This piece will assume the mind of a eurosceptic, cognizant of the evolution of the European project and dismayed by the stark reality of the subsequent development of what once was a device for mutual cooperation between European states at the dawning of the Cold War.
When the guns fell silent across Europe on a spring day in 1945, a continent was left economically and democratically fragile. The Red Army swept into eastern Europe, installing puppet government after puppet government in an effort to legitimise the new, galvanising communist apparatus. The Western Allies responded in the only way they could, by rebuilding ruined regions, investing in infrastructure and championing the reintroduction of parliamentary democracy in the desperate hope of pushing back the red tide.
Thus it was probably inevitable that a great political effort would be made to unite the countries of Europe through dialogue and cooperation. In his Zurich speech on September 19, 1946, British Conservative party leader Winston Churchill spoke of the situation many people across Europe found themselves in:
‘Over wider areas a vast quivering mass of tormented, hungry, care-worn and bewildered human beings gape at the ruins of their cities and their homes’….
The stark reality confronting the eyes and ears of politicians across Europe provided the impetus for a joining together of states in the hope that peace, reconciliation and recovery would grow out of the ashes of war. ‘If we are to form the United States of Europe, or whatever name it may take, we must begin now’, Churchill declared.
The Council of Europe was formed in 1949 and today 47 countries, charged with the care of 800 million citizens, enjoy membership. It was an infant bastion of mutual cooperation, of dialogue and negotiation widely believed to serve the purpose of keeping Europe together and respecting national integrity.
This Council was the grand forum of Europe, the democratic phoenix rising from the ashes of totalitarianism… or at least that is how it should have been. Unfortunately the drive for sober cooperation gave way to impassioned unity as Old Father Europe knocked back his martinis and dreamt of a European political utopia, adorned with an untiring motor (a Commission) and a swollen senate.
In 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was shot from the federal cannon – it included France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy. It built on the Schuman declaration, the first solid effort to unashamedly cede sovereignty to the ‘continent’, which by now was in its by-word infancy for ‘centralised state’. By 1957, Europe was ready for an ‘economic community’ and with the signing of the Treaty of Rome the free peoples of Europe (or put more accurately, their governments) heralded the EEC.
Then came the infighting and arguments over rebates, enlargement and the common currency. As nation states grappled and came to terms with the new structure, they wrestled over anything they could pry from the hands of the youthful Brussels. The birth of the Single Market hoped to instil the value of competition as a means to dillute the bureaucratic giant marching on the horizon, but the European project found itself torn between those clinging to the weighty swing of the nation state and the seductive charm of a serene super-state.
When Maastricht beckoned in 1992, the European continent was subject unshakably to true union. Subsequent treaties would erode the voting powers of sovereign states and install Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), banishing the unwanted opinion from the room and pushing the mainstream opinion onto the stage to enjoy an ever brighter limelight.
Whilst European states retain the impetus for military action, they find their environmental, health, energy, agricultural, fishing and to a frighteningly increasing extent their economic policies subject to the scrutiny and judgment of an unbending federal will- ironically fused by the very states that when isolated, often find themselves fighting the hybrid monster they created. The humble Member State is nothing more than the hall monitor gallantly promoting the virtue of citizenship and safety, but eventually succumbing to his ill-disciplined peers and joining the crowd around a bully and his victim, throwing the odd kick in a blaze of faceless opportunism and ferity.
This is the true face of our European Union, promoting the value of free movement, the right to work and effective healthcare, while depriving governments of their monetary policy, fining those for not complying with the general will and issuing diktats on farms, fisheries and CO².
It would be an oversimplification to state that, back in the latter half of the 1940s, European leaders intended for a grand apparatus to subdue the national sovereignty of states and promulgate a message of federalism and supranationalism. They were faced with a grizzly behemoth behind the iron curtain and felt democracy rested on national cooperation and respect for freedoms. They believed in interaction more for mutual convenience than federal idealism.
Indeed it is probable the devilishly scribed detail of their idealism was not apparent to them- they were not fortunate enough to be privy to its potential machination. When Konrad Adenauer proclaimed in 1951 that ‘here we find the expression of European consciousness’ and when Ernest Bevin two years before had dramatically declared that we were witnessing the establishment ‘of a common democratic institution on this ancient continent of Europe’, fining non-compliance and the accumulation of a multi-billion euro supranationalist budget were things they clearly did not mean.
I very much find it hard to imagine the founding fathers envisaged such waste and bureaucracy. Profligacy seems to be the buzzword of late; the European Union is profligacy incarnate. It stretches from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, from Lapland to the Aegean and continues to push for an overarching agenda, alien to most people in the streets. It would be tedious and stupid of one to compare the old Soviet Union to the new European Union, for the latter enjoys freedoms and movements that were so harshly denied to the citizens of the former.
What we do have however is a political machine setting the agenda of a continent, far detached from its electorate and more the product of political manipulation than of the desire of a European people. On perhaps a blunt and hastened note, in learning the lessons of the past perhaps it would be wise to hold the idealism of our leaders in natural suspicion and dissect such dreams before they become reality.