Sunday, 2 October 2016

Can the European Union Survive?

The European Union is in trouble - both practically and philosophically. It is somewhat ironic that the political party - the Conservative and Unionist Party - that took us into the EEC without a referendum, is now the party unable to persuade the electorate to remain, with one. This after more than four decades, when one might have expected experiment to have grown on the hearts and minds of the British people.

A further irony is that the same party, with 'Unionism' sewn into its title - unionism that is of course in relation to the three (now four) constitutional nations making up the UK - may also be largely responsible for dismantling it, if Scotland and Northern Ireland opt subsequently to rejoin. (As the UK as a whole is a member, I presume they would first have to be 'out', to be 'in', which could only entail cessation from the Westminster union and respectively independence or union with Eire, all of which would involve upheaval and even potential public disorder)

Despite the fact that there was a clear majority to leave, it also true that almost half of the population wanted to stay, a proportion that surely would have been larger if sixteen year olds had been allowed to vote and the leave campaign had been more nuanced and sophisticated. It is clear that more older people took the process seriously and were disproportionately represented and negative. Had more of the younger generation voted and less of the older, the result would probably have been reversed. Nor can the Government protest vote be discounted as a contributory factor.

Nevertheless we are where we are, and a European Union as a political concept arising as a phoenix from the devastation of a second European war, is now under enormous strain. The idea of a United States of Europe was mooted by Churchill, despite being a committed supporter of the Empire, but the drivers were the historic enemies Germany and France, who decided to transform swords into plough shares, first with coal and steel (where are they now?) and then with effectively a free trade area of the Six, with the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

It seems rather obvious to me, that the seeds of its decline are two-fold: moving away from that original concept of free trade, to one of political union and sovereignty; and secondly too large and eager an enlargement to the current twenty-eight nations which has proved a step too far marked by the disaster of the Euro. We should note that the Conservatives were enthusiastic proponents of that eastward expansion!

We are familiar with the perilous situation of the southern countries. The recent news that Germany's Deutsche Bank is also on the brink of bankruptcy is quite another matter and could ring a death knell for the whole European project, battered by the consequences of the chaos in the Middle East, to which particularly France and Britain have been enthusiastic participants.

So Britain is leaving the club. The marriage is splitting up. Initial euphoria in those situations is often followed by loneliness and misery although a new prosperous life is not unknown. Time will presumably tell.

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