Just now William Hague, our Foreign secretary, is very aggrieved because the undemocratic European Court of Human Rights is telling us Brits that we have to give convicted criminals who are in prison the vote, whereas traditionally we have not done so as the removal of the franchise is seen as part of the punishment. So who are these Europeans to tell us how to run our own country when we have our own democratic sovereign parliament and our own rather grand judicial system? The answer, this time, is the 47 state Council Of Europe. But just as interfering are the 27 state European Union. So what is going on here?
These powerful European institutions were put together for a number of reasons: to stop us having periodic wars, so we can match American global power, as a united front against the evil of Russia, to foster trade and economic growth, to help less advanced European nations and to further co-operation in many areas. And you have to say that it has worked.
However there is a major, fundamental philosophical problem. Just what are we trying to create? This has a very simple either/or answer. We are either, by creeping federalism, trying to create a European superstate or we are setting up inter government institutions to enable the objectives of the last paragraph to be achieved. The problem is that different European countries have different views on this, those views change from time to time and the populations of countries often have the exact opposite view to that of their politicians. So the whole project is like a headless chicken.
If the independent nation states are going to retain their own sovereignty then a lot of the federal institutions that have been set up are just an immense waste of money and should be immediately disbanded. This includes the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament (one of the most useless institutions ever invented). If we are going to become a federal superstate then we should by open about the fact and plan for it properly, not try and get there by dishonest stealth as is currently happening.
Many see the federal superstate idea as being at best badly flawed, the majority of the Conservative party is against it. Do we really want to be told what to do by a federal state dominated by southern Europeans, do we really want Greeks and Romanians telling us Brits how to run our country? The good news is that the current financial crisis in the Eurozone has set back the federalist agenda enormously.
And the federal superstate idea ignores the reality, with the internet people are far better informed, with less wars there is no need for big armies, with huge international trade and travel the world is a more fluid and a more realistic place. So the tendency in Europe is the opposite of federal superstate. Spain has split up into semi autonomous mini countries, the Czech and Slovak republics divorced amicably, Belgium is on the point of fracturing and the only reason that Scotland and Wales aren’t independent yet is that they are both totally reliant on handouts from English taxpayers. In the recent banking crisis an independent Scotland would have been worse off than Greece or Ireland.
Obviously the European Union is a good thing, but they still have a long way to go on the simple things before they address the big one of becoming a federal superstate. There are still far more restraints to free trade than there should be and these take many forms. My wife was for many years a successful general practitioner in Latvia, which has a medical system far superior to the NHS (not difficult), yet she is not allowed to do the same job in the UK, despite passing all the relevant English language tests.
What is needed with Europe, and something that has been conspicuously absent, is a bit of honesty. The politicians should sit down and decide the whole sovereignty issue once and for all. They need to agree across all the states of Europe and they need to tell us voters, who they represent, what they are doing and where we are going. Then we can vote them out at the next election if we don’t like it. Once this is all decided then we need a plan of action to get there.
Personally I would like the nation states to retain their sovereignty, for all the expensive and unnecessary federalist institutions, like the European Parliament, to be disbanded, and for the inter-government body (the EU commission) to apply itself to removing all the remaining trade barriers. Also it would be nice if Scotland and Wales were independent within Europe, then they could be paid for by the European tax payers instead of the English taxpayers having to carry the full burden.