In terms of share of the electorate, ‘none of the above’ were the runaway winners. There’s been the usual snotty whining from the Left about non-voters failing to plump for the least worst option and so letting UKIP in. The London cartel are all in favour of greater turnout just as long as they benefit. They’re not in favour of re-writing electoral law to remove the barriers to smaller, alternative parties getting a foot in the door.
So much for votes, what about the seats? We have 6 UKIP MEPs (including Nigel Farage), 5 Tories, 2 Labour, 2 Greens, and the one surviving FibDem. Among those not retaining their seats this time was Sir Graham Watson, the ‘Southwest’ FibDem most memorable for thinking that Wessex is another name for Dorset. (So clearly no great loss.) Compare these results with 2009, when we had 4 UKIP, 7 Tories, 3 FibDems, and one each for Labour and the Greens.
The media frenzy has focused on UKIP’s gains. Most unfairly. The hard core of Euroscepticism has run at about 25% for the past 40 years, so all that the results achieve is to give it unmistakeable party political expression for the first time. The pro-EU bloc won the election, both within the UK and across Europe generally. The Tories are only upset because they didn’t do it single-handedly. Be assured, come next May’s Westminster election the protest votes will return to the Tory fold as quickly as you can say ‘oh no, Labour government ahead’.
Which may be true. But that’s not to say that a protest vote can be dismissed as such. The fact that life-long Tories can cast a protest vote at all is bound to chill the air at Tory Central Office. In Wessex the UKIP vote leapt by 10 percentage points in ‘The South West’ and 13 points in ‘The South East’, in both areas passing 32% of votes cast. (Within Wessex, district by district, UKIP did best in the far west and the far south, the areas of more restricted prosperity.)
Why? Black propaganda, of course. Regulations for straight bananas and all that. But also a refusal to open up European politics to the possibility of reform. Of the major London parties, only the Greens really attempted to get that debate moving. The other contenders appear locked in the Punch-and-Judy-show politics that views the EU as either the Fourth Reich or as a set of sacred texts, without which the sky would fall. (Nick Clegg went so far as to say that the EU in ten years’ time will be like the EU today, which is hardly a stirring vision.) Even David Cameron can get things right sometimes, more by accident than by design, but in questioning the doctrine of ‘ever closer union’ he has both hit on the truth and made many enemies among an unthinking elite of continental politicians.
The commitment to ‘ever closer union’, however much sense it made in the 1950s, has outlived its usefulness. Either it goes or Europe will fail. Either it is to be interpreted literally – as an unalterable trajectory towards a European unitary state whose regions have no power to choose their own destinies in isolation – or it is meaningless waffle of which we need have no fear. It isn’t satisfactory that it hangs in the balance, either as something very sinister indeed or as really nothing at all. Whichever it is, it has become the greatest obstacle to reasoned discussion on the future of Europe because it mandates, in theory even when not in practice, a one-way street from which there is no escape. We should not consider ourselves bound by this dictatorship of the dead.
The EU wields huge judicial and financial power, but ultimately it all remains delegated power. The judicial power could be curtailed by amending section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 to make European Court rulings advisory rather than binding. The financial power? Stop sending the money. If the EU is worth 1% of what it claims, send 1%.
It’s always been assumed that such things are impossible because of the diplomatic storm they would generate. But a more Eurosceptic Europe creates an environment in which such storms are more easily weathered. No-one is going to be expelled for unilaterally re-writing treaties that no longer work; others don’t always believe in ‘my word is my bond’. Someone has to do the job of reforming Europe and it may as well start here. Let the rest catch up when they’re ready. In every way, a two-speed Europe: one stuck in the centralist past, the other forging ahead into a largely decentralist future.
Eurosceptics generally assume that you can only be ‘in’ or ‘out’ because they WANT to see the world in such stark terms, ones that re-inforce their own ideas about nation-state sovereignty versus regional and local autonomy. The realpolitik is a lot more complex than that and will probably get a lot more so. Europe is already many different Europes – the Council of Europe, the EU, the eurozone, Schengenland, etc – and no-one but a Jacobin would get upset over that. A focus on pragmatism rather than uniformity might actually deliver some surprises. Would the euro be a stronger currency if backed by the combined strength of Germany AND the UK? Is the debate over whether economic union or political union is more important actually the wrong debate? Should we look to cultural union instead, a celebration of Europe’s Graeco-Roman, Judaeo-Christian and Enlightenment heritage? Would that create more opportunities for small nations and historic regions, as the practical bedrock of that pan-European culture, one long divided by centuries of war, imperialism and stereotypical mistrust?
Overt Euroscepticism has been on the rise not only in the UK but elsewhere across the EU. As the UK has turned to UKIP, so France has turned to the Front National, which has condemned the EU for its failure to protect Europe from globalisation and, indeed, for being complicit in rolling it out. The Left appear not to have any credible analysis of what’s going on (because they have no long-term historical memory), so let’s take a look at what the Right have been up to (because they do).
Guillaume Faye is a prominent thinker of the French New Right. As a politician, his opinions are usually execrable. As a philosopher, his theories are often challengeable. As a prophet, he has an uncanny ability to be proved correct, so refusing to read his work would be unwise. (Besides which, it’s always good to know what political rivals are thinking.) Here he is, back in 2004, in Convergence of Catastrophes:
“European institutions, and especially the European Commission, are not defending Europe, but are destroying it… Here are some points that underline this perverse trend:
1) By its directives, the European Commission arrogates to itself the powers of the Council of Ministers, completely illegally. Manipulated by ‘committees of experts’, it systematically corrodes and undermines state sovereignties without replacing them with a federal political sovereignty and without being checked by the rump Parliament in Strasbourg. The ‘Convention’ with Giscard d’Estaing as its President will probably make things worse. The European Commission represents a technocratic despotism in a chemically pure state that exists nowhere else in the world.
2) European institutions flout the principle of subsidiarity and decentralisation and practice, on the contrary, a fussy and aggravated Jacobin centralism. What business does Brussels have with the labelling of products in France or Italy, the procedures for making cheese in Normandy, or the maturing of oysters in Charental? Have the ‘regionalists’ who support the current European Union not understood that the EU is in fact totally opposed to all regional autonomy? In the USA, the states have great latitude in legislating in relevant areas – more so than European states! Recently, several German Länder (regions) have noticed that the EU is eliminating the powers accorded them by the German federal state.
3) In all matters, the European Commission and the Parliament in Strasbourg are following a political and ideological line totally contrary to the interests of Europe: dogmatic global free trade, a low profile in the face of American commercial injunctions, encouraging the use of English, open borders immigrationism and militant Islamophilia and Holy Roller humanitarianism, matched by a total lack of political or geopolitical vision for Europe, which is replaced by the religious vulgate of human rights.
4) The expansion of the EU without any preparation into central Europe (indeed, into Turkey as well) will make whatever results unmanageable. And it will cost a lot of money. The countries that have applied for entry are first of all looking for subventions. It is absurd to make countries participate in the same economic and monetary unit when the ratio of their standard of living is sometimes 1 to 5. On 1 January 2004, the EU will grow from 15 to 25 members. No one agrees on the size of the subventions to offer them. A two-tier Europe will be established, and we shall see the unemployed of ten new countries pour into the West. The ‘Convention’ with Giscard d’Estaing for its President has not made and will not make any proposal to revise the EU’s institutions to accommodate these new countries.
5) The initial project of the Treaty of Rome to construct an economy that was to be self-centred and protected over its large territory has been scandalously diverted from its objective and has generated a Europe open to the four winds as a result of immigration and the markets, whose currency is managed by no political authority. The European Central Bank of Frankfurt lets the euro fluctuate at the will of the markets. The result is that the European Union, stripped not only of its internal national boundaries, but of its external frontiers as well, cannot claim that it is becoming a ‘federal state’.
We have the worst alliance that can exist, combining ultra-liberalism and a subventionist and dirigist bureaucracy, quite the reverse of what should have been done. Anyhow, if the USA has not been opposed to the ambition of the European Union, there is a reason. This submissive, emasculated, headless Europe, which scores goals against its own side, suits the USA perfectly. When asked the question, ‘Are you for or against the construction of the European Union?’ a high American functionary answered, ‘In favour, as long as it does not work.’”
The indictment is all too familiar, and has rarely been more boldly stated. The case for the defence is founded in fear of the unknown, of the not-the-same-as-now, so don’t you dare. Not in a positive rebuttal of the charge that the EU works for the destruction of all that variety of little things that make Europe Europe. Après nous, le déluge. The EU goes on gorging itself on the emotional capital of 1945 and the argument is wearing thin. No wonder the parties viewed as the most anti-establishment are the parties picking up votes. The Right in Denmark, France and the UK, the ‘alternatives’ in Spain, and both far Left and far Right in Greece.
In the UK, there could have been a real debate at the heart of this month’s elections. Instead, for the next five years, the party of ‘Out’ has staked its claim to provide the sound and fury, signifying nothing. The party of ‘In’ appears to have shuffled off this mortal coil, while power remains with the closed-ranks parties of ‘Am I Bothered?’ The parties of ‘Europe – But Not This Europe’ remain shoved to the margins in all but a few countries.
We are told, over and over, that the UKIP fire is the only alternative to the Brussels frying-pan, and vice versa. It isn’t true – and that’s a point that needs to be argued a lot more loudly in future. The EU will bend or it will break. It’s time for the tired old defenders of Europe and Britain alike to give way to a more flexible view.