Reading some very depressing articles about the EU and whether it has a future has led me to wonder about the actual mechanics of dismantling the EU. Supposing the member states were forced by popular demand to do the deed? How would they do it? What would be the effect on day to day life? And would the public really welcome the abolition of everything to do with the EU? Let’s look at it piece-by-piece:
The Institutions: There’s no question, the abolition of the parliament, commission and council, and the ECJ would be popular. They are unloved, and that’s being polite.
CAP/CFP: The abolition of CAP would cause ructions in some countries, like Ireland and France. Suddenly, Ireland would be faced with a question that would drain the blood from the faces of our politicians. Do we try to fund an Irish style CAP, perhaps with a hefty Farmers Solidarity Tax on urban voters? Or do we finally let the free market into farming, wiping out small farms? The abolition of CFP will be popular with fishermen, but we will still need to police our own fishing stocks. By the way, as we have 15% of the EU’s waters, and the EU currently funds our Naval Service, we’ll have to increase defence spending quite substantially to keep other countries’ fishermen out.
Regulations: Yay! No more Brussels bureaucrats telling us what to do, right? Technically, yes. But consider the reality: The day the EU ends, motor manufacturers from Germany to Sweden to the Czech Republic would be demanding that the common emission standards be kept by national governments, because they want to manufacture products that don’t have to be radically changed for 27 different markets. This will be replicated across industries from chemicals to food ingredients to electrical and electronic products to toys. The difference is that small countries won’t be entitled to contribute, as happens now. Once the big countries decide, everyone else just has to sign up.
Border controls: The Daily Mail will be delighted that Britain will have control of its borders again. But to do what, exactly? Every EU country has citizens working in pretty much every other EU country. Is there a real benefit to us all shipping each other’s people home? Governments know the dirty secret about immigrants: They keep prices down, and some immigrants are far smarter than the local crowd, and so contribute more wealth to society. As for the hated EU passport, the end of the famous “Schengen wave” of passports as border officials scrutinise every passport will lead to even more irritation at passports. Don’t be surprised if many governments decide to keep a common “Europe” passport, and conclude common arrangements on working and studying.
Police co-operation: This will surely continue, although maybe without the European Arrest Warrant. Civil rights will be strengthened, as will criminal gangs. Would most countries keep the Schengen Information System in place? Probably.
EU spending: This is a definite. No more contributions to the EU coffers. For the contributing countries good, for the non-contributing countries, bad.
Influence in the world: Considering that the member states can hardly ever agree a common position on any of the big things, and are unwilling to create a combined military capability powerful enough to be taken seriously by anyone who matters, one would have to question what we’d lose here.
Economic influence: This is one of the areas where we would lose out in a major way, and yet most Europeans would not realise it until too late. The EU, in particular the Commission and the ECJ, is a force that has a major impact on big companies like Microsoft, or the mobile phone companies, or air safety regulation, who pay it heed. Would they have equal fear for a Belgian or Spanish regulator? German maybe, but it ain’t the same.
The Euro: This is the big one. Could the Euro exist without the EU? Almost certainly not, in that the mechanisms to ensure stability, such as Commission policing, and the interconnected pressures of day-to-day deal making which keeps everybody onboard, would no longer exist. Curiously, an end to the Euro would, ironically, probably hurt Germany the most, as a new Deutschmark would appreciate rapidly as the most solid European currency (stifling German exports) and most other former Eurozone currencies would plummet. Would it save Germany having to bail-out the rest of Europe? Bear in mind that one of the reasons Germany is bailing out everyone else is because they all owe German banks billions. Germany has no interest in letting them default on debts to German banks.
Funnily enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Save the Euro” marches would start to appear, particularly in smaller countries. For most countries, who don’t have an anal hang-up about their currency, the Euro is not loved but recognised as useful. A purely Irish currency, on the other hand, measured against our massive national debt, would not be a good bet. It would be very weak, which would help exports, but would send our imported raw material and goods prices through the roof.
Overall, the more you look at it, the more you realise that Europeans are now so integrated that although you could get rid of the public façade of the EU, and curb its spending (two achievements most eurosceptics would be ecstatic with) there’s not an awful lot that would change, except, curiously, it would be less transparent, and more open to being affected by the sheer economic might of Germany without the benefit of EU consultation. The great irony of the eurosceptic achievement would be the unshackling of Germany from its self-imposed EU restraints and a de facto more German Europe. Likewise, the other “What the f…?” moment would come for left-wing eurosceptics as they, by dismantling the EU, dismantled the only supranational state agency with the power to face down multinational companies. Huh?
The other major effect would be the loss of the “dampening effect” the EU has on countries doing more extreme things. Without EU law, how long would it be before countries started bowing to pressure from powerful internal interests to put quotas or tariffs on imports, or subsidise favoured industries, or block non-national companies from tendering for state tenders?
Eurosceptics claim that we could still have a common market. What they fail to realise (something Margaret Thatcher did realise) was that in order for the common market to work, it needs to be policed and it needed qualified majority voting to get the rules through. Remember 1992? Eurosceptics forget that it is the single market rules on things like stopping countries favouring national firms over other EU firms, a key part of a single market, which makes it unpopular. It’s all well and good marching against “EU austerity”, but it isn’t the EU that let spending get out of hand, or built national tax bases on an unsustainable basis or single industry.
The thing is, the EU isn’t the problem. It’s a damn good punchbag, because it can’t hit back, but it isn’t the problem.