The leaders debate this evening, despite being billed as the Foreign policy debate, again failed entirely to properly cover the European issue: considering it’s the poltical equivilant of a cosh for all the parties to clout each other with, that’s not surprising – but it’s quite depressing that there doesn’t appear to be any leadership on the issue.
I grew up in what was West Germany, and Germany is arguably the most Pro-European in the Union. I speak 2 European languages to a decent standard and love the place both to travel and do business: don’t get me wrong though like all institutions the EU has more than it’s fair share of problems which all need reform; because of this I have a long held love/hate relationship with the EU: but let’s be clear on a few points.
Personally speaking I don’t have a problem with the Euro – I think as a businessman that the Euro is a good thing, it gives us block strength against the world powerful dollar and the up and coming Chinese and Russian currencies, as we found out during the ERM disaster, and more recently in the Credit Crunch, the Pound, although still a reserve currency, is – because of our own economy – hugely exposed to Global fluctuations and hedging. Don’t get me wrong though, I love the Pound – much like I loved my Deutschmark’s when I first really learned the value of money saving my allowance, but I can’t help but think that we’d be better off, and we’d find a new power in Europe if our (frankly, huge) economy joined Germany and France in the Eurozone… potentially so much so, that we could excerpt serious reform of Eurozone policies; something Germany in particularly would likely support us in.
When it comes to freedom of movement I’m baffled about the Schengen Agreement and why Britain feels it needs to be outside the core structure of the agreement: first and foremost as an Island our ports would clearly need to retain custom control to the wider world; and let’s be under no false pretence – entering the Schengen Agreement wouldn’t just suddenly open our borders to one and all: we are still an Island, and that will not change (unless the EuroBridge ever goes ahead!). Britain’s position on Schengen is fundamentally flawed as an argument – we won’t open our borders, except to Ireland – where we have no juristiction over their immigration or border and port controls. We’d save a fortune using Frontex rather than establishing our own border patrol force and many experts predicts that it would actually help the immigration issue. Especially considering that migrants from the East and the South passing through Europe to get to Britain would have to be dealt with under the terms of the Dublin Agreement (which we’d be able to wield with teeth) and in partnership with other nations as part of one co-operative block: they’d have no right to settle here having passed through our official ‘border’ 1000’s of miles before they reach our shores. (via land, rail and continent to UK sea travel). Immigration is a European problem, full stop. Just ask the Italians, the Daily Mail might like to make out that it’s Britain against the world, but if we opened our eyes there’s clear room for European unilateral action to control and temper immigration to all of our benefits.
I think the European human rights legislation (despite the protestations of the Daily Mail) is bang on, Human Rights are none negotiable, how we interpret them in our legal system for criminals and immigrants needs sensible debate, but the fundamental rights of the individual to live without pain, humiliation, servitude, torture and with freedom of expression & association and discrimination are just that: fundamental. To often the ECHR and other human rights legislation is blamed for allowing rapists and pædophiles to walk the streets, that’s not human rights failures though, that’s a failure of our justice system to interpret the various bills, and a failure of politics in the UK to adequately caveat criminal legislation to ensure that those who break our laws or attempt to breach our controls on citizenship are always held to account within boundaries that protect the public in the first instance.
You might think that I’m a screaming integrationist because of this, but you couldn’t be further from the truth: indeed I think we need to fundamentally examine and change the way we integrate European laws into our own, for too long we’ve taken everything and integrated it wholesale into our own law – something that almost no other nation in the Union does, that needs to change so we protect our national interests both personal and corporate more effectively. We also shouldn’t give up our Military; the idea of a European Armed Forces sounds wrong, we already have NATO – and we have provisions for nation state (and by proxy military) support of European nations written into the Lisbon Treaty, that’s as far as that needs to go. I also think that tax needs to be set locally, personally I’d prefer a flat rate system for all, (and that’s another article), but I don’t think that the EU presently has anywhere near the amount of consensus required, or indeed the amount of economic similarity between the various nations in the Union to harmonise our tax affairs successfully.
Other stuff though I’m more open to conversation about – I’d prefer Germany’s road laws for starters, but if you think for one minute I’d like their or the French, Italian or Austrian police systems you can think again. I think we should harmonise Europes extradition and immigration policies so it isn’t up to individual nations to support asylum seekers who travel into the EU, it should be a union wide issue. I love the idea of harmonised green energy requirements – not just by directive, but by treaty – it takes the wiggle room away from politicians that are happy to talk the talk but generally ignore the elephant in the room.
And you know what, I’m not going to stop there – the ferrying of MEPs between 2 (technically 3) locations, is outrageous, pick one place, and that’s where the affairs of the EU shall be carried out, travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg accomplishes nothing but burning cash. There also needs to be more direct power devolved to the people, presently the system is a mystery to most – so it needs transparency, especially within the groups that draw up the directives, what drives them – the interests they represent and the way they come to their respective decisions needs to be better understood. And finally (although far from finally I could wax about this all night) we need to do away with the worst policy ever implemented between European nations since the appeasement of National Socialism: the divisive, horrifically expensive, widely abused, anti-comptitive Common Agriculture Policy. It’s an unruly disaster that’s tainted an entire generation of politicians and laypeople against the EU, so in my view the quicker it’s dismantled the quicker all Europeans will be able to look their African neighbours in the eye, the quicker we’ll reduce friction between nations that have abused the CAP and those that haven’t, and most importantly the quicker we’ll cut the cost of running the EU in general: and cutting the size and cost of any element of government in my book can never be a bad thing.
There are plenty in UK politics that want to isolate us: and if there’s one thing we should learn from our own history is that Britain’s always been stronger, whether as an Empire or as part of the Allies against fascism and communism, when it co-operates closely with it’s friends: and for all of our sibling rivalry there’s no doubt that we’ve got plenty of friends in Europe.