Category Archives: European Union

Life on Hannan World (Part 10)

One of these days, Dan Hannan will write a blog with the title “Eurosceptics Make Better Lovers” or perhaps “Eurosceptics do it 5 times a night”.  Sometime back in 20o7, the Lyin’ King claimed that “Euro-sceptics make dazzling linguists”. Oh, how I laughed.

Today’s blog is just a silly and has the eye-catching headline “It’s an odd thing, but Euro-enthusiasts are often awkward around foreigners”. Yeah, I laughed at it too. At the top of the blog is a photo of Reagan and Thatcher and I’m not sure what he’s trying to say with this image. It appears to be unrelated.

Hannan has the finest education that money can buy and he still manages to write drivel like this:

Here’s a thing I’ve noticed. Eurosceptics are often better at socialising with people from other countries than are Euro-enthusiasts. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, obviously, and there are plenty of exceptions. Nor is there any way to measure the phenomenon scientifically. Still, I can’t help remarking on the difference.

Really? How about you show us your field notes? Notice how he offers us the disclaimer “It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, obviously, and there are plenty of exceptions. Nor is there any way to measure the phenomenon scientifically”. If that’s the case, then why bother telling us this? He knows he’s bullshitter and he wants to ‘cover his back’ – so to speak.

In blogs like this, the Lyin’ King wants to reassure himself  and his ilk that he and they are better than those who take an opposing position. Here’s the opener:

Back in the palaeo-federalist EPP, MEPs worked together well enough on committees, but usually dined with their own compatriots (except when the dinner was organised, and paid for, by a lobbyist). Our current bloc, the Euro-realist ECR, is the scene of far more cross-border fraternising. Indeed, ours has become the first Group to have adopted (in practice rather than in theory) a single language. Where Continental Euro-federalists often insist on interpretation, Eurosceptics are almost always happy to speak English. The equivalent is true of Britons: our most determined Euro-zealots tend to have atrocious language skills.

You’ve lost me, Danny. What on earth are you talking about? He continues:

These thoughts are prompted by a couple of days spent in the enjoyable company of the European Young Conservatives at their Freedom Summit. There were around 160 people present from 37 countries, from Portugal to Finland, from Iceland to Turkey. They represented mainstream Right-of-Centre parties, were generally in their early or mid-twenties, and had a refreshing belief in liberty, enterprise and patriotism. In accordance with good free-market principles, all had paid to be there.

Ah, the supposedly “Right-of-Centre parties” that are united in their disgust of all things EU, yet are quite happy to take their salaries from the institution they claim to despise. Hypocrisy? Oh yes.

I couldn’t help feelng that they were having a much better time than their equivalents do at taxpayer-funded events run by Euro-federalists. One of the speakers, a London Assemblyman and former soldier called James Cleverly, light-heartedly told delegates to have more sex, on grounds that “we mustn’t let the Left outbreed us” – and I’m pretty certain that some of the young people took him at his word. (Attendees ran the full spectrum from libertarian to conservative.)

Ha ha! Very funny. “The Left” is outbreeding “us”. Nothing like a nice reductionistic narrative that is reduced even further to the act of sexual congress. Then at the end of the paragraph, Hannan tells us that the “Attendees ran the full spectrum from libertarian to conservative”. “Libertarians”, huh? More like grown-up men who haven’t quite managed to grow up.

I’m going to skip the next paragraph, because this one is just priceless:

To put it another way, Eurosceptics know that patriotism is not chauvinism. They cheer the patriotism, and cherish the liberty, of other countries. Rather than tiptoeing around the things that make people different, they delight in them. All of which makes for easier relations.

“Patriotism is not chauvinism”? Come again? Notice how the Lyin’ Kings links the word “patriotism” to “liberty” as though these things were analogous. They aren’t, of course.

The final paragraph tells us:

By the way, the Freedom Summit is now an annual event, held in Cambridge every September. And there are plenty more EYC conferences, events and training weekends all over the continent. If you’re under 30, Centre-Right and in Europe, do get involved.

Hilarious. These pencil-necked, chinless wonders seriously believe that they have a monopoly on the word “freedom”. Of course, their concept of freedom is your slavery.

Next week, Dan will explain why Euro-sceptics write better poetry. I can’t wait.

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The British Right, the EU and the absence of modernity

John Bull: pigheadedness, anti-intellectual and resistant to modernity

Whenever I returned from a visit to the continent in the 1980s and 1990s, my heart would sink as I approached the port or airport. For I knew that when I set foot on British soil I was likely to be confronted with an antiquated train that was dirty and smelly. These days I need to re-mortgage the home I don’t own to pay the fare. On the continent, the railways are fast, clean, efficient and reasonably priced. Everyone has a seat and no one stands. Those countries embrace modernity. This country mostly rejects it. We have one high speed line. That is all.

In 1970, when my father announced to the family that we were going to move from Germany to England, I wasn’t happy. I wanted to stay in Germany. I’d grown used to the country and learned to speak German. But if you’re a child growing up in a military family, you get used to moving every 3 or 4 years. You lose friends and you quickly make more. That’s the way it is.

When we arrived in England, I was surprised that little had changed since my previous visits in 1963 and 1967. The country was still fusty, curled up around the edges like a stale cheese and pickle sandwich. Many television programmes were a source of horror and I was appalled to see white men blacking up and singing minstrel songs in 1970! I was disgusted when I heard comedians tell jokes about “nig nogs” and “pakis”. Grown up men telling jokes that schoolchildren whispered to their mates on the playground. Grown men!

People were still complaining or making jokes about the Germans. The attitude toward the French was no better. Other European countries also came in for abuse. No one was safe. But there was no justification for this superiority complex. None at all. It seemed that Britain was resting on its laurels; always harking back to the 19th century and the days of Empire. “This country kick-started the industrial revolution”! “We invented the railways”! So? What are you doing now?

Britain’s post-war governments had tried and failed many times to join the EEC. Now European nations must be wondering why they bothered in the first place. But in the 1970s Britain persisted with its application for membership and because the biggest obstacle, De Gaulle was cold in the grave, it was finally successful.

So on Wednesday when Cameron appeared before the cameras to announce that he would give the British people a say over the EU, it reminded me of all the times I’d heard jokes about the Germans and the French. On Twitter, the Europhobes crowed.  They started popping the corks – prematurely, of course. Some started talking fondly about the Empire. “Oh, those were the days”! “We should never have given up Inja”!

Britain is not a modern country. The parties of the right are obsessed with the days of Empire. They refuse to face the future, because it’s much more comforting to look to the past. But it’s not a past that exists in either the bowdlerized history books beloved of Michael Gove and Niall Ferguson or the popular memory. It’s a past that’s formed entirely out of the nothingness of nostalgia; it’s shit and dust. The Tories and their ideological cousins, UKIP, are incapable of doing anything but looking backwards and in doing so, they want to drag us back to some mythological age when there was “free trade” and “civilization” was dispensed from the barrel of a gun.

And with the talk of a referendum, comes the Churchillian rhetoric about “fighting them on the beaches”. Plucky little England against beastly Europe. These people demand Imperial Preference from an Empire that no longer exists and “free trade” that isn’t free. The thing is, in spite of what our Europhobic friends say, Britain still trades with its former colonies. Today when I visited the supermarket, I saw Anchor Butter (from New Zealand), New Zealand lamb, Sri Lankan tea and coffee from Kenya – openly on sale. Who says that Britain doesn’t trade with these countries? UKIP does and so do Europhobic Tories.

It was a Conservative government under Edward Heath that took Britain into the EEC. The Labour Party was mostly opposed because they saw it as an institution dominated by bankers and bosses. By the 1980s, the Labour position had changed because of Thatcher’s anti-union laws. The EU was gradually seen as a bulwark against the excesses of rapacious neoliberalism, though it was pretty much hopeless, because those laws were passed (so much for a “loss” of sovereignty) and trade unions were forced to comply.The Tories complained that Britain would lose its sovereignty. It didn’t.

The Tory-supporting media drives the debate on Europe and it would be wrong to suggest that it doesn’t. It would also be wrong to suggest that many British people are well-informed about Europe. They aren’t. If you tell that to a member of UKIP, they’ll tell you that you’re being “patronizing” but they’re in denial and they’re arrogant. Just have a look at the papers: they all say the same things about Europe and the EU.

The alleged ban on curved bananas was a myth fabricated right here in Britain. You see, Britain can still manufacture things, even if those things are completely wrong or useless. The press continues to make up stories about Europe and the EU. Take this example quoted by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

I pointed out on Monday that the Daily Express had run a bogus splash,EU wants to merge UK and France.

A similar story appeared in the Express’s red-top sister title, the Daily StarClowns plan to turn us French.

I can only shake my head in dismay. How can we have a sensible and rational debate about the EU when our “free” press prints lies like these?

I’ve said in a previous blog that the EU isn’t perfect. But when one unpacks the narrative of the right’s opposition to the EU, one uncovers the sheer hatred of foreigners and immigrants that lies beneath rhetoric about sovereignty. I see plenty of comments on Telegraph blogs that do nothing but bleat about “purity” and how Britain’s culture is being destroyed by immigrants. Like it or not, this country is a nation of immigrants and it is all the better for it. But it still isn’t a modern country.

What really galls me about the UKIP and Tory Europhobe argument is their tendency to insist that there is a consensus of support for their position. But this consensus is entirely imagined. They talk of the “people” but they have nothing but contempt for the people. They demand a referendum on the EU but they won’t give us a referendum on austerity, the cuts to education and the selling off of the NHS to medical companies.  Their obsession over Europe and the EU is pathological, perhaps sociopathic. Even a psychoanalyst would say so.

As for modernity, it’s resisted at every turn. Right-wing politicians and businesses (including Registered Social Landlords) operate like feudal overlords. The poor, the unemployed, the disabled are all dumped on. Those with the least means are saddled with  massive debts and high costs. Modern? Hell, Britain isn’t even civilized. A socialist  acquaintance told me years ago that “Britain was the last colony of the British Empire”. He was right. We’re all living under the heel of rapacious colonizers and little empire builders in a country that refuses to grow up and enter the modern world.

Europhobes cry “Many people weren’t old enough to vote in the Common Market referendum of 1975”. The people who use this line are the same people who weren’t old enough to be Tory MPs during the Thatcher years, but who now insist on forcing through policies that not even that government could get away with.

We need a proper grown up debate on the EU, not more lies, mischief-making and scaremongering by the press.

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Euroscepticism versus Europhobia

The European Parliament: great work if you can get it

The more I see of the Europhobes’ arguments, the more I find their views bizarre and rather antiquated. When I say “Europhobe”, I am referring, of course, to the same people who call themselves “classical liberals” or “Whigs”. These people have moved beyond mere scepticism of the EU. Their antipathy to Europe is often informed by discourses that are rooted in the last World War. These are the people whose arrogance leads them to believe that they know better than the rest of us when it comes to making a judgement on supranational issues. For it is they whose ideas dominate the discourse on the European Union; they run the press and control the media. It is they who talk over others and insist that “all of Europe” is against closer political union.

I recently had an argument on Twitter with a Europhobe, who presumed that I had never read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and pretty much insisted that the Austrian’s word was holy writ. You see, Hayek is a sort of neoliberal mystic in the free-market community and must never be contradicted, for to do so, its heresy.  I told him that because I had read Hayek, it didn’t necessarily follow that I agreed with his ideas or that these ideas were, somehow, unassailable. He then proceeded to tell me that it was “Intellectual arrogance to suggest majority opinion wrong because people are not in possession of facts . Also patently wrong”, when I suggested to him that people did not have all the facts about Europe or the EU to make an informed decision (they don’t and the same is often true of domestic politics). In fact, many people don’t know who their MEPs are. He informed me that there was a Europhobic “grassroots movement” and when I asked him to define “grassroots” he dodged the question and produced a research report, which he claimed supported his position. When I told him that it did no such thing, he became touchy.

So let’s look at this supposed Europhobic grassroots movement. Like so many movements that describe themselves as “grassroots”, we find that on closer inspection, they are no such beast. Let’s take a look at the biggest anti-EU lobby party,UKIP. It is not a grassroots movement because it is dominated by men (for it is men) whose antipathy to Europe and the EU stems from their time in Thatcher’s Tory party. They direct the policies and push the buttons. I would argue that UKIP is really the Continuity Thatcherite wing of the Conservative Party. It is, in every sense of the term, a top-down movement. There is a word that is used to describe phony grassroots movements such as these: astro-turf.

The central Europhobe argument is articulated around the sovereignty issue, which is based largely on the idea of national identity. They tell us that since Britain is in the EU, it no longer governs itself. But this is a lie. The Parliament of this country continues to pass laws and its politicians continue to propose legislation. I often find it amusing that no such fears are expressed with regard  to NATO or any other military alliance for that matter. Rafael Behr writing in The Guardian in 2009 said,

…the underlying assumption that “Brussels” perpetrates indignities against Britain is false. Real power in the EU is exercised by national governments, mandated by popular election. Under EU treaties, including Lisbon, the vast majority of decisions made in “Europe” that have an impact on Britain, are made with British sovereign consent.

Did you see that too? Yes, these decisions are made with sovereign consent.  The Europhobes won’t tell you that. One thing that Europhobes particularly resent is the way the European Parliament passed the Working Time Directive, which offers piecemeal protection that is designed to prevent the exhaustion of the workforce. This was bitterly opposed by the Right. The classical liberals hate this idea and would much rather workers be stripped of what rights they have and forced to work in dirty, dangerous and unsanitary conditions for the sake of profit. This phrase “classical liberal” is instructive since it tells us that those who refer to themselves as such will often cast a misty eye to the 19th century, when every aspect of the worker’s life, including their leisure time, was controlled by the industrial barons and they could get on with the business of buying parliamentary influence.

But it is the insistence on the part of Europhobes that we have another referendum to decide on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU that I find curious. Within these anti-EU narratives I have detected a mixture of nostalgia for a long dead empire coupled with an extreme distaste for anything foreign. Sometimes this is framed in broadly Atlanticist terms – the so-called Anglosphere, for example, and occasionally, the discourse is downright paranoid – EUSSR and EUrabia being the conspiranoid’s favourite cheeky pisstake on the initials “EU”. The central premise of their argument rests on the fact that many people weren’t around or old enough to vote in the 1974 referendum. I wasn’t old enough to vote in 1974 but does that mean I demand a referendum? No and nor was I old enough to vote for the first Labour government. In fact, I wasn’t even born.  Do you see me getting annoyed? This is perhaps the least mature of all the Europhobes’ positions. When challenged on this and the points I just raised, the Europhobes will accuse their interlocutors of “bigotry”. Dan Hannan writing in the Telegraph in 2011 produced this unintentionally amusing blog in which he tells us that it’s,

Much easier to pretend that all Eurosceptics are Basil Fawlty than to listen to what they’re actually saying. I was reminded of a delicious moment during the recent Spectator debate on leaving the EU, when a retired French teacher in the audience evoked all the people who had fallen in past European wars, and asked Freddie Forsyth how he’d feel if his grandchildren were to face death in another such conflict. Freddie didn’t catch the question. ‘She wants to know if you’d like your grandchildren to be killed,’ boomed Rod Liddle, the moderator – a pretty good summary of a particular strain of British Euro-enthusiasm: self-righteous, aggressive and irrelevant.

Those last three words could easily be used to describe your side, dear Danny. And Frederick Forsyth?  What an irascible, small-minded auld cuss. I remember his voice of ‘reason’ on Sunday mornings on BBC Radio 4 when he’d open up his speech with the word “Europe” and then proceed to spend the next 14 minutes or so kicking the continent, sprinkling his spoken ‘essay’ with words like ‘sovereignty’ and ‘freedom’. Nosemonkey’s EUtopia blog does an expert job at unpacking Hannan’s ‘arguments’.  He notes Hannan’s sophistry and dissembling, which I have mentioned several times on this blog.

And me? I consider myself to be European. I was born in Europe and I have spent most of my life here. But I am also an internationalist. I have no interest in nations, national identity or the discourses (many of which are racist and/or anti-Semitic) that stem from those things. They are socially corrosive and are produced to serve two masters: the state and the boss.

The principle of a united Europe should not be one that is organized along the lines of the nation-state, which is fast approaching its use-by date but one that works towards the eventual death of the nation-state, as a concept, across the world. And perhaps this is where the problem lies within the minds of the politicians and bureaucrats who run the EU: they are still locked into past centuries, with their incessant wars between royal egos and their grand imperial projects, that latter of which was offered to the masses as  ‘free trade’. They cling to outmoded ideas about ‘sovereignty’ and national identity, both constructed for the purpose of mobilizing the masses to fight capitalist wars.

As Benedict Anderson reminds us, the nation-state was conceived to fight wars. It replaced the absolute monarchies, which were either violently overthrown or brought to heel by the aristocracy, who often dominated Parliament. Our world was born of warring, squabbling monarchies and has grown into one that consists of warring nation-states that ostensibly practice this notion of free trade. But this trade is neither free nor fair. It is colonization by another name. Free trade has also become, rather invariably, a form of warfare that is explained away by describing it as the ‘opening up’ of markets.

The people of Liberia know how this ‘free trade’ works: the United States flooded the markets with cheap exports of rice, thereby putting domestic producers out of business, the result was a run on the currency and the collapse of the economy. This and the political dominance of the Americo-Liberian minority exercised through True Whig Party under William Tolbert, catalyzed the oppressed into action and civil unrest ensued; this developed into a coup d’etat in which Master Sergeant Samuel Doe overthrew Tolbert. We all know what happened next: 20 years of butchery, civil war and instability. Now the classical liberals would spin you some yarn about survival of the fittest but what the Liberian example shows us is how a country’s fragile economy can be ruthlessly destroyed by a larger nation. Where I come from that’s called “bullying”.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am sceptical of the EU as it is.  The European Commission is an especially odd entity, made up as it is of unelected placemen and near ghostly beings from the dusty corridors of state power that is run by an unelected president. It is a place where party hacks can live out their days in comfort and security. Brittan was there. Kinnock was there. Mandelson was there. Any dummy can do it. But I am not afraid of Europe nor am I afraid of an EU that is genuinely democratic. But the EC is not democratic. That should be the aim: to make it more democratic. I’m not overly keen on the idea of a European military either, it sounds like a duplication of NATO but without the US or Turkey. As it exists, the EU is for bankers and bureaucrats not for the people. The European Parliament is a weak body that exists to rubber stamp the diktats of the EC and veto commissioner’s appointments.

But for those who point to the United States and shout, “It wasn’t conceived in the same way as the European nation-state”, I would say this: you are wrong. The US borrowed every single idea it ever had from Europe because it was born of this continent. Millions of immigrants from this continent landed on America’s shores. The US may not have a monarch at its head but it is the very model of a nation-state. Its earliest wars were wars of conquest and imperial expansion: the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars spring most readily to mind.

Euroscepticism is healthy. Europhobia is often irrational and conceals some very unpleasant neoliberal discourses. Presently, any discussion of Britain’s place in Europe is controlled by the Right and their partners in the media. This needs to stop. Writing last year for LabourList, Owen Jones said,

But the EU has also helped to drive forward a neo-liberal agenda here, across Europe, and abroad. Successive EU treaties have enshrined “free competition”, which in practice promotes the privatisation of public services. For example, the Lisbon Treaty includes the following clause: “A European framework law shall establish measures to achieve the liberalisation of a specific service”. And while it was the Tories who privatised our railways, it was EU directive 9/440 that made it a legal requirement for private companies to be able to run train services.

This sort of thing needs to be challenged and the narratives (The EU is ‘socialist’ is one that is particularly amusing) put forward by the Right also need to be challenged.  Currently, all the running is being made by Europhobes. This needs to stop.

Here’s a coherent left-wing Eurosceptic argument against the EU from 2009’s The Socialist. This quote points out the flaws in the current EU arrangement that I made above,

This economic persistence of the nation state is linked to its political role. As even capitalist governments don’t control their economic destiny – when faced with the ‘hidden hand’ of the market making workers redundant, for example – they have to find other ways to maintain a social and political base within their respective nation states.

Moreover, the treaty negotiations aimed at ‘equality of competition’ throughout the EU have sometimes meant that the interests of one or another section of the capitalist class in a particular country have not been met, provoking some capitalist politicians to speak out against ‘Europe’. Such objections have been ridden out in times of economic growth, but they will not be so readily overcome in an era of recession.

The nation-state is in its death throes, kept alive only by its capitalist friends who continue to deny its flaws and lie to the people about its role in their lives.

The EU as it currently exists must go and be replaced with something genuinely democratic.

Scepticism is healthy. Fear is not.

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