Britain and the EU; a dysfunctional relationship.

It has been suggested that the British are considering leaving the EU because of their revulsion at the excessive bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency therein.
This misses the point completely.

The British are in favour of leaving the EU in the same way that they are in favour of bringing back hanging. They will do neither. The peculiarities of British electoral maths mean that the issue will get a hearing and possibly even a vote. But there will be no ‘Brexit’. I will happily wager the price of dinner in any of Dublin’s establishments on that.

One consequence of the Global Financial Collapse has been a search for scapegoats and a rise in extreme-ism, disproportionately seen on the right, as people retreat into nationalism and the traditional blaming of foreigners for their self-inflicted follies.

The ‘hangers and floggers’ of the British right have been venting their spleen and, given the general air of frustration and unhappiness that besets all OECD polities and economies, have found a larger audience than usual.

Given the existence of a coalition government in the UK, the Conservative party leader is extremely sensitive to encroachments on his unsteady perch at No10. These encroachments have come from his right in the form of UKIP, the ‘acceptable face’ of Britain’s reactionary right. So, in order to resist this hemorrhaging of support, Mr. Cameron has to allow the issue an airing. It is a measure of his political insecurity, more than his incompetence, that the issue has galloped away from his control somewhat.

It should be noted that this is an ‘English’ prejudice. The Welsh do not entertain this nostrum and the Scottish independence movement is strengthened by its commitment to the ‘European ideal’ and its admittedly prosaic manifestations.

But, above all, the British are a practical people. Their economy is massively dependent on the tax take from the City of London. A third of their manufacturing exports go to the EU. And, most importantly, their ‘significant other’ in what they like to think of as a ‘special relationship’, the USA insists that they stay in the EU.

The costs and losses of any fundamental change would be enormous and mainstream British opinion knows this; in its brain if not in its heart.

Granted there is a deep and abiding inconsistency in the attitude of the British to ‘Europe’. Three times in 220 years, the British have expended vast amounts of blood and treasure to rescue Europeans from their own folly. This means that culturally, at a visceral level, the British perceive ‘Europe’ as a source of trouble and strife. Consequently, they have never been fans of the EU.

The tragedy of this prejudice is that much bloodshed and loss might have been avoided or mitigated, by using a ‘stitch in time’ approach, if earlier and much cheaper interventions had been attempted by an engaged Britain. Certainly, Britain’s short-sighted imposition of massive war reparations after WW1 set the long-term stage for the rise of ‘National Socialism’ in Germany.

The deficiencies of the current form of the EU owe much to the British preference for dialogue and interaction with their former, and conveniently still Anglo-phone, colony than with their closer, polyglot, troublesome neighbours. A serious engagement in the shaping of the EU in manner more suited to British norms would have been to the benefit of all of the EU.

Not least to the British themselves who operate the second most opaque and centralised government in the EU, with first place taken by ourselves who use the un-modernised Victorian version of their apparatus. I prefer to see the ‘sausage being made’, however ugly and unattractive the process to closed-door or back-room deals so beloved of our own crony-politicians.

Yet for all of their complaining, the British are the most rigorous implementers of EU directives. The inconsistency of whining about these directives after the fact rather than negotiating to change them beforehand is hard to grasp from so practical a people.

I, too, would prefer to see an EU that more emphasis on inputs and less on outcomes, put more emphasis on function and less on structures and process and was more interested in balancing last years books that budgeting for next years increments. The recent evolution of the EU has been of the ‘one step forward and two back’ type and, for sure, we are living out the maxim of married the Euro is haste and getting to repent it at a long drawn out leisure.

But it is disingenuous to reiterate ‘English’ shibboleths about the costs and deficiencies of EU governance. The bloated apparatchiks that many complain of amount to 22k people who cost us a tiny fraction of EU GDP to administer the three and half ring circus that is the Commission, the two Parliament and the Councils.

Personally, I’m with Churchill in preferring ‘jaw-jaw to war-war’. The costs of freighting our domestic politicians and bureaucrats to Brussels and Strasbourg is far less than the costs of sending armies out to die. The sight and sound of these posturing and self-aggrandizing panjandrums can be tedious, if not actually odious, but it is far less so than what we beheld in the former Yugoslavia during Europe’s most recent failure of engagement and dialogue.

On that note I would warn the Eurosceptics to be very very careful of what is that they wish for.


passerbyJuly 7th, 2013 at 10:17

Three times in 220 years, the British have expended vast amounts of blood and treasure to avoid the emergence of a united Europe. Today’s rumblings over the EU are merely a continuation of that battle with other means.

ArthurJuly 7th, 2013 at 11:58

An interesting PoV but not one that I can agree with.

In the first and last case they were opposing a would-be conqueror of Britain. In the middle case, their own diplomatic incompetence contributed both to building 2 powerblocs that had nowhere to go but into conflict with each other and to constructing a greedy peace that sowed the seeds of the third war.

The issues that the UK ‘thinks’ it has with the EU are largely the faults of bureaucratic ‘dirigisme’ to which British practicality is the best antidote… it is Britain’s sniffy isolationism that has left the EU to it’s own worst devices. The ‘camel’ is outside the tent ‘pissing in’. Continuing to stand to one side criticising, rather than assertively leading and shaping, means that if another organisational catastrophe should happen then Britain once again will find herself having to supply more blood and treasure when a modicum of leadership and diplomacy would have done the trick.

Meanwhile, thanks for engaging…. ;-)

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