at and managed may be.  But just because capitalism has often caused dreadful recessions, crises and unfair concentrations of wealth and ownership does not mean that the concept is necessarily wrong.

If the euro results in economic changes which result in growth and it this growth is fairly shared (a lot of “ifs” I know) then the EU will have helped create a level of economic security which will surely help sustain the political developments noted above.  And if those economic gains are fairly shared across countries, then this may also help mitigate the movements of people that are causing such angst to some.  If people can find good jobs in Barcelona and Athens and Vilnius they will not necessarily rush to live under bridges in London.

Convincing?  Over to you.  It doesn’t matter anyway because the argument for Remain has not been put in this way and it is far too late now.

So a prediction: some Leavers may vote Leave not because they necessarily want to leave the EU but because they want any Remain victory to be as small as possible.  They want to make it clear that the EU is – as far as Britain is concerned – still on probation.  Or because they want a better settlement.  They expect Remain to win.  If Leave looks like winning it is possible that some Leavers may switch back to Remain.  The casting vote may be different to the one where it does not matter.  I expect a small Remain win but would not be at all surprised by a Leave one.

It does not matter.  This is not a choice between life and suicide.  Whatever the result, Britain will survive and prosper.  It may be a different Britain depending on the choice made but who can ever know what the road not chosen would have led to.

But there are, whatever the result, three enormous challenges for Britain: –

(1) How will it deal with a changing EU, an EU that will largely encompass the Continent.  (2) How – if it leaves – will it also deal with the rest of the world as an independent nation and, moreover, an independent nation without the heft and resources it had until the middle of the last century.  Britain may have an image of itself as a plucky small independent nation but for a large part of its history it had an Empire behind it and both the military weight and the ruthlessness to impose its wishes.

(3) How will it deal with the divides and rifts that have been so painfully exposed within Britain itself: between the prosperous South-East and much of the rest, between the Celtic outer belt and middle England, between those who have benefited from the last 30 years and those who have not, between parties and voters whom they appear to have taken for granted?

These are large tasks and it is not at all clear that our political establishment is equal to any one of these tasks let alone all three of them.

On that note I am off to the Amalfi coast via Porto Venere, Rome and Naples: places associated with Venus, Caesar, St Thomas Aquinas, Caravaggio and the medieval laws of the sea.  Now that is a Europe worth voting for.  Arrivederci.


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