Am I a pro-European? A pro-EU person? A Eurosceptic? An EU-sceptic? A Europhile? An EU-phile? A Europe-phile? A Europhobe? An EU-phobe?
I don’t know. Does anyone really know? Does anyone actually think about these terms?
In UK discourse about the EU it’s all too simple to throw in the terms ‘pro-European’ and ‘Eurosceptic’ without thinking twice about it. Take this blog post from The Fabians’ Next Left blog, and a follow up. They even throw it into event invites (para 12). The Fabians are supposed to be a think tank, but lazy vocabulary afflicts them too, with pro-European and Eurosceptic used with gay abandon.
So here’s my critique, and a sort-of way forward.
Pro-European – in as far as I can determine what it means when applied to UK politics – is a stodgy defence of the status quo, and seems to actually equate to pro-EU in the way it’s most often used. Britain is in the EU and that is a good thing. The European Union broadly does good things. It ought to do more good things in the future, whatever good things are. Cooperating with other folks to solve common problems is a good thing. In some way all of this equates to ‘more Europe’ or at least ‘at least as much Europe as we have just now’.
The problem with all of this is that it has no real answer to what should happen in the future, either in terms of policies or structures. Take the CAP – is it heretical to call for its abolition as a pro-European? Further, what answer to – for example – accountability of the European Commission can be provided by being a pro-European?
Eurosceptic is no easier as a term to define (Cécile Leconte has written a whole book on it), and also suffers from the confusion of EU-Europe. Most often the term essentially equates to EU-sceptic, a critique of what the European Union does. That it’s wasteful, unaccountable, not adequately democratic. Also implicit is some wish for the repatriation of powers, away from ‘Brussels’. This equates in some way to ‘less Europe’.
My main issue with this term is that it too offers no sensible or credible vision of how the future could look. We’re not happy with what we’ve got, but those sods in Brussels mean we’ve got to live with it because there is no alternative on the table. A healthy dose of something somewhere between stiff upper lip British administrative arrogance and something bordering on xenophobia is often thrown in.
So what needs to happen?
First of all the terms ‘pro-European’ and ‘Eurosceptic’ should be abandoned. I’ve done my best to do just that on this blog since this post in 2009.
Secondly, we need some new frames to use to look at the European Union. This would not focus on the more-or-less, in-or-out simplicity of the discourse we use at the moment, but would have a policy focus. A social EU, a liberal EU, a conservative EU, a libertarian EU. What would these things mean in practical, policy terms? So, as a urban lefty, I would like to see the EU do more to help poor regions, more for the digital economy, make moving qualifications and business easier, but want less money on agriculture. That’s a valid policy vision for the EU, but no current discourse about the EU in the UK comes close to covering it.
Thirdly, we need to be honest when it comes to the EU institutions, and we need a discourse for that too. When it comes to the EU I am – shock horror – a federalist. Before most readers scream and run for the hills, this does not mean the EU must become an all-conquering superstate (another term I loathe). It means that at whatever level decisions are taken – regional, national or EU – these must be taken democratically and accountably, and if that’s respected then I am OK for states to not hold vetoes. The alternative – intergovernmentalism – is at least intellectually coherent, but would imply unanimous decisions among 27 Member States for everything, and that’s a recipe for lowest common denominator, poor decision making. That would also make the EU comparable to international organisations such as the WTO, NATO, UN, Council of Europe – and henceforth there would be no expectation or even hope for democracy and accountability.
So then, what am I? I’m a social democrat, and a federalist. I’m also a Europe-phile, in the sense that I can always gain tremendous inspiration from other European countries. That’s no so complex, is it?
(Note: additional terms added in the first paragraph thanks to the comment left by French Derek)
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Brexit From Four Views: By Fergus Brown, Alex Bath, Andrew Knife, and the Mute Swan King.
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Maybe you would like to review the funny story.
I stand corrected as I did not understand completely your contribution as a comedy fiction. We know the art of comedy in Ancient Greek theatre and here more contributions are needed of the same kind.
As to the point you are making I do not know if you notice how you switch levels. First, you criticize the member states for standing on the sidelines, and then in the next step you refer to the people of Europe by asking them to join a ‘yes’ vote. I think the level of state with all the treaties in the works is a very different matter compared to what would be a simple model of all being citizens of Europe and everyone having ‘one vote, one voice’.
Already this difference between institutional and citizen level was a flaw when the European Convention wished to combine the Charter of Human Rights with the Maastricht Treaty in order to create the Constitutional Treaty. Explicitly it was said all citizens are equal vis a vis the European institutions but it did not say that the content or what goes on within these institutions is determined not by the citizens but by the member states. That difference finds itself again in having besides the European Commission and the European Parliament the Council of Member States, so that you have double committees on everything and quite a complex undertaking to get through some directive which then affects the life of citizens.
Alone that many reduced the Constitutional Treaty to just a constitution which was then rejected by referendum in France and Holland with the UK never taking up that vote as it had become useless means we are dealing constantly with some systematic failures in communication and understanding.
Let me make this point about the vast difference between citizen and state level by citing the example of Israel. When the decision was pending whether or not to take up diplomatic relationships with the West German state newly created after 1945, most of the people in Israel were against for natural reasons due to the Holocaust. A Jewish writer serving as well in the Israeli airforce argued while people will never forget what happened 1933-45, it is important that states open up channel of communication. In other words, he was in favor of taking up diplomatic relationships. That then is a contradiction between what is evoked all the time in many argumentations and what is practically speaking a necessity over and beyond individual fates.
It would facilitate a lot our discussion if we keep this in mind: authentic politics in reference to citizens is something else when compared with the practicalities of how member states relate to each other. What disturbs us many a times are the false compromises made so that you have also the question should Barack Obama enter a dialogue with Hamas which had been elected in the Gaza strip even though the Hamas movement is classified as being a terrorist organisation? This question does not disappear even if others prefer dialogue to war.
Somehow we keep loosing out of sight the practicalities of politics or as a friend of mine would put it how to make a wise decision when there is no legal basis for any decision and thus all shall be wrong?
Naturally your comedy fiction transcends this question and goes further as always a culturally based argument contains more wisdom than what we can articulate as rational thought.
So thanks for your good clarification
Thank you for your considered reply and all the good points you make.
The point of my comedy fiction is that the European Union will not work as well as it should until all member states get off the sidelines and wholeheartedly support it.
The way to achieve this is to ask the people of Europe if we want a United States of Europe. If we vote yes, then we can put the tiresome nationalistic carping behind us and pull together. If we vote no, then we should drop the whole idea.
The people of Europe are entitled to vote on their own future. Without such democracy I fear parts of Europe may one day be driven to the barricades.
Barry,I find it an abuse of such an open forum to be used for purpose of discussion if used to advertise something. Also your case underlines the most important premise of democracy, namely that British politicians can be elected to the European Parliament and still campaign against the European Union. That is freedom of expression even if they use EU funds to pay for their campaign. I have seen at personal level those British EU skeptics who would at any given opportunity argue against Europe but when their parents come for a visit to Brussels, they would proudly show them around in the European Parliament. Thus your key argument ‘we are better off without the European Union’ is to say the least thought through statement I have read in a long time. Sorry if that sounds insulting but is not meant to be. Rather I would want you to answer the question how can you avoid the kind of corruption you assume to be so general that nothing short of getting rid of the entire apparatus will do and then how will you guarantee a civil life in Europe based on open debates and acceptance of different viewpoints on how it is best to govern Europe? To remind, there are 27 member states involved in this process of governance and certainly everyone tries to get us much as possible out of Europe without necessarily putting into this institutional framework enough to make democracy work to the satisfaction of everyone. I doubt if such a goal can be reached but at the very least I would hope we could work through the contradiction,namely reduce corruption but not by doing away completely with something that does work. If Britain would play a more active role in strengthening European democracy, that would already be a gain. It is better than staying on the sideline and just cast a total negative doubt about anything having to do with Europe. But maybe you are not convinced enough that you could play a sufficient role in this complex deliberation process and thus there is a danger to use the European Union as scape goat for problems which lie much closer to home. For I doubt if you have nearly the same influence upon the British political decision making process compared to what is the openness in alone public consultation processes at European level. So we cannot afford arguments reduced to advertisement like presentations of viewpoints. There is a need to think things through before making such a wild recommendation. Still, I wish your campaign will go through a learning process in order to realize that your argument is in reality truly anti democratic. And that itself says a lot about the sad state of affairs exactly when people in Egypt or Tunesia not only take to the streets but show what is a ‘measured response’ to just grievances and problems of corruption, power abuse and the strong forcing the wrong compromises upon the weak. You need to be in tune with the times and show that even your strong mistrust in European institutions can become the basis of a constructive dialogue ready to seek a new form of governance.
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However, I do take serious your wish to talk about another Europe, not one necessarily linked to the EU as political project, but as people living together on this continent.
Actually, to be more specific, by “normal people” I was thinking of citizens of the EU and their experiences as EU citizens, particularly those of us who have, as it were, first hand “experience” the EU, and by that I mean lived and worked in member states other than our own, been married to citizens of member states other than our own, been consumers in member states other than our own etc etc. Two decades have passed since the introduction of the burgundy passports, millions of EU citizens have visited, lived or worked in other member states, and yet still today nearly all discussion in the media on Europe is limited to constitutional politics with little or no attention paid to life in the EU as experienced by its citizens.
I would, therefore, simply ask don’t just declare you are tired, but start a new debate and set the terms as you would envision a fruitful debate.
With respect I think you have missed the context of my stated ennui, which is the “debate” here in the UK.
Simon, “being tired” is a worn out expression. Certainly the European Union is in a crisis, financially and therefore politically speaking, and even if there is no immediate solution in sight, it is worthwhile to try to talk about it since it concerns us all.
However, I do take serious your wish to talk about another Europe, not one necessarily linked to the EU as political project, but as people living together on this continent. Here I can draw your attention to an initiative undertaken by the Flash Back group of artists, writers, thinkers in Denmark who want to exactly this, namely to link Europe with people becoming creative in their own way but still able to refer to their own free conscience. Such a spirit might become the basis of a new democratic Europe. If you wish to read the manifest, then go to following website where you shall find it: http://poieinkaiprattein.org/europe/european-cultural-capital-cities/sonderborg-2017/flash-back-manifesto/
But to come back to the first point, surely Greece and other EU member states, including the UK are going through a peculiar crisis. While some are experiencing salary cut backs, others receive bonuses. There is at stake the future of the pension funds and the education system not able to guarantee access to everyone. The high tuition fees in the UK just one example. All this adds up to sleepless nights for those who do not know any longer how to make ends meet. Young people without job perspectives suffer not only directly consequences of an ill thought through system but they also know that they cannot afford creating a family of their own and that means already a society without clear future perspective.
In other words, you should be careful about your demand because it can lead very quickly to ignoring the reality in which other people live. Again, it was worthwhile for the European Commission to declare 2010 as the year to combat poverty and social exclusion. Whatever can be said about political debates around policy options, such a policy orientation does make sense and I would add poverty can be understood in a manifolded way. It can mean also poverty of experience and therefore people remain unable to participate in debates as they seem not to know how to relate their own experiences with how and in what terms issues are addressed. I would, therefore, simply ask don’t just declare you are tired, but start a new debate and set the terms as you would envision a fruitful debate. Otherwise you are just fueling impatience and that would be the end of all dialogue.
I’m kind of tired of how anything related to the subject of the European Union always gets shifted to the question of whether the UK should be in or out, with the focus always being on some perceived negative aspect of EU institutions or policies. Sure, there are things that need to be criticized, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to have my right to free movement taken away by a bunch of Europhobes who appear to have crawled their way out of a PG Wodehouse novel. And why does any conversation about Europe always have to be about politics? Why can’t it be about normal people?
correction: to which school to send their children…
Jon, I agree that the EU debate in the UK is in bad shape and that is one good reason for supporting your efforts.
About EU institutions bundling together, here I am not so sure but naturally outside impression along with internal handling of dissent is often mixed up with seeking constructive i.e. diplomatic solutions rather than having real debates which can show to the general public were the real differences are.
Two remarks to this point of institutionalisation of politics: law making requires certain procedures i.e. three readings and many do not follow this process as it takes time and even quite an attentivity to know wherein lies the difference. For example, when politicians debated the Child Sex Tourism Report, they debated whether or not it would be feasible to lower the age from 18 to 14 as to when you would consider the person no longer a child or adolescent but an adult. The argument for lowering the age was based on the new assumption in the digital age kids enter much faster than adults the new world of technology and communication. Organisations like amnesty international and save the child NGOs argued outside the committee room for not lowering the age. The difference would mean what would be considered a crime i.e. having sex with a minor and what would be consensual sex. In reality this difference in the law would make a huge difference and impact upon the lives of children growing up in a world in which they are easily exploited and abused. To take a stand and argue for a certain Right of the Child to be a child is not easy given encroachment of advertisement and sport clubs training already their future stars at the age of 12. I am saying behind every issue there lurk so many pitfalls or problems worth wondering about if the new proposal really solves them or makes it worse. But obviously the point is that politics never gets boring.
The second point about political institutions is what can be reflected upon them from the outside and still retain a feeling of participating in the process. There are rare moments in politics but they do happen when people demonstrate in support of certain measures or else are against them. The entry into war in Iraq was preceded by one of the largest demonstrations but once the decision was taken, the protest died down. Here it is a matter of how sustainable is the criticism and what false compromises are made once at war? The Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis said you need an imagination to reflect what is happening inside and parties should formulate such programmes so that people can see in them that their needs are really recognized.
The UK debate shows many fault lines, some home made, some others a typical sign of our times. There is still a royalty existing in the UK which lends a fake unity to an extremely heterogeneous society and in the background in support of that lurks always an elitist type of philosophy which derives from Hume the notion habits are the sovereign of people. That is very clever put. If people govern themselves out of habit, the government saves money as it does not need to deploy so much police to ensure the laws are being observed. As a matter of fact you have this distinct British snobbiness about how people and their habits are perceived. Quite cynically said, as long as people are happy in knowing to which school to send their school and have their paycheck, they could not be bothered about what is being debated at Westminister. This sovereignty based on habits allows for the distinction of them the people and us the elite. The latter deals with the concerns of politics over and beyond daily matters.
Of interest is that someone like Joschka Fischer declared the European Parliament as being the representation of the elite in every EU member state. His statement reflects in the background the influence of the philosopher Habermas who does not do away with the term ‘elite’ even though quite often outdated politicians are delegated to the European level in order to get rid of them without letting their egos suffer.
Naturally to have good debates there must be people around who can inspire.
I think there are two problems concerning “communications” and the EU.
First, so much of what the EU actually does on a daily basis is – well – boring administrative stuff. And how do you make boring interesting?
Second, whilst the media can usually find something interesting to report concerning national politics (even when the reality is it’s boring), they either don’t have the staff to cover the EU, or they don’t find it interesting themselves. (NB I impute no europhobia in saying that ….)
To some extent I understand the media position: on the basis that readers/listeners/viewers are more interested in matters that might directly affect them. However, to be in a position to decide what might or might not affect their audience the media need to be aware of all that is going on in and around the EU. Not even news agencies seem to do that.
Maybe we are lucky. Our regional newspaper (Sud Ouest) regularly has snippets about EU happenings; occasional commentaries. My dips into Libération and le Figaro produce similar results;. But these people have high-level, long-serving reporters in Brussels, who are thoroughly immersed in EU life.
@Hatto – thanks for the comments. I agree the Commission has been taking a policy-orientated approach for some time, and that’s fine. But the EU institutions tend to just band together and lambast any critique as ‘euroscepticism’, rather than dealing with it point by point. Also note that the main gist of my blog entry is as a result of the ‘debate’ in the UK about EU matters – the UK, perhaps more than any other EU Member State, has never achieved a stable and sensible debate about EU politics.
@Karen / @Hatto – I don’t think having more offices around Europe will help much. Good communications happens when politicians in a political system have an incentive to communicate, and for that you need democracy and accountability. There’s plenty of information about the EU, not much in the way of incentive based communication.
@Derek – Thanks for the additional term, I’ll add it to the post! The second paragraph of your comment is very similar to my experience.
Jon: in seeking “new” definitions, why have you omitted “europhobic”? I have met people who, at the mere mention of the EU start to colour up and to splutter into their beer, etc (if you know what I mean). Such people sometimes belong to political parties such as UKIP or BNP in the UK (FN and other fringe parties here in France).
I describe myself as eurosceptic: ie I believe in the EU project but am not happy about many of the ways in which it is being pursued. I have found it very annoying to be lumped into the same camp as europhobes (though I am more often described, wrongly, as europhile – liking all things EU in my book).
Maybe the simpler term “European” has still to arrive, even though it allows for differences on monetary and social economics, institutional government, etc.
Karen, I did not mean so much increase in the number of EU institutions but in the dissimination practice of information. A friend working in Belfast but reporting about EU affairs would say people usually do not trust the information they get. They are too far removed from Brussels and Strasbourg. So it is a matter as well of local NGOs within civic society to build up that trust in communication.
By the way, Habermas uses a key term to indicate what is wrong with communication under the tutelage of a media controlled by Murdoch, namely ‘pathology of communication’. There is something wrong in how we allow serious political matters be put into the context of anti political value systems as if this is the kind of development we need. After all public truth and public space needed for debate go together and more so the ability to question any truth for opinion is opinion. Somehow communities are defined more or less by cultural values turned into some kind of absolute and even then this is converted into religious fanaticism. These communities are no longer to any kind of openness, take for example the gang phenomenon in cities like Liverpool where interestingly enough the youngsters imitate the adults and in their habits do get drunk every weekend. That is what prevents people from learning to emancipate themselves. They are not using free time to educate themselves but rather blurr their minds to use an oversimplified expression.
But in answering you with this point of difference between dissimination practices when it comes to pass on information about EU decisions and just putting up more EU institutions, I am reminded at what Ancient Greece did. Amazing is the spread throughout the Ancient world of the ancient theatre. They had everywhere a place to stage plays and most of them tragic ones to indicate what will happen if the folly of man grips the community and no more any measure taken as to the tasks ahead.
At least the EU level of debate attempts despite all neutrality in the EU language and jargons in use such as intercultural dialogue to stay on a rational course. To this belong clear objectives which differ from intentions and aims which can be measured.
I think one measure would be if we are really just in all our political debates as to the object of inquiry, namely how to govern ourselves in a Europe marked by certain institutions, treaties and sets of values and thus also by differences. The EU does embrace cultural diversity but we have yet to learn how to develop in view of such diversities a way forward which does not play into the hands of those who abuse an open society for the sole sake of their private gains. If Europe is to be more than a mere political project, it would be important to take securalization further and emancipate culture not only from religion but also from national brandings of culture.
When the bombs went off in London in 2005 immediately the BBC started to praise Britishness as defiance to underline no one will be imitated by these bombs. This came just two weeks after London had been awarded the Olympics on the basis of its multi culturalism and recognition how many different cultures live and strive in that city. But it took just one incidence, a terrible one as that, to wipe away any reference to diversity and instead a single national brand was propagated even though a majority of people living in London are not British and thus must have some other characteristics or cultural history as background to make them behave as they did, namely cool headed.
So national branding is a way to distort information and then we are no longer able to validate the information we receive across Europe to make it into a knowledge of governance or rather by which rules we wish to live by.
Warmest regards hatto
@Hatto I’m not sure if increasing the number of eu institution representative offices in the member states would help nuance the national debates on the future of the eu, leadership in the eu and European policy on a number of areas important to people’s lives in a way that is communicable. Increase of offices might have a negative effect.
On a more general note, then one of the problems of the national debates about eu issues is that the debate tends to become polarized in pro and anti. As it is too complicated for politicians and media to nuance the debate or expand on the background for their position.
The national politicians that have an interest in being vocal and visible about the eu are the ones who are extreme either pro but mostly anti. The rest prefer not to take up the battle with the anti-eu politicians…
Unless they are in the European parliament and sort of have to.
The only problem is that if you’re “stuck” in Bruxelles/Strasbourg then it is very difficult to be seen in the national media unless you work really hard and prove/show that you can make a difference on issues that people feel are important.
Well said Jon, although I curse your timing, as I am posting something similar later in the week! But it is true. I have pals who campaigned for Nice and Lisbon who are just sickened by the EU at the moment, and yet if they say boo are called eurosceptics. Some defenders of the EU sound disturbingly familiar to US defenders of the Patriot Act.
What you demand, namely policy orientated debate, happens all the time and exactly along those lines you suggest: mobility, digitalisation, etc. The European Commission has its approach to public debate in three main areas: 1) studies 2) public consultation and 3) dissiminationof information. The problem is in terms of citizens being informed cultural contact points are but one in every country just as the European Parliament has only one office and this in the capital of each country. Hence the communication structures do not work with your twitter page something in between. Nevertheless it is valuable what you try to do, namely how to correct a wrong debate. It played havoc when it came to the ratification of the EU Constitutional Treaty. The media and soon everybody treated it as if a constitution and ignored the need for member states to have a treaty between themselves in order to let EU institutions function as they do. Also the debate at that time in 2005 prior to the vote in France and Holland anticipated already what the UK would do and that was not a honest position the then Blair government took. For the EU Constitutional Treaty had been brought about by the European Convention, that is a methodology by which all problems were put on the table. And knowing the problems is afterall according to old Greek political philosophy a measure of things. Now here it would help if people of all walks of life and bureaucrats along with businesses would appreciate that it was not an easy task to draft such a EU Constitutional Treaty. Appreciation goes with knowing if I or you were to organise things alone we would not get very far. Now here my objection to your principled Federalist position insofar as a concept like a constitution needs the consensus of all. As Kant said if the others don’t understand what I am trying to say or to propose, then with certainty I have not understood myself what I am proposing. Hence the objection of the other can be taken as a vote for the need to make amendments and corrections. And this is what the EU Europe is all about: an ongoing learning process. Now come the artists into the picture like the ones in Denmark who propose what is needed in Europe is a way to think forward independent of Europe as a political project. So far you were referring only to the EU Europe to make that important distinction. Hence it would add also something to the debate to start talking about Europe as a way of living together with others free from xenophobic forces and from the tutelage of inaccessible institutions for most of the people. Here the artists and writers in Denmark around Jan Jensen and Hans Krull propose a Flash Back manifest to remember when did you in your personal life manage to link a free conscience with a true sense of becoming creative in how you deal with challenges of life, may that be how you take your child with a good story to bed or just put it into bed and shut the door in order not to hear it cry? Creative answers based on a free conscience is practically the foundation of democracy and this Europe has badly a need of. I think your contributions help to make that distinction between the political Europe and the Europe everyone can dream of when writing a comment like this one to you.