Opinion

John Lloyd

Britain: The annoying European

By John Lloyd
January 24, 2013

Truly, Britain is not just a bad European, but a very annoying one. David Cameron half-admitted as much in his speech in Davos Wednesday, when he quipped, “frustrated as [our European partners] no doubt are by Britain’s attitude.”

The U.K. joined the European Union late, spending more than a decade after the end of the World War II arrogantly believing that Europe was too small for it. When it did join under a Conservative government, the next Labour government under Harold Wilson demanded a renegotiation and a referendum on membership – which produced a fairly convincing yes.

Another Conservative government was elected in 1979, under Margaret Thatcher. It brought endless conflict with Brussels. Thatcher lost her leadership, partly because of a battle within the Conservative Party over Europe. Her successor, John Major, took the UK into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – then abruptly left it in 1992. Labour came back in 1997 with a European Union enthusiast, Tony Blair, as leader – but wouldn’t adopt the euro. These days, the Tories are back and are deeply skeptical. This week their leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, took a leaf out of Wilson’s book, demanding a renegotiation and then a referendum on membership.

If European leaders are only “frustrated,” as Cameron suggested, they’d be using a polite word.

At root, beneath the debates, there is a political-philosophical divide. The founding members – France, Germany and Italy, with the smaller states of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg – accepted, at least in theory, that once the Union was created, their states’ power would wither and the new state’s power would grow. This was not how most British politicians saw it. They saw instead a market mechanism and a union of convenience, not the creation of a new state power. Yet at least to some extent, that’s what has happened: The EU does exercise substantial power. And the power is the problem.

At the heart of Cameron’s speech is a recognition of this as well as a recognition that it is a problem not just for Britain but also for all EU members. The crucial passage was where he ticked off the great issues:

“First, the problems in the euro zone are driving fundamental change in Europe. Second, there is a crisis of European competitiveness, as other nations across the world soar ahead. And third, there is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years. And which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is ‑ yes ‑ felt particularly acutely in Britain.”

We don’t know how Europe, and especially the 17 members of the EU that are also members of the euro zone, will agree to integrate their economies, to attempt to avoid the lack of fiscal discipline that is at the root of the crisis. But it is likely to be more than tinkering. It will be, as Cameron argued, a “fundamental change.” That being the case, a new agreement among all the members will be required.

Second, European competitiveness has dropped further and further behind that of the United States for 20 years. As Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has said, to use the word “union” in this context is misleading. Some of the northern countries, like Finland, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, score high in competitiveness. The southerners score low, with France somewhere in between. The Union yokes together extremely dissimilar countries, which, in some cases, have become more dissimilar. To improve the competitiveness of all, and to bring the laggards up so the disparity between north and south is less stark, is essential. But it’s also hard, and too little attempted. 

The greatest of Cameron’s issues is democracy – or its lack. Cameron was right once more when he argued that:

“There is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems. People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.”

Europe is deeply undemocratic. It has great power – but people do not know how to make it accountable. They do not know who represents them in the European parliament. Most do not care. Politics remains national, or local, as Professor Sarah Hobolt, one of the brightest young scholars of European issues, argued in her inaugural lecture at the London School of Economics last month. The European Commission and the European parliament have no real accountability before the voters of Europe, and the “crisis has increased EU control of fiscal arrangements in member states ‑ but that has meant that accountability for fiscal arrangements has been lost.”

I do not believe Britain will leave the EU. A poll taken a month ago showed a majority of people saying they would vote to leave. The same poll a few days ago showed that had become a minority of around 40 percent. Forced to think about the issue because of the large amount of discussion over Cameron’s speech, people grew cautious. A referendum would have the same effect.

Britain will stay in. But the EU must find a way to become more democratic. It must find some way of engaging with its citizens; of making them care and understand what it does. Elections must be made to mean something.

Cameron did follow a hallowed British prime ministerial tradition. He was annoying. He knows that the price of leaving the Union would be too high – but the risk is that the path he has chosen to underpin membership through renegotiation and a referendum may jolt Britain into exiting.

Yet he should, all the same, be listened to. His speech had some grim truths, annoying as they may be.

PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 24, 2013.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse 

Comments
18 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“But the EU must find a way to become more democratic. It must find some way of engaging with its citizens; of making them care and understand what it does. Elections must be made to mean something.”

Absolutely correct. Someone needs to put these words forth again on this side of the pond substituting “…the U.S….” for “…the EU…”!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Cameron should indeed be listened to. He is particularly spot on with his analysis of Europe being undemocratic. But I do believe that Cameron is warning us for a monster of his own making.

The lack of democracy in Europe exists primarily because national politicians are reluctant to have a democratic European government. If the citizens of Europe were in charge of who rules the EU, the national governments would clearly have to submit to those citizens’ decisions. There is no doubt that this would mean a loss of sovereignty for the member states, and it is that loss of sovereignty that David Cameron and his party have always warned against.

But of course, the member states only look after their sovereignty on behalf of their citizens. And those citizens are also citizens of Europe. So assuming that the EU was a democratic organisation, it wouldn’t really matter if member states had to hand over sovereignty to Europe.

So yes, David Cameron is right that there is a lack of democracy in the EU, but it is a bit too easy to blame Europe for that. He himself is the main obstacle standing in the way of democracy.

Posted by Huson | Report as abusive
 

Reality check!

The British have a long history of “my way or the highway”.

Why would you expect them to act any differently now?

Since the beginnings of the British Empire with their “Plantations of Ireland” in the 16th century, their expansion to a global power has ALWAYS been at the expense of some other country or people.

Virtually ALL the global problems we have today in terms of military conflict stem directly from the British Empire.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

“Virtually ALL the global problems we have today in terms of military conflict stem directly from the British Empire.”

Would those problems include the existence of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States? If such “problems” exist in Commonwealth countries that has more to do with the kleptocrats to whom power invariably passed in the 1940s and 1950s. PS my family come from Ireland.

Posted by Westmoreland51 | Report as abusive
 

the article doesn’t substantiate any of its claims

especially opining that the EU is deeply “totalitarian”

so, to join this wallowing in trivial pursuit:

most continental europeans think that england has already left the EU, it is only the smell of its former presence remaining

and no one cares whether england makes a formal “cough” as it falls from the roof

overpriced, overcrowded, overblown

every empire comes to an ignominious end

that is why indian entrepreneurs vie to snap up cultural trophies from its colonial master

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive
 

“… once the Union was created, their states’ power would wither and the new state’s power would grow” is what the Brits fear but this is an inaccurate rendering of how Europe works. The EU is treaty more than a union. What the Brits really fear is that once they sign the treaty, the “Great-Powers-Whoever-They-May-Be” will be displeased and they will have hitched their wagon to a treaty they do not want to enforce. Core Europe meanwhile sees the need for the treaty, mainly as a way to keep themselves from fighting useless internecine fights that only enhance the power of the “Great-Powers-Whoever-They-May-Be”. Europe would prefer to widen the treaty than narrow it. But to do so needs courage and the Brits for moment are lacking this ingredient.

Posted by dangood | Report as abusive
 

The UK under Cameron is the epitome of the things he described. They are on the edge of a triple dip recession because of Cameron’s stupid austerity policies and budgets. he is a flaming moron causing most of the problems in the EU. Nothing but a PR man way over his head.

Posted by sylvan | Report as abusive
 

I’m curious, why would the price of leaving be so high, as you claim?

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive
 

The disUnited Kingdom, soon to lose Scotland, is not only annoying but also irrelevant. This last attempt to sabotage the EU will back-fire. After the triple dip and the debasement of the currency, after a deficit to GDP ratio higher than Greece, after the Libor and other corruption scandals, there s no interest anymore in the lecturing of a failed country. The EU should get a referendum to get rid of England (they may want to keep Scotland). Let’s hope the new Bank of England governor is the beginning of the only trend which can save England: reverse colonization

Posted by phoen2011 | Report as abusive
 

Reality check!

The British have a long history of “my way or the highway”.

Why would you expect them to act any differently now?

Since the beginnings of the British Empire with their “Plantations of Ireland” in the 16th century, their expansion to a global power has ALWAYS been at the expense of some other country or people.

Virtually ALL the global problems we have today in terms of military conflict stem directly from the British Empire.

Errrr no..most of today’s problems are caused by the Yanks – illegal invasion of Iraq, supporting the Israelis, a duff economy, a worthless currency, their citizens seemingly ignorant of the outside world, interfering in other nations affairs – often covertly, the CIA acting as agent provocateur…..and that’s on a good day!

Posted by randburg100 | Report as abusive
 

@ randburg100 –

Reality check yourself!

Your understanding of world history isn’t even marginal.

The US took over from the British Empire when it collapsed after WWI, but ALL the problems in the Middle East stem directly from British interference. By the way, the US involvement in the Middle East doesn’t even come close to the British machinations.

Using Wikipedia solely as an easily accessible reference:

(1) Iraq, for example, was controlled by the British until 1932. The US took control of Iraq only after the British were driven out by the Iraqis themselves in 1958.

“Iraq’s modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created. Iraq was controlled by the Ba’ath Party (Iraqi-led faction) from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion led by American and British forces, the Ba’ath Party was removed from power and Iraq came under a military occupation by a multinational coalition. ”

Prior to US involvement, the British were essentially military occupiers of Iraq, which is far more than I can detail in this venue.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_ Iraq

(2) Israel would not exist today, but for the direct involvement of the British Empire who supported a home for the Zionists.

“The Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France,[1] with the assent of Russia, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The negotiation of the treaty occurred between November 1915 and March 1916.[2][not in citation given] The agreement was concluded on 16 May 1916.[3]

The agreement effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence.[4][verification needed] The terms were negotiated by the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and British Sir Mark Sykes.

British-Zionist discussions during the negotiations

Following the outbreak of World War I, Zionism was first discussed at a British Cabinet level on 9 November 1914, four days after Britain’s declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire. At a Cabinet meeting David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, “referred to the ultimate destiny of Palestine.”[7] Lloyd George’s law firm Lloyd George, Roberts and Co had been engaged a decade before by the Zionists to work on the British Uganda Programme.[8] In a discussion after the meeting with fellow Zionist Herbert Samuel, who had a seat in the Cabinet as President of the Local Government Board, Lloyd George assured him that “he was very keen to see a Jewish state established in Palestine.”[7] Samuel then outlined the Zionist position more fully in a conversation with Foreign Secretary Edward Grey. He spoke of Zionist aspirations for the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish state, and of the importance of its geographical position to the British Empire.[9] Samuel’s memoirs state: “I mentioned that two things would be essential— that the state should be neutralized, since it could not be large enough to defend itself, and that the free access of Christian pilgrims should be guaranteed… I also said it would be a great advantage if the remainder of Syria were annexed by France, as it would be far better for the state to have a European power as neighbour than the Turk”[7]

The Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration (dated 2 November 1917) was a letter from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild), a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.[1]

The “Balfour Declaration” was later incorporated into the Sèvres peace treaty with Turkey and the Mandate for Palestine. The original document is kept at the British Library.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sykes%E2%80 %93Picot_Agreement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sykes%E2%80 %93Picot_Agreement#British-Zionist_discu ssions_during_the_negotiations

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Dec laration

=============================

What is far more interesting than the problems caused by the British Empire in the Middle East is the destabilization and overthrow of the Chinese Emperor, mainly by deliberately getting the Chinese people hooked on opium in order to avoid having to pay the Chinese the silver they demanded to trade with the British. The British had no intention of draining their silver reserves, so they caused China to collapse into the Communist state we see today.

Check out the Opium Wars:

“The Opium Wars, also known as the Anglo-Chinese Wars, divided into the First Opium War from 1839 to 1842 and the Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860, were the climax of disputes over trade and diplomatic relations between China under the Qing Dynasty and the British Empire.

Opium has been known in China since the 7th century and for centuries it was used for medicinal purposes.

It was not until the middle of the 17th century that the practice of mixing opium with tobacco for smoking was introduced into China by Europeans. In 1729, its import was 200 chests, and by 1790 it amounted to over 4,000 chests (256 tons) annually. In 1858, about twenty years after the first opium war, the annual import rose to 70,000 chests (4,480 tons), approximately equivalent to global production of opium for the decade surrounding the year 2000. [1]

The first Chinese anti-opium edict was issued in 1729, enacting severe penalties on the sale of opium and the opening of opium-smoking divans. Similar laws were enacted in 1796 and 1800, but opium importation continued to increase.

British merchants brought opium from the British East India Company’s factories in Patna and Benares,[2] in the Bengal Presidency of British India, to the coast of China, where they sold for a good profit.

With the drain of silver and the growing number of the people becoming victims of the drug, the Daoguang Emperor demanded action. Officials at the court, who advocated legalization of the trade in order to tax it, were defeated by those who advocated suppression. In 1838, the Emperor sent Lin Zexu to Guangzhou, where he quickly arrested Chinese opium dealers and summarily demanded that foreign firms turn over their stocks. When they refused, Lin stopped trade altogether and placed the foreign residents under virtual siege, eventually forcing the merchants to surrender their opium to be destroyed.

In response, the British government sent expeditionary forces from India, which ravaged the Chinese coast and dictated the terms of settlement. The Treaty of Nanking not only opened the way for further opium trade, but ceded territory including Hong Kong, unilaterally fixed Chinese tariffs at a low rate, granted extraterritorial rights to foreigners in China (which were not offered to Chinese abroad), a most favored nation clause, and diplomatic representation. When the court still refused to accept foreign ambassadors and obstructed the trade clauses of the treaties, disputes over the treatment of British merchants in Chinese ports and on the seas led to the Second Opium War and the Treaty of Tientsin.[3]

These treaties, soon followed by similar arrangements with the United States and France, later became known as the Unequal Treaties, and the Opium Wars represented the start of China’s “Century of humiliation”.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_Wars

=========================

I stand by what I said because it is the truth.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

@ randburg100 –

While we are checking reality, I would like to examine the circumstances of how and why the British Empire fell and the US Empire took its place, which is basically the argument you are making, which would absolve the British from responsibility.

The British Empire collapsed after fighting against the rise of Germany in the “existential” WWI, after which the German Empire collapsed as well. Because of the Treaty of Versailles, blame for WWI was arbitrarily assigned to Germany and it was forced to pay the entire cost of WWI — because Britain would have collapsed as a nation otherwise.

The ensuing economic conditions imposed by the treaty forced the collapse of the German government and the subsequent rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Essentially, the British deliberately destabilized the German government to remain in power itself.

As relations with Nazi Germany continued to deteriorate near the end of the 1930s and war finally broke out with Germany in 1939, the British came to rely more and more heavily on the support of the US.

The US meanwhile had been primarily isolationist during the 1930s, and was not inclined to get involved in yet another European war.

However, Roosevelt maintained strong ties with England and wished to join with England militarily to protect our “mother country”. But Roosevelt knew he could not sell the American people on war in Europe, so he did all he could to surreptitiously provide aid to the British.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not Roosevelt knew about the Japanese plans to attack the US, when they did attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, Roosevelt immediately declared war not just on Japan, but Nazi Germany as well.

This was not a formality, but a scheme to get the US involved in another European war, even though we our Pacific fleet had been decimated by the Japanese attack.

Essentially, the plan was to hold off Japan and concentrate all our military might to support England.

This makes no sense from a purely military standpoint, since ANY nation that deliberately engages in a two-front war is virtually guaranteed to lose the war.

As a result, the US concentrated nearly all of its military strength in England in preparation to attack Hitler, but kept the Pacific Theater struggling with a lack of men and equipment necessary to fight Japan.

This was the result of pressure put on Roosevelt by the British, mainly through Churchill, to keep Britain from being invaded.

By deliberately fighting a two-front war designed to save the British from Hitler. But Hitler represented no real threat to the US at all, despite the propaganda. An actual invasion of the US by Germany would have been ludicrous to consider as a real threat.

By the end of WWII, the US was tired of fighting in Europe and there was no way of invading Japan without incurring massive numbers of US casualties.

This is one reason why Japan fought to the death on so many islands. They knew the US probably could not begin another front after Europe. Especially with the rise of Stalin in Russia. They wanted to negotiate a surrender, but on their terms. Thus, a war of attrition was waged with the US military to secure a political solution.

What they did not see coming was the secret weapon of the atomic bombs that were used on them. Even then they didn’t want to surrender. But with Stalin declaring war on Japan, they knew it was the end of their plans, because invasion by Russia would have meant the end of Japan as a nation.

So the question nobody ever asks is why the US chose to fight a two-front war. I believe the answer is to come to the aid of the British, which resulted in many millions of unnecessary US casualties, ALL for the sake of the British.

I think this is yet another classic case of British meddling in another country, resulting in needless death and destruction.

I think the question is never raised because the US government cannot afford to answer to the American people for what they did to the “Greatest Generation” who willingly gave their live to save Britain, but without knowing what they were really being sacrificed for.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

By extension, what I am arguing is that if we had not chosen to aid Britain, thereby putting the US at risk, we would have had enough military power to drive straight through to Japan and the nuclear weapons would never have had to be used.

Hitler was never a threat — merely portrayed as the enemy — because he would had to worry about Stalin attacking him and there is every reason to believe that Germany and Russia would have had to settle for a peace treaty, since neither was capable of destroying the other (without the US aiding Russia, a Communist country which is supposedly our real enemy).

NONE of WWII makes military sense, including the use of nuclear weapons, unless you factor in British meddling in US foreign policy at the highest levels.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive
 

Leaving aside the near endless discussion of the British Empire, the key elements at play is Britain’s over compliant way of enforcing EU rules.

the same stupid rules created in Brussels around length of Bananas, where animals can drink from rivers, how many tree per meter are needed for a hedge, etc are applied with rigor in UK, but largely ignored in most of Southern Europe.

Posted by GA_Chris | Report as abusive
 

Leaving conspiracy theories aside, I cannot be optimistic with the prospect of a referendum.
I agree with John Lloyd that the reality of a referendum will make people more cautions. However, at the same time, the discussion leading to a referendum can ignite nationalistic feelings, that, once out of the bottle, will be difficult to manage.
The perils of extreme nationalism is a risk we need to consider.

Posted by Preoccupied | Report as abusive
 

Why do the “English” always presume they implement all the EU regulations but the other nations don´t? Pathetic! In Spain the shoe shops adopted the EU standard shoe-sizing but I don´t see Ireland or Britain doing so? I hope England does leave the EU as it will be clamouring to re-enter.

Posted by FelipeII | Report as abusive
 

Speaking from a British perspective, as Thatcher herself recognised, most of Britain’s problems are Continental European in origin (fascism, communism, military dictatorship). They have nothing to offer the UK. Britain selflessly sacrificed its Empire for the sake of freedom for the peoples of Europe. And many would now concede, most of the world’s problems are due to the USA. For all its failings the British Empire was the pinnacle of Western civilisation. It is naturally in US interests to deny the legacy of Magna Carta, common law, parliamentary democracy and the English language but these remain, quite clearly, the reason for three Australian and two Canadian cities being ranked in the top ten internationally, and the peoples of the anglosphere enjoying the highest living standards on the planet. The United States, in contrast, has made no such advances. Its achievements have been on the back of the British and Germans. It ranks poorly in scientific laureates per capita, has no culture or history of its own and is universally loathed due to its subversion of democracy in Chile, Guatemala, Iraq, Iran, Nicaragua, Vietnam and as many as one hundred other nation states since WW2, all for its own economic interests. Britain’s legacy is parliamentary democracy, infrastructure, the rule of law and a language that binds the 53 nations that comprise the Commonwealth together. The legacy of the USA is allies who have been stabbed in the back, widespread hatred for the USA, the subversion of democracy in Latin America, McDonalds, Hollywood and the disposable culture of greed, selfish ambition and pornography. It is held in contempt by its allies, never mind its enemies.

Posted by Cardes | Report as abusive
 

@FelipeII

“England” isn’t in the EU as it is not a country in its own right. Like many foreigners you can’t seem to grasp the difference between “England” and the UK, which makes for much hilarity in the UK and the impression that foreigners are incredibly ignorant. But make no mistake, the Anglo-German funded EU will collapse when the UK leaves (not if). And a country with such little history of democracy as Spain will have as much reason to rejoice as the British, I can assure you.

Posted by Cardes | Report as abusive
 

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