According to recent talk, Mr Cameron could be planning a surprise offering from renegotiations with the European Union (EU); associate membership of the EU, sometimes also called a two speed Europe. Could this deal be better than ‘full’ membership as the EU moves towards further integration into a Super-state or an alternative to leaving the EU completely? Or could this be Mr Cameron’s attempt to look statesmanlike, play politics with Labour, confuse and pull the EU wool over our eyes? It sounds so Blairite, (Mr Cameron claims to be the heir to Blair anyway); a third way with something apparently for everyone.
Unfortunately, there is unlikely to be an accompanying health warning, leaving us to find out the costs and risks. Despite much talk about trade, the EU is essentially a political project with political objectives which usually take precedence over economic factors or even the logic of common sense; the obsession with the Euro despite the economic havoc caused is a prime example. However, get the politics right and an environment conducive to trade, enterprise and prosperity can follow. The following considers some wider aspects of what could be in store through associate EU membership.
Trust and goodwill – To make associated EU membership work, for which there is no existing precedent, there would need to be considerable trust, goodwill and flexibility by the EU towards our country. It is difficult to reconcile these with the longstanding behaviour of the EU, including deceit, deception, existing wealth redistribution and pursuit of institutionalised self-interest. A UK seen as troublesome by the EU is unlikely to get any special favours, quite the reverse.
Unstable situation – The political pressure will always be on to revert to full membership of the EU, This could be applied in ways that are subtle or covert in addition to direct pressurising. The full resources of the EU would be difficult to resist and using ‘sleight of hand’ with Mr Cameron’s (or his successor Mr Osborne’s) co-operation, full EU membership would be quickly restored; then the pressure and manipulation would be on to achieve full integration into the EU Superstate, for example, joining the Euro and EU control of taxes and the financial services industry.
Hidden conditions – Based on existing precedence, it is unlikely that all the re-negotiated conditions will be revealed, and that they are unambiguously favourable to our country. More likely is that there will be much that is not revealed because it is potentially not in our interests. This is considered in more detail in The Sting in the EU Renegotiation Tail.
Taxation and hidden costs – The costs, directly paid through taxation, and those borne by the economy (and therefore all of us) are likely to be considerable greater than if we left the EU. We could easily and cheaply have access to the Single Market without being in the EU, as other countries do, for example, in the European Free Trade Area or individually, such as Switzerland. Hidden costs are substantially greater than direct taxation costs and include, for example, the loss of competitiveness, additional burdens, and the loss or opportunity cost to us where the money (wasted through EU taxes or regulations) could be used better elsewhere. These costs are considered in more detail in The Hidden Costs of EU Membership.
Aggro without a say – Associate membership is still EU membership but with limited or no say (not that our say counts for much anyway these days). We would still suffer much of the EU’s political agenda, including increasing regulations, taxation and control over us individually and our country, whether it is in our interests or not.
Protecting the best of Britishness – The success of our civilisation and way of life rests on foundations, which need to be protected to ensure we don’t lose what we already have and, preferably, improved to enhance the quality of life for people. Amongst these sturdy and longstanding anchors are personal liberty (including freedom of speech, freedom from fear and persecution), representative democracy (government of the people, by the people, for the people), justice and social justice (rule of law and the Common Law) and free enterprise to deliver prosperity. The direction of travel of the EU and associate membership would need to align with these pillars of our civilisation and not be undermined by EU actions including self-inflicted disasters.
Future-proof robustness – The world is changing and whatever is devised needs to be adaptable to stay ahead of competitors and people’s aspirations. The EU has shown itself to be very slow to adapt as the world changes. Any future changes to the conditions of associated membership, to loosen the relationship discarding what is clearly not in our interests, could be slow and difficult to negotiate, and involve some giveaways or adverse conditions.
The Critical Test – The following simple questions can help in deciding on the desirability or not of Associated EU Membership (from A Simple Approach for Considering EU Membership)
- Would our country be better governed by Brussels (by being part of the EU) or by our own government and Parliament in London?
- Who would make fewer mistakes and correct them more quickly, our government in London or EU bureaucrats in Brussels?
- Who would protect our national interests better, our own government, accountable to the People, or unelected EU bureaucrats?
- Would we be happier, more democratic and peaceful as a sovereign, independent country with our own identity or as an anonymous region of an EU Superstate?
- Would we, as individuals and a country, be more competitive, productive and ultimately prosperous being heavily regulated by a centralised, costly EU bureaucracy or as a fast moving, low tax, entrepreneurial free society?
- Would it be acceptable to suffer short term pain, in leaving the EU when we choose, to achieve longer term gain?
Many of us would want to believe, against the odds, that it is possible for Mr Cameron and his re-negotiation team to pull a ‘white rabbit’ in the form of Associate EU Membership out of the EU renegotiation hat that satisfies everyone – EU-sceptic and EU-fanatic alike, and can unite us. However, it is much more likely to be a consummate politician playing at a magician’s trick. It is a very risky proposition that can soon turn sour. Poet, art critic and war hero, Herbert Read’s words expressing the disillusionment following the First Word War could ring true in the aftermath of a referendum vote for Associate EU Membership:
‘Of rich and poor. Our victory was our defeat.
Power was retained where power had been misused
And youth was left to sweep away
The ashes that the fires had strewn beneath our feet’.