The verdict: scoping the question
It is now time to define and scope the referendum question.
The referendum question
The referendum question is, "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? (yes or no)"
Check: what is the European Union?
The European Union is the series of institutions set out on Europa.eu and the treaties that bind a member nation to any of them. Note the absence of the Single Market: it is not an EU institution.
If the European Union could be said to have a physical form, it would be an organism composed entirely of law (primary legislation, secondary legislation and tertiary legislation). It’s three primary functions are regulation brokerage, policy implementation designer and management agent.
Nothing here is worth getting stewed up about per se.
The impact of European law on ordinary people
European law stretches into the lives of ordinary people in many different ways, the primary instruments of which are set out on Europa.eu. In everyday life, the impact of European law on ordinary people is indirect, and much of ‘European’ law is actually a ‘local’ (European) enactment of international regulation.
All of this law is drafted as “administrative” or “non-contentious” law, meaning that it is devoid of ready-to-understand, headline principles. It enables lobbying. The lobbyists’ objectives are to ensure that if, regulation is required, then at least the regulation serves the lobbyists. The most common way this happens - whether European, national or international regulation - is to ensure that regulation creates barriers to entry to competitors.
So European law and international law impacts ordinary people both directly and indirectly, as both primary effects (“thou shalt not do…”) and as secondary effects (“Ah, but you can’t find an alternative, because regulation has banned competitors to vendor X”).
This is worth getting stewed-up about per se. Who is actually in control of vetting the law that inhibits our freedoms as citizens, as consumers, as investors, as taxpayers?
What has the European Union done for us?
A lot. Really, a lot. Especially prior to the Eurozone. And most of it is good stuff.
The European Union has demanded of all entrants qualification of basic minima of human rights and democracy.
Of the current 28 member nations, 16 - sixteen! - were anti-democratic states at some point in time since 1945. Those 16 states all imposed evil tyranny on their demos. State sponsored murder was part of the deal. Children were ‘encouraged’ to snitch on their parents to prevent talk of subterfuge. Parents mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. The command of each of these states was supreme, necessitating the extermination of citizens who chose to put a toe out of line. Whether Honecker’s Stasi, or Ceaușescu’s secret police, Hitler’s National Socialist Party (“Nazis”), Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and the Greek Junta, Europe’s history prior to 1945 pretty much had a full set of hateful megalomaniacs. By 1992, they appeared to be no more. Of course, this is simplistic: since 1992, Russia elected a former KBG man (Putin) who has allowed the annexation of Crimea.
For trade, the European Union has harmonised many differences that simply made no rational sense in a globalising world. A sustainable basis of trade within Europe is within reach, and it might form the basis of an extra-European market one day, in spite of various national governments seeking to sabotage or inhibit trade (to protect their own sinister, tin-pot vested interests).
The European Union has facilitated globalisation, which on balance has been a good thing. Globalisation demands harmonisation, yet enables a far greater spread of good ideas, best practices, innovation and therefore (ironically) diversity. This process requires individual freedom, essentially English liberty or Hayekian libertarianism. It places a huge vested interest on every European citizen to embrace trade, peer-to-peer exchange, without the oppressive need to seek a state’s permission on every occasion, and thus combat the social diseases of socialism and corruption at root cause.
For trade, for governance (both public and corporate) and for regulation, the European Union has introduced a whole raft of measures that bring (or are supposed to bring) transparency. For consumers, European Union law better enables consumers to re-act against being mis-sold something, especially for items sold cross-border.
The European Union has successfully introduced freedom of movement of individuals throughout its member nations, dismantling borders. It’s impossible to overstate this achievement, which was unthinkable in 1970s. Not so long ago, a border was typically brought down by an army, and re-erected in a different place with patrol boxes all over it. Over time, tanks were no longer required: ordinary citizens ruthlessly invaded European countries for wines, sunshine, work, culture and the occasional blazing row in Parisian cafés (oh wait, that was the farmers on strike again)(sorry). The resumption of border controls in 2016 is disappointing; whilst the resumption demonstrates that reality tends to break ideological choices, the resumption cannot detract from the achieving the ideology in the first place. Note that the most of the British would typically take borderless travel within a union for granted, as has been the case for England, Scotland and Wales for all living memory.
For all Europeans, the European Union has placed a pro-market agenda with an absolute focus on the consumer. This is the nearest to “economic human rights” as it is possible to get. This is what the European Union has done for the ordinary citizen.
But it is important not to get too carried away. A lot of Europe’s harmonisation is not because of the European Union, but because of international non-governmental organisations, which other countries have chosen to follow, e.g. food standards, accounting standards, auditing standards, and so on.
Great! So what went wrong?
As at 2016, the small sample of matters I set out on 25Feb2016 are still way more important than the existence of the European Union, or any one national membership of it. The European Union has done nothing about those sample matters. If anything, the Eurozone has exacerbated the perverted nature of the global financial system and its crazy 0% interest rates.
But why did the European Union let this happen?
I think the answer is ideological federalism.
Strange it as sounds, all of the megalomaniacs listed above had one thing in common. To the extent that they had a vision, it was a single European Union (or a Soviet Union), obeying a single set of law.
Now, this sounds awfully sinister, yet it really needn’t be. A federal state formed by expressly agreed democratic mandate would have been a wonderful thing. But the demos aren’t interested in federalism. The technocrats know that. So instead of advertising and campaigning for federalism, since the 1930s, the technocrats opted for “salami slicing” Europe into something vaguely federalist by stealth, so discreetly that, one day in the future, no European citizen would realise that federalism had just happened. This was the grand idea of Jean Monnet, a civil servant in the 4th republic of France, and his blueprint is still the case today. The split between the demos and the elite was thus made very permanent.
Even recent opinion polls throughout the European Union point towards disaffection with the European Union, in spite of the gains to the demos between 1958 and 1999. Committed European politicians even admit that they perceive no rallying around an identity of “Europe”. There is no evidence that any European demos want federalism. For this reason, none of the ruling elites of the EU or each national government seeks explicit approval of its demos to engage in federalism, because they know that the idea is substantially unsold: the demos won’t buy into it. Even the British referendum of 23 June 2016 offers a “stay” option that is conditional to the British opting-out of European federalism forever.
The demos have good reason for being cynical about federalism. Mainland European neighbours have invaded and tyrannised each other many times over the past 2000 years. In the west, 77 years of “peace” after two world wars in one century is too short to be a reliable foundation for permanent peace, especially if there is any perception that the federation is just a vehicle for governments and demos to free-ride off each other.
In any event, only western Europe benefitted from 77 year of “peace” because the Americans had boots on the ground to enforce it, keeping the Soviet Union behind its Iron Curtain. Let’s assume for now that the Cold War sort-of counts as “peace”.
In the east, 27 years of freedom from federal, feudalistic communism (the Soviet Union) - where the bitter memory of disappearances, brutality, oppression and shortages of basic goods & services still survive (the west was “decadent”, remember that?) - does not inspire enthusiasm to re-join any political federation. As at 2016, the eastern bloc faces a Hobson’s choice of the perceived security of the European Union to protect them against being the next Ukraine, or defending against the random Russia themselves.
Beyond federalism, the European Union has given the peoples of Europe lots of reasons to think that, actually, a single European government would be just as moronic as their own national governments.
The EU’s contribution to foreign policy over the years has been so negligently complacent that, as at 2016, it appears to have jeopardised European security rather than to have enhanced it. Confusion abounds between the conflicting objectives of security policy, immigration policy and humanitarian policy. I think European citizens see the policy confusion plainly, and grow angry when incidents happen that are obviously foreseeable, but against which their states choose to do nothing. Three examples spring to mind:
- the cases of New Year 2016 sexual harassment by the hand - literally - of young, male, non-European refugees recently then arrived in Germany and Sweden)
- the cases of refugees arriving into a European country, instantly getting benefits that bailouts for which taxpaying people are still in the queue, then read about how ungrateful the refugees appear to be.
- the northern French citizen is likely all too aware of “the Jungle” at Calais.
Then the same European citizens hear from the European Union that the freedom of movement is untouchable - sacrosanct! - and wonder how on earth individual people can be vetted on entry into their country. The disconnect between the ideology at the top and the really shitty consequences at the bottom falls into plain view for all to see, and it ain’t pretty.
At a technical level, European Union regulations leave a lot to be desired. The European Union vets some international regulation carefully, to ensure that vested interests are protected, necessarily at the expense of truth, honesty and longer-term benefit to the demos. My preferred example is from my home turf of accountancy: international accounting standards, in particular IAS39 (in the source, where France says “volatility into balance sheets”, it means “We’d need to write off own holdings of debt to nearly-zero and show that we’re bust”). Although the European citizen cannot see the lobbying - it takes place in smoke-filled rooms, in spite of a smoking ban indoors, behind closed doors - he/she can see the crooked outcome of corruption.
The Single Market was a glorious promise of trade when it was introduced, but it was a British idea, so there was no real enthusiasm for it. Free trade undermines the tin-pot vested interests that European nations still seek to protect. Accordingly, the bureaucratic war of attrition between constantly fighting against Single Market rules and others fighting to widen them to ensure governments cannot sod about with trade continues. The European Commission has been slow, lax and complacent about enforcing any part of the Single Market. The Single Market just isn’t useful any more. In short, we need freer trade to have a chance to fund tomorrow’s obligations (because our governments chose to nationalise toxic debts instead of stepping out of the way and letting insolvency courts deal with it). So to enable freer trade, leaving the Single Market looks strategically worthwhile, even though to do so is a very significant risk.
The Eurozone, introduced as a great ideology, always had the ulterior motive to railroad its participants into realising that fiscal unity and complete federalism is the only answer to Europe’s problems. The problem is that the Eurozone does not discriminate between differential economies like variable exchange rates can do. So the system works only when there are transfer payments from rich to poor. But these transfer payments look set to permanent in nature, because European-style employment law is so prohibitively unworkable, that no southern European country can reform its labour market meaningfully enough to make the Eurozone work for it. And, apparently, all Europeans are supposed to be “market socialists” or “social democrats”, meaning that endless subsidy to the undeserving poor is morally acceptable.
Oh, and one more thing. You’d have thought that a European Union embarking on such a grand federalist project would have a clear, open and transparent strategy. But no! The European Union is set to publish its strategy in June 2016. Hmmm… I’ve not seen it yet. So that’ll be too late for this referendum, but, in any event, I can’t see how it would be able to overturn 60 years of mismanagement and political botch. In the meantime, we can read only the “objectives” of the European Union. And some of those objectives look positively harmful to future Europeans, particularly the unemployment-creating “social protection” rackets implied within.