I dropped in a link to a BBC interview with Tony Blair from a few days back into the comments today, and have been thinking on and off about it all day. The key passage, that starts about 2 minutes 15 secs in, has Blair speaking:
…the rationale for Europe is not about peace – that was my father’s generation -. The rationale for Europe today is power. In a world of China with over 1.3 billion people and India with over a billion, and increasingly because of mobile capital and technology, y’know, the weight of your country’s economy is linked to your population, so in time to come Britain – 60 million people, y’know, a small island nation – if we want to exercise weight and influence and power in the world why would we separate ourselves from the biggest political union and the largest business market right on our doorstep.
There was quite a lot in there, but the main thing that jumped out of it for me was that the justification for the EU was no longer peace. I wonder when that happened? And I wonder when the British people will be told? Perhaps they’ve just been told by ex-PM Blair.
He’s quite right, I think, to say that it’s not about peace, because there was precious little likelihood of war in Europe after it was divided into an eastern communist bloc, and a western capitalist bloc, with both sides aiming missiles at each other. The sovereign states of Europe, which had been major players up until 1945, had become pawns in a larger political struggle.
Nevertheless, lots of people still think that it’s the primary justification for Europe and the EU.
The new justification, we are now told, is power. If Europe can be welded together into a political unit comparable in population to the USA and China and India, it will be able to take its place at the “top table” alongside the other big players.
But is this ad hoc new justification any better than the original justification? Is power and influence exerted in the world proportional to the population underpinning it? Not really. Both China and China had large populations throughout the 20th century, but neither exerted much influence until they modernised their economies. And the USA with a population of a third of either of these two countries has exerted enormous power and influence, perhaps in large part because it’s always been one of the most technological advanced and innovative economies in the world.
Furthermore, the world’s 1.5 billion smokers exert no influence whatsoever.
It doesn’t really quite add up as a powerful new justification for the EU. In fact, it seems over-simplistic. And I suspect that the real, unstated justification is simply that the European political class (of which Tony Blair is a member) have set their sights on this union because of the benefits that it offers to them in terms of their own enrichment, and in terms of the new power and influence it permits them over their own peoples. The EU has created a new political playground, almost completely devoid of democratic oversight, in which politicians can do more or less anything they like. What’s there not to like in that for an aspiring tyrant?
And indeed the political class of Europe now have their attention almost exclusively focused on Brussels. This was apparent yesterday when it emerged that gay marriage was part of the European agenda, and that David Cameron was simply acting to keep it on schedule with the agreed timetable, and didn’t even bother to how up for the debate in his own parliament.
Because the flip side of this focus on Europe is that the European political class are now badly neglecting their home constituencies. Spain and Greece and Italy now have very high unemployment rates, and growing civil strife, which their governments could have done something about had they had their own currencies rather than the euro. But such is their devotion to the European ‘project’ that they are perfectly happy to sacrifice their own peoples in order to advance the cause of the EU and its euro currency.
The same is true of the smoking bans that have been multiplying throughout Europe, largely with EU encouragement (even if the EU has yet to implement its own EU-wide smoking ban, complete with show trials for prominent offenders, that was passed in the European parliament). These also provided a way for politicians to demonstrate their loyalty and devotion to the EU, by sacrificing a quarter or a third of their own citizens.
For if the EU is good for the European political class in manifold ways, it’s no good for the peoples of Europe in equally manifold ways. In fact, it appears to many of them as an unaccountable and irremovable tyranny over which they have less power and influence than they did with their former sovereign democratic states. The gain in power and influence for the European political class has been paid for through a loss of power and influence for the peoples of Europe, much as if power was a commodity in short supply, like energy or water.
And this is what will ultimately negate the EU project. It might have succeeded if the political class had built it from the bottom up as a grassroot European popular movement. But they have instead built it as a top-down elite political project. It is an elite project for the political elite. Ordinary citizens are simply ignored when they vote against it in referendums, or told to vote again until they come up with the ‘right’ answer. It’s this lack of popular support that will undermine the EU, because the people of Europe are not underpinning its claim to global power and influence. And this makes an empty pretence of all such claims. After all, how can the EU possibly succeed – even in its own blinkered elite global power-political terms – when it has acted to demonise and exclude one third of its own citizens – the smokers -?
When Tony Blair first arrived on the British political scene 15 – 20 years ago, he offered a attractive populist message. New Labour was the ‘people’s party’. But that was then. He is no longer a popular politician these days. He has joined the European political class (he was angling to become European president a few years ago). And he has become a wealthy man. And he now spends his life giving speeches before paying audiences all round the world. He more or less personifies the sort of politician who uses a populist platform as a way into political life, and then abandons the voters who put him there.
All the people who have been crawling out of the woodwork in recent weeks in the UK to drum up support for the EU are people with vested interests in it – like Blair and Mandelson and numerous wealthy magnates like Richard Branson. It would be much more compelling if they found a few trawlermen in Grimsby, or farmers in Herefordshire, to voice their support for Europe. But there don’t seem to be any of these.