Times change. I supported our continuing British membership in the Referendum of 1975, and I voted for the Single European Act in 1986. When we joined what would become the EU, we were led to believe it was a trading block with political cooperation, but not European government, aiming to boost prosperity across Europe while respecting the importance of strong, national democracy. On both counts, we were sorely misled. The Union has developed into an undemocratic institution that has replaced economic success with permanent depression in its crusade for a European superstate. It is clear that for the European elite and certain leaders, it is European integration or bust. The UK is not an obstacle to harmony and stability. It is the EU integrationists who generate economic and democratic instability.
As Britain and the US enjoy recovery from the devastating global crisis, the Eurozone remains mired in stagnation, inching back towards recession daily. Youth unemployment stands at 55% in Greece and Spain. The ECB’s QE program is more significant than was expected, but the printing of money is no substitute for an enterprising, competitive economy. This could be enjoyed by Europe, but there is massive EU overregulation and interference which undermines small businesses. This is a symptom of the failed institutional architecture of the EU.
Tensions at the heart of the European project
Far from being a destabilising influence on Europe, Britain has for decades attempted to keep the EU from heading down a path that can only lead to a descent into chaos and eventual implosion, as I warned in my book “Against a Federal Europe” (Duckworth, 1990), when I led the rebellion in Parliament against the Maastricht treaty, and since then through the European Foundation. Since the creation of the Eurozone, that has proved considerably harder. The crisis has laid bare the tensions at the heart of the European project. The Mediterranean nations, addicted to unsustainable levels of public spending, are now paying a price out of all proportion for their mistakes, as Germany insists on austerity as the condition for propping up a failed system. Both are at fault. Moreover, the economic dominance of Germany is to a great extent responsible for the continent’s troubles – something Germans have been far too reluctant to acknowledge. In a letter in the Financial Times on 29th January, a German correspondent from Hamburg said, “the idea that Germany benefited handsomely from the crises is completely foreign to Germans … put together these benefits add up to tens of billions of Euros for the German taxpayer.” The Euro has provided a mercantilist Germany with an export advantage which has done tremendous damage to southern economies.
The European elites have generally bypassed the genuinely democratic answers – hence the protests and riots in cities all over Europe. I predicted this in 1990, as well as the emergence of extremists. The way the elite preserve the single currency is to bypass national parliaments, but this will never be achieved with the consent of the European electorates. Northern European voters will bridle at being forced to pay for the profligacy of the rest, while the Mediterranean nations resent the high-handed imposition of policies that bring so much suffering. The end result will be the triumph of extremist parties offering fairy-tale cures that can only bring chaos to the continent. The first sparks of this are already visible in Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections. Left unchecked, it will develop into a dark regression, as I predicted years ago and continuously since.
It may be too late to set Europe back down the path to prosperity and stability, even if the Brussels elites were not hopelessly wedded to a damaging integrationist agenda. The Euro, the greatest monument to the myopic vanity of the Union’s advocates in their obsession for political union, has brought untold suffering to the peoples of Europe, and done immense damage to European democracy. If the continent is to prevent a return to the extremism that forever stained Europe’s history, it must not make the mistake of shutting the UK out.
Britain has led Europe through two World Wars through our insistence on real democratic institutions. I have argued this repeatedly at the regular publically recorded meetings of what is known as COSAC, the EU forum of EU affairs committees. If Europe wishes to return to stability, it must engage in the fundamental reform that we have been urging for so long to restore national democracy to the heart of the European project. Britain has saved Europe before – we can only hope that Europe will listen to us again, not by any presumption on our part, but because over generations and centuries, we have developed a system of democracy which works. We rely on the voters’ decisions in general elections, and on our national Parliament; on well-rooted institutions and practical common sense; on listening to the people, not on ideological or theoretical solutions driven by an obsession for political union.
The founding fathers of the EU sought economic and political peace and stability, but today political union has created the opposite. Europe needs a radically new architecture based on national parliaments in a democratic association of nation states, which is flexible and workable – not European government. Britain has a good economy, universally accepted, with low unemployment, and a stable democracy. We have a trade surplus outside the EU, but a £50 billion deficit with the 27. Germany has a £50 billion surplus with the 27. We have options. We do need to accept being dominated within a second tier within the EU, when through our Anglosphere relations throughout the rest of the world, we can prosper whilst continuing to trade and with political cooperation with the EU, and Germany who needs to sell to us at the same time. Fifty years ago today Winston Churchill was buried – he would have agreed with me that if Europe does not listen, we will have to leave the EU to its undemocratic, unresponsive future.