Am I a pro-European? A pro-EU person? A Eurosceptic? An EU-sceptic? A Europhile? An EU-phile? A Europe-phile? A Europhobe? An EU-phobe?
I don’t know. Does anyone really know? Does anyone actually think about these terms?
In UK discourse about the EU it’s all too simple to throw in the terms ‘pro-European’ and ‘Eurosceptic’ without thinking twice about it. Take this blog post from The Fabians’ Next Left blog, and a follow up. They even throw it into event invites (para 12). The Fabians are supposed to be a think tank, but lazy vocabulary afflicts them too, with pro-European and Eurosceptic used with gay abandon.
So here’s my critique, and a sort-of way forward.
Pro-European – in as far as I can determine what it means when applied to UK politics – is a stodgy defence of the status quo, and seems to actually equate to pro-EU in the way it’s most often used. Britain is in the EU and that is a good thing. The European Union broadly does good things. It ought to do more good things in the future, whatever good things are. Cooperating with other folks to solve common problems is a good thing. In some way all of this equates to ‘more Europe’ or at least ‘at least as much Europe as we have just now’.
The problem with all of this is that it has no real answer to what should happen in the future, either in terms of policies or structures. Take the CAP – is it heretical to call for its abolition as a pro-European? Further, what answer to – for example – accountability of the European Commission can be provided by being a pro-European?
Eurosceptic is no easier as a term to define (Cécile Leconte has written a whole book on it), and also suffers from the confusion of EU-Europe. Most often the term essentially equates to EU-sceptic, a critique of what the European Union does. That it’s wasteful, unaccountable, not adequately democratic. Also implicit is some wish for the repatriation of powers, away from ‘Brussels’. This equates in some way to ‘less Europe’.
My main issue with this term is that it too offers no sensible or credible vision of how the future could look. We’re not happy with what we’ve got, but those sods in Brussels mean we’ve got to live with it because there is no alternative on the table. A healthy dose of something somewhere between stiff upper lip British administrative arrogance and something bordering on xenophobia is often thrown in.
So what needs to happen?
First of all the terms ‘pro-European’ and ‘Eurosceptic’ should be abandoned. I’ve done my best to do just that on this blog since this post in 2009.
Secondly, we need some new frames to use to look at the European Union. This would not focus on the more-or-less, in-or-out simplicity of the discourse we use at the moment, but would have a policy focus. A social EU, a liberal EU, a conservative EU, a libertarian EU. What would these things mean in practical, policy terms? So, as a urban lefty, I would like to see the EU do more to help poor regions, more for the digital economy, make moving qualifications and business easier, but want less money on agriculture. That’s a valid policy vision for the EU, but no current discourse about the EU in the UK comes close to covering it.
Thirdly, we need to be honest when it comes to the EU institutions, and we need a discourse for that too. When it comes to the EU I am – shock horror – a federalist. Before most readers scream and run for the hills, this does not mean the EU must become an all-conquering superstate (another term I loathe). It means that at whatever level decisions are taken – regional, national or EU – these must be taken democratically and accountably, and if that’s respected then I am OK for states to not hold vetoes. The alternative – intergovernmentalism – is at least intellectually coherent, but would imply unanimous decisions among 27 Member States for everything, and that’s a recipe for lowest common denominator, poor decision making. That would also make the EU comparable to international organisations such as the WTO, NATO, UN, Council of Europe – and henceforth there would be no expectation or even hope for democracy and accountability.
So then, what am I? I’m a social democrat, and a federalist. I’m also a Europe-phile, in the sense that I can always gain tremendous inspiration from other European countries. That’s no so complex, is it?
(Note: additional terms added in the first paragraph thanks to the comment left by French Derek)