by Brendan Donnelly, Director of the Federal Trust and former Member of the European Parliament///
Predictably, many commentaries in the British mass media have gloatingly presented the European Elections as a continent-wide reject ion of the process of European integration, as the long-ignored peoples of Europe rising up in democratic wrath against their oppressors in Brussels. The results of the European Elections are however much more ambiguous and mixed than that. It is true that just over a quarter of the French and British electorates voted respectively for the Front National and UKIP and extremist parties of right and left did well in Greece, while Denmark saw success for the anti-immigrant party of Mr. Messerschmidt. But against this must be set the 93% of the German electorate who voted for pro-EU parties, the victories for pro-EU governing parties in Italy, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic and the poor result of the Eurosceptic Mr. Wilders in the Netherlands. The European Elections certainly demonstrate that there are deep-rooted economic problems within a number of European countries. But these problems are essentially national rather than European problems. France and the United Kingdom well illustrate this point.
There is at the moment an enormously unpopular Socialist government in France, which has made only spasmodic attempts to reform the still productive, but nevertheless inflexible French economy. The Opposition is divided and public opinion is deeply sceptical about the capacity of the current French political system to produce the economic and social reforms necessary to guarantee future French prosperity. The preceding government of Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Fillon did little better than Mr. Hollande in attempting to solve these systemic problems. The simplistic claim of the Front National that these fundamental problems of French political society are the responsibility of outsiders, in particular the European Union, is populist, attractive and dangerously incorrect. The great majority of French voters recognize this. That there is a significant minority which does not can hardly be laid at the door of the European Union. Pseudo-democrats in France and elsewhere will no doubt claim that French politicians should now at least pretend to share the intellectual and moral confusions of the Front National. Genuine democrats will understand that democratic political leaders only discredit themselves and democracy when they adopt such tactics.
Similar considerations to those in France apply also to the United Kingdom. There is widespread distrust and disdain for the established political classes and great pessimism about the economic future of the country in the medium and long term. Living standards have at best stagnated for the past seven years and what improvement there has been has been concentrated in London and the South East. Britain’s economy has for many years been constructed on a dangerous mixture of public debt, private debt, oil revenue and the earnings of the City of London. Successive British governments have done little or nothing to stabilize this volatile mixture. In particular, they have acquiesced in perpetuating an under-qualified and under-motivated general British workforce, which has indeed all too often proved vulnerable to immigrant workers from elsewhere in the European Union. The populist success of UKIP, with its almost exclusive focus on the topic of immigration, has been to convince a significant minority of the British electorate that this vulnerability is the fault of the European Union and not of the British themselves. It would be a self-defeating error bringing great potential damage to our country if politicians from the larger British parties appeared to embrace the underlying misconceptions of UKIP’s approach to the world and Britain’s place in it.
It is no coincidence that in Germany by contrast Euroscepticism is confined to one small party, the Alternative for Germany, which is not against Germany’s membership of the European Union, but only of the euro. The current German economic model is an altogether more sustainable one in our epoch of irreversible globalisation than that of France and the United Kingdom. The German workforce is highly-qualified, highly motivated and highly productive, while levels of private debt are low and public debt is falling. There are certainly criticisms to be made of the German government’s handling of the euro-crisis, not least in its initial stages. But none of them should detract from our recognition that Germany’s underlying economic model is a sound one that we would do well to ponder and imitate. It used to be widely accepted that the ability to learn from our European neighbours was a definite advantage of membership in the European Union. That generous insight has been replaced in some quarters by a desire to isolate ourselves from Europe for fear of having our own deficiencies exposed. The underlying economic message of UKIP and the Front National (which are in many other respects dissimilar) is the same, namely that the United Kingdom and France must be sheltered from international competition, because they can never succeed in such competition. Leading politicians in France and the United Kingdom should beware of regarding such lazy pessimism as any kind of patriotism, even if dresses itself up in the tricoleur and the Union Jack.
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About: European Movement UK
The origins of the European Movement
The origins of the European Movement lie in the aftermath of the Second World War. More than eight hundred delegates from across Europe gathered in The Hague in May 1948, under the chairmanship of Sir Winston Churchill, to create a new international movement to unite Europe and prevent further wars between its members. The British section of the European Movement was founded a year later.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the European Movement put forward the arguments for joining the European Economic Community, and it ran a major campaign in the early 1970s, both among the general public and in parliament, to win the battle for entry. In 1975, during the referendum on membership, the European Movement played a central role in the YES campaign. Other campaigns since then have included pressing for direct elections to the European Parliament in the 1970s and promoting the benefits of the single market in the run-up to 1992.
During the 1990s, the organisation became revitalised around the need to create a new national pro-European coalition. The rise in anti-European feeling threatens to undermine Britain's place in the European Union; our exclusion from the first wave of countries joining the euro is an example of how we lose out when the pro-European case is not put strongly enough in public.
Aims and activities
The European Movement is
- A rallying point: The European Movement rallies all those who believe that European unity is vital where the peoples of Europe have interests in common such as increased trade to improve economic prosperity, an improved environment to tackle climate change, and action to combat global poverty. A politically united Europe is needed to sweep aside the petty tribalism that has historically, at the very least, been an obstacle to progress or, at its worst, has led to bitter conflict and a catastrophic loss of human life. Europe must be united as a region of law, justice and democracy, equipped with the institutions capable of achieving these ends. Members receive a regular newsletter, euromove, with information and news about Pro-European developments. In addition, the office publishes updates on campaign ideas and issues an e-mail newsletter, e-News. Members take part in lively discussions in person and online, and the European Movement maintains an informative website.
- A campaign: The Movement has since its creation in 1948 sought to build and maintain public support for the unity of Europe. In the face of a backward-looking nationalist resurgence in some quarters, this role is as vital as ever. The campaigns include public information points, working with the media, and lobbying MPs and other decision-makers. In addition to the work of the London office, the branches and national councils organise campaign activities in their own areas, as well as political discussions and social events for members.
- A pressure group: The creation of the European Union has been an extraordinary achievement - democratic, sovereign states have created a common institutional framework in order to forge a future together based on the rule of law. But the European Movement is not the Union's information service or an apologist for its weaknesses. It must work to win support for the reforms necessary to improve its ability to meet the hopes and aspirations of its peoples.