Eurosceptics: freedom-fighters or falsifiers?


“People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to f*** up your life whatever way you want to.”

So laments Walter Berglund, the protagonist of Jonathan Franzen’s brilliant 2010 novel Freedom. This may be the insight of a fictional character, and it may concern the founding values of America. Nonetheless it captures a counter-intuitive truth at the heart of modern politics: those who have the least, and need Government the most, are often hardwired to reject it.

The defence of freedoms when all else has failed is an instinctive reaction tied up with pride. Much of politics hangs on these die-hard freedoms and to what extent they should be reined in by laws and regulations. But much of it doesn’t – and yet cliques have realised that they can achieve their own minority interests by convincing people that their freedoms are at stake when they are not.

The result is a highly destructive force in politics.

Freedom from food stamps?

The most obvious examples can be found in Franzen’s homeland, the US. Few policies are more obviously beneficial to the poorest segments of society than food stamps (‘SNAP’), used by around 48 million Americans at the latest count. This support is a lifeline for many, as is the state-subsidised flood insurance that stood between many people and homelessness in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

‘Big Government’ should be more popular than ever – and yet a powerful coalition of Tea Party-inspired commentators and politicians has managed so relentlessly to paint the State as an invader of freedoms that it has discredited Government intervention in the eyes of those who need it the most. Obama, who defended social programmes such as SNAP throughout his first presidency, is frequently labelled as an elitist who wants to tell poor people how to live their lives.

When it comes to food stamps, what is supposedly being encroached on? The freedom not to be offered social assistance? A general feeling of indignation is nonetheless sparked, and this taps into the underlying sense of injustice that is close to the surface where freedoms are concerned.

To put it crudely, the anger of the poor is turned to the benefit of those who don’t want to subsidise the poor, and this unlikely coalition can be activated to resist any attempts by Government to have a real impact (and especially a redistributive impact) on the life and wealth of the nation.

Euroscepticism and freedom

The defence of freedoms in the face of an anti-democratic EU has meanwhile become the rallying cry of Eurosceptics across the bloc as they seek to capitalise on the Eurozone crisis and ramp up the case for exit or repatriation of powers.

The UK is the pioneer of all things Eurosceptic. Last week’s BBC Question Time saw the trade unionist Bob Crow join forces with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and a Daily Mail columnist to condemn the EU and demand that the UK leave (12 minutes in):

Crow’s EU exit call is based on a general lament about inter-EU and non-EU immigration undercutting British salaries and working conditions.

Yet if a decent situation for workers is what he really wants, surely his anger should be directed at the UK Government for opting out of the EU Working Time Directive? Or why not push for a better Working Time Directive at EU-level if it needs improving?

In many European countries labour movements have been highly critical of EU internal market policy (e.g. the Bolkenstein Directive) and have sought to reorient the European project away from liberalisation, a position that often translates into strongly anti-Brussels rhetoric.

However, the UK example is more problematic because not only are UK workers more likely to attain labour protection at EU than at national level, but also because key figures like Crow ignore specific policies and head straight for the EU exit.

Trade unions and far right parties are odd bedfellows – and their alliance in the service of a ‘Brexit’ is testimony to the genius of a particular clique in conscripting a broad coalition of people to do its dirty work.

Who are those with an unequivocal interest in the UK leaving the EU, as opposed to reform of EU policies or other incremental change? If we exclude a small fringe of outright nationalists and patriots, we are left with a) company CEOs whose ability to exploit their workers and capture the lion’s share of profits could be threatened by current and future social legislation which can be stifled more easily at national than EU level; and b) the city of London, whose freedom to speculate, pay out exorbitant bonuses and operate without a financial transaction tax hinges on multiple legislative debates in Brussels.

Overall this is a fairly limited bunch. But a much wider coalition has been built to demand an exit, not least thanks to the efforts of a vicious partisan press – ideologically and often financially tied to the self-interested clique – which works to convince people that their freedoms are genuinely at stake. To do so, the freedom of the few to make exorbitant amounts of money has been conflated with the freedom of ordinary citizens not to have rules dictated to them by Brussels.

Eurosceptics have bullied their way into every discussion of politics at the European level, not least through concerted campaigns to label the BBC as elitist europhiles if they do not feature the likes of Nigel Farage (the UKIP leader) whenever the word EU is mentioned.

As such, no EU-level policy can be discussed in isolation or in detail, because the debate is always brought back to the original sin of the EU itself, and the assault on freedom that it supposedly represents.

Labour MP Gisela Stuart summed up the problem in advice addressed to her party leader Ed Miliband in a recent Prospect article: “First, stop thinking that we will ever come to love any institution of government… So make sure you and your team talk about the substance rather than the structures”.

The success of Eurosceptics is to make the entire debate about the structures rather than the substance, and thus to make all EU business a question of personal freedoms versus the dictatorial power of an anti-democratic, illegitimate body.

Crying EU withdrawal every time we don’t like a particular policy is like the county of Cornwall demanding secession from the UK, or Brittany from France, every time they don’t like a national-level policy. Legitimate? Very occasionally. Practical or constructive? Certainly not.

What if the anti-EU outrage were channeled at improving policies at the national and EU level? When lambasting Brussels people perhaps forget that the EU is not set in stone, and is only as good or bad, as free-market or nanny-state, as accommodating or restrictive of freedoms, as its citizens choose to make it. This they do when they elect the MEPs who sit in the European Parliament, and the national governments who will represent their interests at Council, as well as nominating Commissioners.

Decisions are made by consensus, which may feel alien to British voters – more used to attritional two-party politics than to the trade-offs of coalition-building – especially when a consensus without the UK in it is presented by the Eurosceptic press as ‘anti-democratic diktat’.

The individual decisions are of course rarely given the attention they deserve, given that people’s attention – on the trade unionist left and free-market right – has been trained on the ‘bigger’ but emptier question of in versus out, freedom versus no freedom.

When the UK drifts towards the EU exit door, it is not people’s freedoms that will have been protected, but rather the special interests of a minority who have too much to lose from a genuine policy-oriented debate, and much to gain from manipulating the concept of freedom and making the EU the bogeyman.

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone

//

  1. #1 by Desmond O'Toole on March 18, 2013 - 9:20 am

    Good article that illustrates the potential that exists for wealthy, powerful centres of capital to persuade citizens to vote against their own economic and social interests by appealing to deeper emotions. We have seen off much of this nonsense in Ireland by ensuring that European debates are always about concrete policy. The increasing reach of the European Parliament is a key enabler in this effort. The more legislation it produces on workers’s rights, on consumer protections, on social rights across Europe, the easier it is to make the case on concrete deliverables rather than defend the EU against unfocused and simplistic assertions.

  2. #2 by Wim Roffel on March 18, 2013 - 12:05 pm

    Claims that the plebs is ignorant and easily manipulated are as old as humanity. It is the classical argument against democracy. We tend to hear these claims a lot nowadays from europhiles and eurocrats who will grab any excuse to centralize more power in Brussels.

    Where the rest of humanity sees a disconnected Brussels that is driving the European economy into the abyss and is making their countries ungovernable with overregulation the Brussels bubble keeps believing that it is being a blessing for mankind.

  3. #3 by Sebastien Pant on March 18, 2013 - 12:35 pm

    Really good blog. I like the way you have drawn a parallel between US conservatism and British euroscepticism, the two clearly share much of their core messaging.

    Perhaps a point worth noting though is the absence of a group in British society having the courage to counter the anti-EU lobby’s messaging. Finding those messages is remarkably simple: having a common voice with European countries on the world stage will become essential as countries like Britain see the influence of their voice shrink in an ever larger world forum; our transport networks need to be joined up to facilitate trade, not see them stopped and work differently across the border; shared economic rules make sense if we want to do something about tax havens etc.
    Here are some messages that can be used. Now we need somebody to start articulating them.

  4. #4 by Patrick on March 18, 2013 - 3:02 pm

    @Wim Roffel
    Being rich enough to control the media and politicians who promote your policies doesn’t mean that, once elected, those policies are somehow legitimised. The original concept of democracy saw power resting with the people as a whole not just billionaires in tax havens who engage in mass media brainwashing.

  5. #5 by jon livesey on March 18, 2013 - 7:33 pm

    I second what Wim Roffel says above. The elites regularly insult the intelligence of the taxpayers by saying that they are “manipulated”.

    But it’s noticeable that the taxpayers are only “manipulated” when their opinions don’t match what the elites would like.

    When things were going well in the euro-zone and groups of happy teenagers were doing their little euro-dance for the video cameras, somehow that wasn’t manipulation.

    Nick Jacobs represents something a bit dark in the European political tradition. He represents the utopians who know what’s good for you better than you know yourself.

    Everyone knows where that has led Europe even it its fairly recent past.

    • #6 by Victor on March 18, 2013 - 9:57 pm

      Your comment is exactly what the article is about.

      You caricature his point to turn the discussion towards structures.

      • #7 by jon livesey on March 19, 2013 - 10:59 pm

        Victor, you are completely missing the point. Politics is all about advocacy. When – to choose a favourite europhile bogie-man – Murdoch writes an opinion, that’s all it is. Murdoch is as entitled to make his argument as you and I are.

        To dismiss the views of a Murdoch as “manipulation” is simply the fallacy ad-hominem. Murdoch’s views are either convincing or they aren’t.

        You don’t fall under some magic spell when you open a Murdoch newspaper. You can read what he writes and still say “tosh”.

        The sceptical press in the UK are not “vicious partisan press” at all. In fact, most of them have arrived at their current positions – I am thinking of, for example, the Guardian – through a slow process that began by supporting the EU, and then gradually being embarrassed by one EU blunder after another until today, when they tend to measure the EU its actual achievements, and not on its aspirations.

        And it’s inane to say the sceptics have “bullied their way into every discussion of politics at the European level”. It used to be the case that sceptics could not get a hearing, and that they were routinely excluded from BBC debates where the speakers differed only in their degree of support for the EU. The BBC invite sceptics to speak today because their exclusion had become an open scandal.

        Try looking in a mirror and telling yourself “Everyone may speak, but no-one has to listen”. If you choose to listen, you are not being manipulated. You are simply exercising your own free will.

        To repeat myself, people like Nick jacobs, who seem to want a “guided” or “supervised” public debate, to save the public from being misled by “manipulation” are just this side of Fascism.

  6. #8 by Nick Jacobs on March 18, 2013 - 8:14 pm

    @Sebastien
    Cheers for your comment. I completely agree on the strength of those arguments and the need for them to be articulated. Tony Blair has been quite vocal on it recently, http://www.tonyblairoffice.org/news/entry/tony-blair-urges-uk-to-shape-the-future-of-europe/ , and makes many of the arguments you’ve mentioned, but a former prime minister who failed to engage the EU very fruitfully in his time in office (while provoking a major EU split on the Iraq invasion) is not the ideal vessel!
    @Desmond
    Thanks for the Irish example, very interesting. I agree it’s the social legislation that resonates the most in member states. The Gisela Stuart article mentioned in the blog explains that the UK Labour party only lifted its opposition to the EU once it was convinced by Delors’ social Europe

  7. #9 by Albert Spits on March 18, 2013 - 9:56 pm

    If there was ever an awfully biased article being written about the EU, this must be it.

    First of all nobody voted for a United States of Europe, but that is what the Eurocrats and their Europhile supporters really want. Second, the author of this article is completely ignorant about market economics and history. Every intelligent person knows that a centralisation of power means a concentration of power. Hence, the EU is heading that direction in a major way, without any popular vote or referendum in the member states.

    All referendums in the past have been steamrolled by the bureauracies in Brussels and the national capitals. Therefore, once people realise where this steamroller is heading there will be a major revolt or worse. We have a congregation of five different economic systems within the EU. The US, Japan and China have only one. We don´t even speak the same language, e.g. a Polish MEP is supposed to represent me, when I can´t even understand him.

    Besides, it might have escaped the author´s attention, but there is major depression going on at the moment of which the ill fated Eurozone is in the centre. The rotting process has started in the peripheral countries and is edging its way to the centre. It will be only a matter of time before the whole Euro edifice is collapsing.

    So instead of carrying on drivelling about ´freedom´, take a look around you, and you´ll find the basic freedoms being taken away by a myriad of centralised laws and regulations eminating from Brussels building the whole Union in a form of fortress prison, from which there will be no escape.

    Welcome to the brave new world of the new Euro-elite.

    Albert Spits
    Board member Frédéric Bastiat Foundation
    The Netherlands

    • #10 by Maggie G on March 21, 2013 - 1:02 pm

      What is going on is rising of the 4th reich. By whom? By heirs of Roman empire and Vatican. EU is exact copy of catholic church structure. Who are heirs of the empire? Descendants of Charlemagne, The Dynasty: Winndsor/saxe/coburg/gotha-Oranje/Nassau-Hohenzolern-Hannover clans.
      http://humphrysfamilytree.com/famous.descents.html

      This clan is mother ship of 39 US presidents.
      http://asis.com/users/stag/uspres.html
      Rulling class come to america on Mayflower

      They actually founded US. See book of T. Saussy: Rulers of Evil.
      Of course they control EU. Jesuit Barroso- alumni of Georgetown- is lengthened arm of octopus.

    • #11 by Milen on March 22, 2013 - 6:20 pm

      You are using very strong words and imagery, and this is what the author had against the Eurosceptic dialogue. You talk of prison, yet your right of free movement is enshrined in EU law. Without the EU, you will need 27 different visas to move around Europe. You talk of basic freedoms being taken away – like what? The freedom to exploit your workers with longer hours? The freedom to import faulty manufacturing products fom China and sell them to an unsuspecting populace? EU provides customer protection on many levels, limiting the “freedoms” of a wealthy elite to mistreat the population. You talk of referendums – a noble idea, but without forcing all the voters to get a law degree and study what they are voting on, it is kind of pointless. You are like the person who doesn’t like the furniture in the house, so he proposes to tear the whole thing down, rather than change the layout. Doesn’t seem smart, does it?

    • #12 by Christian on March 25, 2013 - 11:24 am

      Dear Albert,
      you seem to think that everybody think like you when you say that “nobody voted for a United States of Europe. I did and I’d like to reach this.
      Same when you say that “Every intelligent person knows that a centralisation of power means a concentration of power.” Being not intelligent, I like the FEDERAL system of Germany, of Switzerland and even of the USA.
      I agree with your concern about our “different economic systems” but that’s where Brussels is working .
      Speaking of the Polish MEP, no he/she doesn’r represent you, the same way as one British MP doesn’t represent you but the specific one you voted for.
      To speak like you, “it might have escaped” you that the “rotting process” started in the USA, followed by the UK, and that the British gov. does everything to protect those responsible of such a situation…
      I’like you to name all the freedom you already lost, except the one of course to reply and express your opinion !!

  8. #13 by Victor on March 18, 2013 - 10:03 pm

    It is not a coincidence that Murdoch and his copycats are at the center of the false debates over freedom both in the US and the UK (and spreading to countries like Germany).

    Institutions at all levels can be used to increase or diminish the average person´s real freedom. In Britain the boogeyman is the EU, in the US it is the United Nations. In both cases, the institutions are turned into caricatures by corporate dominated structures that have a very specific anti-freedom agenda.

    • #14 by A.P. Spits on March 19, 2013 - 10:16 am

      Dear Victor,

      Could you please substantiate this claim, because in our view it is the corporatists who welcomes a centralisation of power in Brussels, thus making their job easier of having a controlled and protected market from outside competition, henceforth having their cake and eat it too. It is just the taxpayer and consumer who are being duped in this way. Just think of the banking sector who are being bailed out by taxpayers´ money.

      Therefore it is essential that you first define your terms, so there can be a proper discussion. That is what I miss about this article.

      This book tells you all about the EU corporatist policies put in place. http://www.amazon.com/Social-Policy-1990s-Corporatist-Community/dp/0415157773

      Best regards,

      Albert Spits
      Board member Frédéric Bastiat Foundation
      The Netherlands

      • #15 by Victor on March 19, 2013 - 6:33 pm

        Which claim exactly?

        The book you quote apparently talks about the EU since the 1990´s, in other words since it started to be mostly dominated by right-wing governments and since British Euroscepticism made it harder to get agreements in the Council on social policy.

        In any case, EU social and environmental policy is for the most part a set of minimum standards.

        Maybe freedom of movement for workers can be “corporatist”, but it was never meant to come alone. And in countries like Britain, freedom of movement was not a driver of immigration until fairly recently.

        Murdoch´s strategy is basically one of divide and conquer. You push nations in Europe and states in America to fight for their freedom to have their own laws so there can be a race to the bottom on wages, corporate taxes, etc.

        You claim to want clarity, but you mix arguments and don´t define your own terms.

        The bailout of the banks is just more right-wing thinking but again it is not about structures, but about ideologies. The EU has a few structural ideologies, like internal free trade (and then even this is not without exceptions), but for the most part it just does what the sum of national governments want. And without making it impossible for those governments that would like to, to take more progressive measures.

        Can you give specific examples of EU full harmonization directives/regulations that make it impossible for states to do a better job of protecting workers/consumers?

        Libertarians and racists/nativists in Europe and America are the real fronts for corporate interests. People should talk openly about their motivations instead of hiding behind grandiose concepts.

      • #16 by jon livesey on March 19, 2013 - 11:24 pm

        What A.P. Spits writes here is a very good insight. If you are a pressure group, there is nothing you would like better than access to the taxpayers’ money and facilities through a vehicle that is not directly answerable to the taxpayers.

        This happens at the national level as well, but at least politicians at the national level are ultimately answerable to their voters.

        If you grow up in the UK and learn about the Civil War, the one thing you take away is the realization that “The power to tax is the power to govern.”

        As long as that power is reserved to national legislatures, you are safe. Otherwise you are not.

    • #17 by jon livesey on March 19, 2013 - 11:06 pm

      Here we go again. Victor wants you to think that a debate that represents all shades of opinion about EU, and not just differing degrees of EU-enthusiam are “false debates”.

      How can hearing a wide range of opinions be said to reduce your freedom? Access to a wide range of opinions is part of freedom. If you aren’t even to be allowed to know what opinions exist, how can you make a free choice?

      There is no mechanism in the UK to suppress positive opinion about the EU. There are publications and public intellectuals who are unconditionally pro-EU and who push their views all the time.

      Europhiles were content when sceptical opinion was ignored. It’s now that more and more people in the UK are becoming sceptical that they are asserting the supposed ills of free speech.

      • #18 by Maggie G on March 21, 2013 - 1:39 pm

        “Victor wants you to think that a debate that represents all shades of opinion about EU, and not just differing degrees of EU-enthusiam are “false debates.”

        All ideas of conservatives, libertarians, tea party, tories, and so on ends up @ wall at the dead end road. There naives folx hit the head.

        Dead end road means that all decisions in EU are made by EU commision= unelected corrupted body. If I am Beppe Grillo first thing what I would do I would do constitutional amendement on national level by which I would nulify all EU commision executive orders and country will accept only rules which came thru EU parliament. It can be done by any country any time on national level.

        Something like this is gonna to do North Dakota now as they have law on their state parliament about executive orders of presidents due ignorance of law by to the deepest part of bones corrupted US congress.

        I would also change law about election of EU MP members. EU MP should be elected by national parliament and they should represent national parliament and government in Brussels.

        “How can hearing a wide range of opinions be said to reduce your freedom? ”

        The same freedom applied in communist countries where people could freeley talk to toilet and then flush those words down.

        Am pragmatic, the same is Victor, not lunatic. Americans talk about democracy and still did not get it.

        OK. What is democracy? Forget those stupid BS from wikipedia. Democracy is government of law. Not people, but law and order, OK. No matter who sits in chair, law and order apply.

        Judge Andrew P. Napolitano has written a book that rips the government on one side
        and the other downwards. In the book, The constitutional chaos, he deplores the fact that the federal, provincial and local authorities are not obliged to obedience to the law. The first sentence of the first
        book is: “It should be against the law to break the law.” What is the remedy for such anarchy
        government? He concludes his book by saying: “The Congress and state legislatures should adopt
        legislation simply requires that the police and security forces, and all those who
        works for or is an agent of the Government shall be governed by, subject to, and must comply
        with all applicable laws. ‘

        Now, why is it not thought of before? If people have to obey the laws, then why
        should not the government? If he succeeded in nothing else, Judge Napolitano emphasized
        exactly where it should be. How did the government have committed all the wrongs he has so ably
        in detail in his book? Judge Napolitano acknowledges on page 18 that he did not answer when
        he says on page 18 of his book: “That’s why I let you guess the federal government employees
        can lie private citizens without penalty, but people can go to jail for lying to federal
        government, even when they are innocent.”

        Origin of English common law in Roman empire. Foundation of ECL is Jus Gentium on which EU commision worx as well.

        Non-citizens in Rome were not entitled to the privileges and protections afforded to the citizen under Roman Law. The institution of citizenship placed the individual on a status coequal with the state. Whenever a particular usage was seen to be practiced by a large number of separate cultures in common with Roman Law, it was set down as part of the Law. The Jus Gentium was designed to govern the peoples of Italy and the provinces, without giving them Roman citizenship and the other rights of the ius (Jus) civile.

        How people recognize Jus Gentium and Jus Civile? Jus Civile goes thru people, is codified, it is signed contract, signed by president as head of state. Jus Gentium is case law- law made in by lawyers, which allows twisting the truth as three in the wind as it denies funadamental principles of Jus Civile or Roman Law.

        Until people as Beppe’s salvation army of Italy won’t get seats in rulling body folx just throwing words into toilet… and justice for all.

    • #19 by jon livesey on March 19, 2013 - 11:30 pm

      “You push nations in Europe and states in America to fight for their freedom to have their own laws so there can be a race to the bottom on wages, corporate taxes, etc.”

      This is a complete misrepresentation of history by Victor. US States *started* with these powers. That they still have the ability to set tax rates makes the US economy that much more efficient.

      When one State introduces “Right to Work” laws, it attracts businesses from States where unions have a stranglehold on employment.

      When another State offers a lower tax rate to business, it attracts businesses who can then operate more profitably, which benefits the entire US economy.

      The reason that Europeans are beginning to resist the push to eliminate competition is because they can see the progressive removal of choice.

      • #20 by Victor on March 20, 2013 - 1:38 am

        I see no point in debating libertarians. It is just loads of theory that history has disproven.

        Neither democracy nor capitalism are perfect nor self-correct quickly enough from their inherent excesses.

        Then either socialists or dictators have to clean up the mess or civil wars and economic depressions break out.

        Living people don’t need to suffer from fanatics’ rigid ideologies.

        When a state attracts a company through lower wages and taxes what it does is lower government receipts, lower overall aggregate demand and fill the pockets of investors, who nowadays will park their money in the Caymans or invest in China. With real aggregate demand stagnant, investors have to speculate to make money, then fuelling asset bubbles.

        Yes, every now and then a good invention will also come along and also get those investors money. But even then if those inventions end up destroying more jobs than they create, eventually you have mass unemployment, which seems our current global direction.

        If the American south wasn’t going through a major revival of racism based on the unprecedented influx of Mexicans, poor whites wouldn’t be as against the welfare state as they are. The growth of anti-EU sentiment in the UK is also clearly related to racism.

        In Britain the City may be doing well enough. But laundering money and speculating seem to be ready to downsize. When the center of finance follows manufacturing and finishes its move to Asia then what will the UK depend on.

        The upheavals created by this phase of globalization and the information revolution require states and yes regional organizations to intervene to make sure the transitions are not excesively hurtful on the most vulnerable.

        In that race to the bottom you so tenaciously defend living human beings suffer, be they unionized or not.

        You care about the formalities of demos, not about the individuals. National democracies are good because they are more susceptible to popular pressure, but popular pressure doesn’t always reflect the best impulse. In the American states popular pressure would have had blacks enter the 21st century as non-full humans.

        The UK and the US, both of which have only gradually become democracies, prove just why a restrained democracy works better than mob rule. And even them both have had major Civil Wars.

        Your use of statistics is irrelevant when there’s only coincidence instead of causation.

  9. #21 by Nick Jacobs on March 19, 2013 - 10:32 am

    @Wim, Jon, Albert
    Pretty much everything coming out of Brussels goes through member states at the Council level, so if Brussels is over-regulating, is this not because member states are happy for it to do so? It may be precisely in their interests to allow tougher bits of regulation to be forged in Brussels so that they can wash their hands of it in the national press and maintain their popularity, but ultimately this is legislation they want – or a consensus would vote it down.

    There are surely democratic deficits at all levels of government if you look closely enough – the point of this article is to say that we should indeed scrutinise EU-level policy (often there are plenty of grounds for criticising it) and not get carried away talking about the structures, because a structure of governance legitimises itself by the policies it makes and to what extent they are in the interests of the people they apply to.

    Referenda on national policies are probably just as flawed as ones on the EU – one side of the argument will always have the timing and the money on their side.

    So the real imbalance of power that needs rectifying is the imbalance of information, whereby some actors (with big money and big media representation) have undue influence on the terms of the debate. If this could be ironed out then it would be possible to judge whether national and EU-level policies are really overbearing – but for now there’s too much manipulation.

    I don’t think it’s elitist to say that the interests of the many can be manipulated by the interests of the few – this is perfectly likely when money and power accrues to small sections of the population. Look at how Berlusconi owns media in Italy, and look at how close the British political elites were to Murdoch.

    • #22 by jon livesey on March 19, 2013 - 11:18 pm

      Nick, you know perfectly well that this is simply false. The formalities are *supposed* to ensure member states are happy, but the EU and its Courts are extremely good at extending the interpretation of EU measures well beyond what the member states intended.

      You also know perfectly well that what really counts in the EU right now is money. Five years ago we asked what the EU wanted. Four years ago we asked what Sarkozy/Merkel wanted. Today we ask only what Berlin wants.

      And you have a huge begged question. Is it really plausible that people who see little value in the EU project – rightly or wrongly – would actually want to put themselves under the governing structures of that same body?

      And as for the EU legitimising itself “by the policies it makes and to what extent they are in the interests of the people they apply to.” just look around you. Before the EU, Europe routinely had 5% annual growth, effectively zero unemployment and balanced budgets. Today that has translated into sub-zero growth, unemployment over 10% for a decade, and rising deficits and debts.

      Sceptics are simply saying: “We could not do worse than taking our own decisions, and we will take responsibility for the results.”

      Oh, and you finish off with the tired old buggaboo about Murdoch and Berlusconi. No-one has to listen to either of them. It’s as if you have no better arguments, so frequently do you return to this one.

      You will never admit this, but your basic attitude is that the average voter is a gullible fool who is entirely at the mercy of Murdoch and needs to be rescued from his foolishness by some wise Platonic Philosopher King. Someone like Nick Jacobs, in fact.

    • #23 by Wim Roffel on March 25, 2013 - 10:58 am

      I remember a discussion I recently had with some europarliamentarian who proudly gave the example of one proposed EU law that my country had blocked. Unfortunately he didn’t see it as a problem that the amount of effort and lobbying that that took made it very unlikely that anyone will ever be able to block more than a few percent of the EU laws.

      You talk about the influence of lobbying. But nowhere is the balance between business lobbying and civil influence more lopsided towards business interests than in Brussels. The EU “parliamentarians” typically spend more time promoting the EU towards the citizens than promoting sound policies that those citizens like.

      You talk as if structure and decision are two separate issues. But they are related. Take the eurocrisis. Any discussion that some countries should leave the eurozone is taboo. Even the obligation for new member states to enter the eurozone as soon as possible hasn’t been withdrawn. Why? Primarily because that would violate the dogma of the “ever closer union”: economic arguments are hardly discussed.

  10. #24 by Freja on March 20, 2013 - 11:25 am

    Very clever entry- I am personally very tired of euroskeptics harming the EU political debate with their destructive obstructionism and I agree with your analysis. Good also the parallel with the US. But there is one thing I was wondering about. You seem to imply that poor people need the government more than others. I think this is a myth, and the fact that they receive subsidies just make their dependence on the state more transparent and easy to identify than other types of government interventions. Shall we mention for example the huge helps that the US state provided to the banking sector? Or to the energy sector? The Tea Party concept of ” government invading our freedoms” seems even more hypocritical to me than you describe it.

  11. #25 by RCS on March 20, 2013 - 12:46 pm

    The problem with EU fanatics is that they simply deny reality and view Europe through rose-tinted spectacles.

    Look around the Eurozone – a shining success? The CFP – another great success? the CAP – another great success?

    The EU is the most dysfunctional system of government in the World and it simply doesn’t work. While people on this blog are blathering on about the “imaginary freedoms” articulated by eurosceptics (please note skeptic is US English) Europe is sinking into an over-regulated, economically stagnant, inward looking backwater.

    • #26 by Nick Jacobs on March 20, 2013 - 7:17 pm

      Where are the examples of shining, functional policies at member state level? Look at policy areas where the EU has no impact on member states, e.g. health policy. Is the UK government’s handling of the health service frequently described as shambolic and dysfunctional? Yes. Does this lead to calls to abolish this level of governance? No. People’s opinions differ on how much to centralise/decentralise, but it doesn’t lead irrationally on to a call to abolish national government altogether

      • #27 by Wim Roffel on March 25, 2013 - 10:44 am

        I can remember quite a few articles from the US about health care that concluded that the UK achieved more with less money.

        Health care and safety are subjects where you will always find people complaining. So please don’t take such complaints as a proof that something is wrong – let alone that it couldn’t be worse.

  12. #28 by Mike Hanlon on March 20, 2013 - 12:55 pm

    Nick Jacobs – you ask “Who are those with an unequivocal interest in the UK leaving the EU, as opposed to reform of EU policies or other incremental change?”

    Answer: democrats.

    Defined as those who look past any starry-eyed superstate ideology and understand that proper, responsive democracy is the far more potent guarantor of peace and prosperity on our continent than a few shiny office buildings in Brussels.

  13. #29 by Mike Hanlon on March 20, 2013 - 1:08 pm

    Nick Jacobs – you also write: “What if the anti-EU outrage were channeled at improving policies at the national and EU level? When lambasting Brussels people perhaps forget that the EU is not set in stone, and is only as good or bad, as free-market or nanny-state, as accommodating or restrictive of freedoms, as its citizens choose to make it.”

    This is fantasy. What impact can citizens have on the European Commission or the Council of Ministers, where Commissioners are required to ignore their country’s citizens interests and each member state only has one Minister of 27 in the Council to represent its citizens, so can be outvoted. Even in the European Parliament, all of one country’s MEPs can be outvoted by the rest.

    Unless you are an advocate of huge, massively funded, multi-national lobbying outfits akin to multi-national corporations, the opportunity for ordinary voters to influence EU institutions is very limited. That’s why true democrats of all political persuasions oppose participation in the EU.

  14. #30 by A.P. Spits on March 20, 2013 - 5:30 pm

    Ah, now the truth is coming out, and Victor´s extreme collectivist nature is fully on show, no wonder he revels at the prospect of a centralised dictatorship Brussels will surely become if we do not stop it.

    We can see the nature of his argument, which points to a very frightening prospect. The EU is not about free trade, because free trade does not need an EU, but just a free trade agreement, such as EFTA, Mercosur or ASEAN have agreed upon.

    No, the EU is much more than that, it is about total control of the continental population through their own bureaucrats´ agenda..Total control and collectivism is not at all ´progressive´, but utterly regressive as we have experienced from history (Soviet Union, Nazi Germany etc.) Socialism is just another evil perpetrated upon a hapless population, by promising them something for nothing, that something first needs to be plundered from someone else of course.

    Victor´s only real argument is that he equates libertarians with racists or nativists, which is of course a gross distortion of the reality. Libertarians are in favour of personal freedoms and individual sovereignty. the state is a medium for the protection of those inalienable rights, which people like Victor and the Europhiles would preferably steamroll over it.

    Holland fought an 80 year war against the Hapsburg Empire and won its freedom and sovereignty in 1648. We do not like to see a repeat of this pseudo-Hapsburg empire in the form of an intrusive and ultimately dictatorial Brussels construct.

    We talk openly about concepts and the concept of freedom is real and tangible. The concept of socialism or corporatism, which is perpetrated by the EU is something to be abhorred, because it gives some people or institutions more rights than others. And therein lies the crux.

    Albert Spits
    Board memeber Frédéric Bastiat Foundation
    The Netherlands

    • #31 by Victor on March 21, 2013 - 7:55 pm

      The contemporary libertarian argument can basically be sumed up as follows:
      1) people are bad to each other;
      2) so government of the people is bad;
      3) reduce government on people;
      4) if people are bad to each other, tough luck.
      They defend a toothless democracy where governments are elected but powerless to do anything in an unbridled capitalist context. They will not attack universal suffrage democracy directly like they used to do, but they will make elections irrelevant, as the laws of freedom and capitalism would be merely natural and therefore couldn´t be changed. Unmitigated capitalism has proven to naturally lead to monopolies, pollution, concentration of wealth, mass poverty and unemployment, perpetual financial crisis and boom and bust cycles. They would have all this in the name of “individual” freedom and theoretical economic efficiency. They see a poor person barely able to meet the needs of subsistence as being as free as a billionaire. Their understanding of theoretical economics is good, but they brush aside all the evidence from the actual workings of laissez faire capitalism. If mass suffering stands in the way of efficiency and change, so be it. They would implement their utopia here and now, as if the current distribution of wealth and power was irrelevant, as if the flaws of our current non-capitalist capitalism wouldn´t stand in the way of achieving the perfection they dream of. In the end, libertarians are like Communists and Anarchists, they hate the State because they are too lazy to actually think accept the hard work of governing. Human beings need to be governed. It is wholly unnatural to have societies without complex rules. Only with modernity have such stupid ideas as these three ideologies become popular. If you don´t like society and government, become a hermit. Because ever since people started living in community rules have to be made. A lot of them. These cults would have society killed in order to save it.

    • #32 by Jessica on April 9, 2013 - 1:53 pm

      Albert Spits fully agree with you.
      What is needed is to get rid of the EU which has become a Leviathan enslaving the people of the member countries.

      People must claim back their independence and freedom from the EU leviathan which others are calling the new EU-German Fourth Reich.

  15. #33 by Nick Jacobs on March 20, 2013 - 7:07 pm

    @Freja
    You’re right to point out that it isn’t only the poorer members of the society who need government intervention – big business often welcomes it, which makes it highly hypocritical when these same interests work to convince ordinary people that the type of government intervention they need (e.g. welfare) is wrong and is government over-reach.
    @Jon
    “Before the EU, Europe routinely had 5% annual growth, effectively zero unemployment and balanced budgets. Today that has translated into sub-zero growth, unemployment over 10% for a decade, and rising deficits and debts.”
    When the UK was outside the EEC in the 50s and 60s it grew much more slowly than the countries in it. Meanwhile countries like France, Italy and Germany have experienced strong growth throughout most of the time they’ve been in the EEC/EU. Agreed, the current economic outlook in most EU countries is poor, but you can’t link that to being in or out of the EU.
    @Mike
    You say it is democrats who want to leave the EU. So the majority of citizens in most EU countries who don’t want to leave the EU are not democrats? The fact that euroscepticism is so much stronger in the UK than elsewhere suggests that it is not so much a natural ”democratic’ response to an undemocractic body, but rather a response to a particular climate that has been created in this member state, by the press, the political debate and the history that is unique to it.
    @Mike, Jon, Albert, RCS
    Mike you say “”Even in the European Parliament, all of one country’s MEPs can be outvoted by the rest.”
    Sure, and similarly all of Wales’ MPs can be outvoted at Westminster. It’s the same concept we accept at member state level. This doesn’t make the EU anti-democratic. It does mean that a country’s interests can be subordinated to broader EU-wide interests, and maybe that concept in itself is enough to make seem people prefer an EU exit. But the argument should take place within honest terminology, and calling the EU anti-democratic falsifies the debate and makes some people in the middle ground more likely to take up the anti-EU argument on the basis of false assertions that are circulated.

  16. #34 by Maggie G on March 21, 2013 - 1:49 pm

    Here is North Dakota:
    “North Dakota lawmakers are looking to get tough on potential direct actions taken by President Barack Obama, proposing a bill to grant the Legislature the right to review, approve or reject any executive order issued by the president.

    House Bill 1428 is designed to give legislators the power to suspend orders implemented unless the orders have been upheld by a vote of Congress.
    Elite Health & Fitness

    Rep. Bob Skarphol (R-Tioga) is a co-sponsor of the bill and said some members of the Legislature don’t believe in governing by executive order. He said there are checks and balances ingrained into the government for a reason, and those balances should be followed.

    “It’s a serious issue with us,” Skarphol said. “If our president wants to circumvent Congress, then we’ll see it the same way as if our governor wants to circumvent us.”

    He said there were no direct issues that led to the proposition of the bill. Obama recently enacted executive actions on gun control, though not handing out any direct executive orders.

    Skarphol said, however, there will be some gun laws that the Legislature would not allow the North Dakota police departments to enforce.

    If the Obama administration does place an executive order on fracturing, under the bill, the state could choose to ignore the action until Congress passes an official law.”

    This is exactly number 1 issue in EU. And solution is that national parliaments will make law that only law apply on their soil not orders- in this case of EU commision.

  17. #35 by Maggie G on March 21, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    People know with whom they deal with- dark forces of antichrist. Look what writes lawmaker in North Dakota:

    “HB 1428 would have been my favorite GVA bill of the week, except that I think the next one might actually beat it! 1428 would allow the state of North Dakota to review and be allowed to reject any Presidential order that is not accompanied by an affirmation of Congress. Bonus – it would be retroactive to two years prior to the date of becoming law. Constitutionality and a myriad other questions accompany this bill – not the least of which is, are we prepared for the financial sanctions to accompany such an enactment.”

    Do you see what all folx knows about those forces of antichrist? “…financial sanctions…” Money talx.
    http://demcaucus.areavoices.com/2013/02/09/legislative-report-representative-gail-mooney-week-5/

    No taxation without representation. National must return to sovereignity on all level. EU must became body for coordinating cooperation toward prosperity not symbol of dictatorship and powerty while serving to the few. See Michael Parenti: Democracy for The few. Or H.H.Hoppe: Democracy: The god that failed.
    https://mises.org/store/Democracy-The-God-That-Failed-P240.aspx

    H.H. Hoppe has also good video on youtube: The Advantages of Small States and the Dangers of Centralization. http://youtu.be/dNQpV4-5x5E

    • #36 by Milen on March 22, 2013 - 6:45 pm

      Maggie, just a friendly advice: whenever you discuss a serious topic, try not to involve the antichrist. It makes it much harder for me (and many others) to take you seriously.