I have been discussing the European Union with various groups of friends this week, and what’s remarkable is the common position that is emerging. Nearly all have regular interaction with the EU in one form or another, although none are what I would call “inside the bubble” of BrusselsSpeak, you know, where people get outraged that the ordinaries are actually asked to vote on stuff, and vote the wrong way.
The talk of a new treaty is met with a mixture of frustration, shoulder shrugging and in one case, anger. All were on the Yes side in every one of the last treaties. All believe that European integration is, on balance, a good thing. All regard the phrase eurosceptic as an insult, and some (me) don’t particularly regard the word federalist as being all that terrible. Yet all are embarrassed when they have to defend the EU, because whereas the idea is very noble, the practice is getting downright grubby.
The fact is, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes, the eurosceptics have some valid points. The way some opponents of the EU are treated for raising very modest questions about the EU, particularly in the European Parliament, is nothing short of a disgrace and an affront to the values we purport to be building this union on. Not every eurosceptic is an extremist. The problem is that there seems to be no accepted middle-space between the “Destroy the EU now!” crowd and the “Brussels is always right” fanatics, yet that is where the majority of Europeans are. As one of my friends said: ” You can’t criticise the EU because you get automatically associated with people you don’t want to be seen with.”
Despite what many eurosceptics claim, the EU is not hated by most Europeans. But it has almost no popular consent either. The idea, for example, that the European Parliament speaks for the people of Europe is laughable. A bomb in Westminster, wiping out the House of Commons, would have an emotional effect in Britain. The same cannot be said for the EP. Well, not a negative emotional effect, anyway.
The EU is, at best, tolerated, and so needs to build not love, which is just not possible, but a popular acceptance that it is a necessity. It needs to be like a water authority. It doesn’t excite, but people know what it’s for and why they need it. Criticising the water authority does not mean that you are against clean drinking water, and that same value needs to be permitted in our debates about the EU. It’s time for a Euro-Middle.
P.s. Hugo Brady of the CER, one of those shockingly clever chaps who will end up secretly running the world, has an interesting (if depressing) take on the direction of the EU here which he wrote last year. His point is very valid: The biggest challenge to Europe could well be a generation who think that shrugging their shoulders and going “Meh” to problems is a legitimate response.