Apologies if this is stating the obvious to too many of my readers, but there is no truth about the European Union.

The words sound simple enough. But what do I actually mean?

People that are in favour of the European Union and their country’s continued membership of it have traditionally argued as if there is an outright truth about the EU. It is as if enough arguments are presented, enough reports written, enough number crunching done, a perfect answer will emerge: that the European Union should exist and whatever country should be a member of it.

The problem is that arguing in this way gets us nowhere, for at least three reasons.

First, as any proponent of the EU can see, there are downsides to the EU. The greater the number of people governed in a polity the greater the challenges of representation. There is a balance to be struck between the relative value of political accountability and economic efficiency, and there is no optimum point on that continuum – it’s a matter of personal values as to where you stand.

Second, neuro-linguistically it makes no sense to present the EU in the ‘hit them with facts, then they will agree’ kind of way. We understand politics in terms of values and frames (as Lakoff so compellingly argues), and the European Union is no different. There’s the kind of caring human in the era of globalisation model (we’re all inter-linked, power is not confined within the boundaries of a state, there’s more that keeps us together than forces us apart kind of discourse) and there’s the every citizen on their own to fend for themselves and let the market rule kind of approach. There are of course many further variations on this, and more work is needed (some of which I am doing in the LME), but you get the idea.

Third, our trust in our common institutions and means of communication is waning. Our main newspapers, television and radio stations may still be trusted more than bloggers and individuals on social media, but the position they hold in public esteem is not what it was. Conspiracy theories abound about more or less any institution or news source. It is easier to make previously unacceptable opinions take hold.

So – in conclusion – be deeply sceptical of anyone, of any political persuasion, coming to you with the answer to a question about the EU. It’s probably more likely to be the EU seen through their own framing and values.

One Comment

  1. french derek

    Useful article. It is essential to remember that people do not share the same understanding of “facts” – but have their own perception of facts. In the words of Epictetus (1st C slave philosopher) ‘Perceptions are truth, because that is what people believe’.

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