The Tea Room’s editor, Ashley Perks, casts a fearful eye over European Union trends.
EUROPE in general and the eurozone in particular are both exercising the minds of politicians, pundits and, increasingly, the populace again. The idea of promising a referendum in the next parliament over Britain’s membership of the EU is once more at the top of the Prime Minister’s in-tray and on the agendas of an increasingly vociferous Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party.
In his column for The Spectator, Charles Moore wrote:
‘[The] call for a referendum comes not because we all trust a Conservative government – if there were one –or a Labour government – if there were one – or the present coalition. It is because we don’t. The promise of a referendum from a mainstream political party is therefore not an emblem of its faith in the British people, but an effort to buy us off. It feels like an electoral gambit. A referendum promise is being used by government as a substitute for something that is missing. What is missing is the same thing that was missing, oddly, in the Thatcher era too. What is missing is a new policy.’ (‘Lost In Europe,’ 27 October)
Britain was a full-hearted member of the European Community
Moore went on to argue that Mrs Thatcher was forced to accept the status quo policy which was always that Britain was a full-hearted member of the European Community committed to participating in (or trying to) everything that everyone else was doing. In reply to a straight question he put to the Foreign Office, “What is Britain’s foreign policy?” he eventually received this answer: ‘The choice between the status quo and leaving the EU completely is the wrong question,’ because, according to the policy that isn’t, ‘Europe is changing and we do not know how the EU will end up looking like at the end of this crisis.’ So, no policy then.
No eurozone state has an enthusiastic democratic mandate for its policy
I have written before about the ‘democratic deficit’ throughout the EU. Moore adds this point: ‘No eurozone state has an enthusiastic democratic mandate for its policy. No country can point to the EU leading it to salvation, and many in the eurozone can see it leading them to economic hell.’
There is plenty more of this in what is an abridged version of the Margaret Thatcher Lecture given by Moore to the Centre for Policy Studies. Indeed, a number of my colleagues, writing in these pages, have said much the same. But a little lateral thinking tends towards an even more sinister implication: the European Union, far from being an ever closer, more equitable and economically liberating community, funded by capitalism’s market-driven freedoms, is coming to resemble the one system it is supposed to have triumphed over- The Soviet Union.
In an extraordinary analysis of what he regards as Cameron’s hopeless position on the UK’s relationship to the European Union – and worse, the eurozone – Simon Jenkins uses his column in the Guardian to posit just such a possibility. (‘Cameron’s pro-EU charade cannot go on much longer,’ 31 October) Summing up the post-crisis situation, Jenkins writes:
‘Despite continued hostility from Europe’s voters, there seemed a route ahead. The eurozone crisis shattered this…The result is a coalition between the closer-union Brussels elite and an austerity-obsessed Germany, jointly seeking a pan-European command economy [my emphasis]. Germany wants EU commissioners sitting in authority over national budgets, under the aegis of German bankers.
This must be the most awesomely authoritarian project to emerge in Europe since 1945. A clearer route to induce pan-European hatred of political union would be hard to imagine.’
The absence of a European policy becomes more understandable if one suspects that David Cameron has not quite looked at the present dilemma in such apocalyptic terms. It explains the Foreign Office’s dithering, whatever William Hague says to the contrary. What Cameron does acknowledge is that a substantial number of Conservative-voting sympathisers are now being lured into Ukip’s lair.
Worrying echoes of the rise of fascism
There is worse. In an extraordinary essay in the New Statesman, (‘A new threat for a new era,’ 2 July) Richard J Evans, Regis Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, suggests that while History never repeats itself, soaring youth unemployment across Europe – coupled with the resurgence of the far right – evokes worrying echoes of the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
Looking at five countries, he charts the alarming increase in popularity of Golden Dawn, in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, the Front National in France, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and the English Defence League here in the UK. He concludes:
‘It’s not that unemployment leads directly to the rise of fascism. The social crisis that led to the present policies of austerity reaches far wider. Businesses go bankrupt, banks crash, civil servants are sacked, pay is cut, benefits are slashed, public services are shattered. It is not just the young, or the unemployed, who are affected. The whole of society is affected by it. No wonder political extremism is on the rise. Robbing people of hope for their future leads them to search for scapegoats, whether within their countries or outside. And the hatred that this breeds can all too easily threaten to undermine the foundations of a tolerant and democratic political culture.’
That History may not repeat itself is only insofar as the people and prevailing conditions are not identical; but it can often look eerily familiar. We have had riots and successful extra-parliamentary action as incarnated by the Occupy movement. While the BNP has withered on the diseased vine of its own bilious stupidity, the EDL is a largely anti-Muslim movement that echoes the anti-Semitism of the Nazis but their social-media management skills are referenced by other far-right groups globally. The Euro/Soviet Union versus fascism sounds ominously recognisable.
Follow Ashley on Twitter: @StRemeze
Reddit this article ↓