No Europhile argument induces (or deserves) more eye-rolling than the argument that the peace we enjoy today is all thanks to the European Union. If the political union were dissolved, the Europhiles imply, Europe would be cast back into the days of tyranny, domestic strife and total war. Forget democracy, forget free trade, forget the defeat of fascism and communism; the EU’s gallant campaign against misshapen produce is what’s really keeping the bombs from dropping.
At any rate, my intention today is not to explain why that argument is false. My intention is to make the exact opposite argument. Here are five ways the EU today promotes strife and instability in Europe:
- Undermining Democracy: The EU Commission shows no respect for the will of voters, and neither does it recognise the sovereignty of elected parliaments. Democracy is slowly eroded, as a greater and greater part of each citizen’s life falls under EU control. The people of Europe feel oppressed by an unrepresentative and unaccountable foreign power. Their own governments cannot help them, since they too are under the yoke of Brussels (often voluntarily). The people become disillusioned with the political process, and acquire a negative conception of politics in general.
When citizens believe they have no recourse to the democratic process, they feel inclined towards other means of sending a message: riots, protests, civil disobedience—all of which risk destabilising the social order. We also see the rise of unsavoury political organisations, such as Golden Dawn in Greece, who capitalise on the people’s anger.
- Interfering In Foreign Affairs: If there’s one place the EU has no justification sticking its nose, it must be the foreign affairs of nations that aren’t even part of the union. I’m speaking in particular of course of the situation in Eastern Ukraine. Whether we ought to side with Ukraine against Russia or the reverse (or perhaps even with neither) is of little importance here. Those two nations, and the nation states allied with them, should be left to sort out their dispute by themselves. What Mr Juncker and his associates think of the situation is, in their capacity as EU officials, totally irrelevant. By wading into the situation when they have no right to be there, they will only make more enemies, whilst undermining the personal strategies of member states.
- Redistributing Wealth: The EU has, in a certain sense, become a gigantic welfare state. All member states contribute a certain amount to the EU budget. Some (such as Spain, Greece, and Poland) receive more back than they pay in, and others (Germany, The Netherlands, and the UK) pay more in than they get back. In other words, wealth is being redistributed from some states to others. The bailout system is the ultimate manifestation of this: those countries that manage their finances well are forced to pay to rescue those that manage their finances badly.
Different nations ought to view one-another as trading partners, whose interests are harmonised when the market is free. This leads to peace, since there is little incentive for two countries to go to war when both their economies are benefiting from a peaceful relationship. Under a system of redistribution however, resentment is fostered in both directions: the richer country feels encumbered by a dependant, and the poorer country gains a sense of greedy entitlement. Both countries acquire negative prejudices about one-another’s citizens.
- Engorging the Political Elites: This is partly a follow-on to the previous point. The EU not only turns one country against another, but helps to widen the rift between two groups inside each country: those with political pull, and those without. Those who benefit from EU largesse are generally either politicians or friends of politicians; the second group includes lobbyists, bankers, bureaucrats and corporate cronies. The productive and politically unconnected citizens are forced to foot the bill.
The ordinary citizens become, quite understandably, resentful of the elites, and distrustful of politicians. They feel the rule of law has been undermined, and that the whole system is designed against them. If people can’t work through the system, they’ll try to work against the system, and so again: protests, riots, social upheaval all follow.
- Erasing the Borders: By rendering it unchecked and uncontrolled, the EU has given immigration a bad name. Countries see immigration at unprecedented levels, putting a strain on public services, and making it increasingly hard for communities to stay integrated. This leads to de facto segregation, generational poverty, and conflict between different religious and ethnic groups. People come to generalise, and see immigrants in an overall negative light. It is worst in the totally borderless Schengen area, where even a violent criminal or religious extremist can travel freely from one country to another. For the consequences of this, one need only look to the city of Malmö in Sweden, where social unrest has become the norm.
The EU is not responsible for peace, but may be responsible for bringing an end to it. A Europe of independent, democratic, freely-trading nation states with controlled borders will be perfectly capable of maintaining the peace that we now enjoy. A borderless Europe, ruled by unaccountable technocrats and plundered by their cronies will continue to descend into strife and disorder.