As the question of the European Union lowers its horns before the final wild charge just a week away before the UK votes on its membership, I am amusingly reminded about the words of the most notable realism theorists of early modern political thought.
Namely, Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. Both would have interesting takes on the nature of the European Union.
Machiavelli would, in principle, support a Europe of general co-operation, in which there is little risk of one’s state being conquered by the rest through mutual dependence. Furthermore, in “being a true friend” one secures security for as long as this lasts.
Hobbes, on the other hand, will likely be turning in his grave at the thought of the state being undermined by an international sovereign.
This being the man who created his own rather “bizarre” religion – in the words of Quentin Skinner – to allow for the single sovereign to maintain sole control.
However, Machiavelli does note in Chapter XXI of The Prince: “A prince also wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation of one side against another.”
Machiavelli, writing in the 16th century, did not have any example of state co-operation on an EU-scale to base his arguments on, but it does raise the question: Where do the UK sit; is it a true friend – unreservedly so?
With that entertaining thought experiment aside, one turns to the question that faces us all next week.
From observation and discussion, this referendum is like any that have gone before. As I stated in a previous blog, the EU has an importance problem, and because many do not see how far the EU’s fingers extend into their lives they have no idea whether they will fall through them or not if we vote Leave.
This can cause many to be sat on the fence, due to an inability to weigh-up the pros and cons, which the EU has certainly generated in near-equal measure.
I, too, have been unable to stick to a decision (which is rather unlike me), but here are a few of the consideration I have had, first on leaving and second on remaining.
Firstly, in favour of leaving: Europe has changed significantly since the 1970s.
In 1975, Harold Wilson secured concessions for the UK in a renegotiation package. This saw a significant swing towards favouring UK membership of the EU.
That did not happen this time, and there may be a few reasons, but one is likely due to a different UK in a different EU.
In 1975, it was just over a decade since the European Coal & Coal Steel was born – an industry heavily relied upon in the pre-Thatcher Britain of the 70s.
Britain eschewed membership in the 50s, but by the 60s Britain’s economy was in difficulty, particularly the coal industry.
Since then, the European Parliament and Commission have gained new powers. Thus, the European institution of the 70s is not the same as it is now, with the questions of sovereignty.
Secondly, the democracy aspect.
We have heard the issues of sovereignty, but what about the basic democratic values of representation, transparency and accountability?
An excellent article in The Conversation examined this, and concluded: Yes, the EU was perhaps more representative than some national parliaments, but lacked the transparency and accountability of those parliaments.
One issue I thought was intriguing was the lack of an EU-wide media outlet, which would perhaps provide a greater sense of inclusion and mutual dependence between the EU and its members, and between the members themselves.
Weighing it up, then (sovereignty, and the aforementioned values) the EU is not entirely democratic, and this does it no favours in my opinion.
Next: What has the EU done for the things I am interested in? For instance, agriculture and fishing.
The Common Agricultural Policy has many intricacies, but its central issue is that of farming subsidies.
From the outside, CAP subsidies sounds like a great idea, but get under the skin and the policy becomes questionable. Prescient in these questions is the basing of payments on land.
Often, those with larger land tend to be the wealthier, and thus the wealthier end up receiving a larger amount of money.
Fishing. Fishing vessels have been significantly reduced in the last forty years, and fishermen complain of restrictive fishing limits set by the European Union.
Nevertheless, due to the EU being primarily a facilitator for trade, I am pleased at the latter measure, because it is never right to give in to corporate interests and discard the importance of maintaining good conservation efforts.
Lastly, the money thing.
There are conflicting messages on both sides of the debate, and yet the economics will be the issue which the result hinges, most likely.
On the issue of trade, the UK is currently running a £24bn trade deficit with the EU, with the gap continuing to grow. However, unlike some claim in the Leave camp, the UK does not trade 60% of its goods with countries outside the EU.
This figure was true in 2000, but in 2015 that figure was just 47%.
Furthermore, projections by Remain are also as dubious as Leave’s “£350 million a week!” cry. The Treasury figure for households losing over £4000 a year is a figure I have examined before, and cast serious doubts over.
Therefore, there is no certain fact on the economics of EU membership, and the benefits and costs are extremely hard to weigh-up without writing a Masters level dissertation.
And yet, for all its fault, the idea of the EU attracts me.
I believe in the value of freedom of movement of ideas, which the European Union undoubtedly provides in a far easier format with the Schengen Agreement.
Furthermore, protection of multiculturalism and multilingualism in the EU is immensely attractive to me.
With around 100 (though there are a number of figures) languages spoken throughout European, including 24 official languages, the EU provides an excellent platform for sharing cultures and identities across borders.
There have been those who feel English should become the language of the EU. This saddens me greatly, because language should not be about ease of use, but about our identity and cultural history. If this happened, I would certainly vote to Leave the EU.
But this feeds into allowing students and academics from other countries to come to the UK; and we should feel honoured that 124,000 choose to do so in our higher education institutions.
Thirdly, the globalisation perspective.
Debating with my mother about this, I found there to be two stances on globalisation:
- The world is becoming increasingly globalised, and so we must work with other countries to create a more homogeneous relationship of co-operation to work towards the betterment of all;
- The world is becoming increasingly globalised, and we need to protect a degree of sovereignty and prevent clashing of cultures.
I stand in camp 1; she in camp 2.
I do not believe that in order to prevent conflict we should create systems of prevention instead of education. Good is hard to come by when borders are erected, and then there is internal consideration of other cultures.
Instead, cultures have to come together and find ways of working together. It is better to unite against a common problem, rather than to stand in opposition to one another.
It worked with the co-operation of France and Germany, and continues to do so for reasons of common interest.
These are some – if not, most – of the considerations I have made in regards to this referendum, and 1300 words later I wonder how far I have come.
I have said before: The EU is an idea. It is not perfect, and yet nothing is. Scotland voted on independence, narrowly missed, and secured greater devolution.
As Scots watch with detached amusement at Gordon Brown’s Remain video – reminiscient of his sudden explosion onto a stage during the #indyref campaign in 2014 – his words did contain some truth.
‘Reform within Europe as we need, and be a leader within it.’ And yet, this idea of being a “leader” is hard in an institution where all countries are almost proportionally represented.
Plus, how much reform until we are satisified? Will we just continue to be dissatisfied at the state in whcih we find ourselves?
In the end, it is the globalisation question which catches my eye. For the sake of multiculturalism, education, intellectual expansion, corpoarate restriction, and international co-operation on climate change, I will be voting to Remain in the EU.
However, the UK must take a more active role in the EU.
We got there, eventually.