The EU vexes the English. No one is more vexed and irritated by the EU than that rare, though vocal breed, the privileged English public school boy. Think EU Perspectives is exaggerating? Think again. Look at the profile of all the loudest anti-EU bashers. David Cameron (Eton), Boris Johnson (Eton) and Nigel Farage (Dulwich College). Hardly surprising then that these form the back-bone of the anti-EU push. The corridors, refectories and dormitories of such schools are drenched in tradition. A place where England’s splendid history dribbles from the rafters slowly drenching juvenile minds with visions of past glories and hopes for continued good fortune.
The English public school boy feels most confident when happily day dreaming about a past where the English status as majority tribe on the British Isles is a given. Both the reality of the here and now and Britain’s realigned future in which England is just one of many other people looking to promote their interests in a wider Europe unsettles their comfortable status.
The real problem with the EU is that it is forcing the English, for the first time ever, to think like a minority. An alien, disturbing concept to those raised to believe that Westminster has the power (metaphorically speaking) to ban smoking on the street of Paris or to make a man into woman (Sir Ivor Jennings, 1959). No wonder many English are perplexed and vexed. The transition from majority to minority partner is a tough pill to swallow.
What baffles the English and upsets their equilibrium even more is that the vast majority of countries in continental Europe do not find the EU concept, structure and organisation as strange and as alien as they do. By way of example.
- Most EU member states are comfortable with written treaties and constitutions where powers are clearly delineated. To many the EU Treaties are just another layer of government – an idea they are perfectly capable of conceptualising and accepting. The English stand alone with an unwritten, organic constitution made up of an Act here and a Convention there with nothing above them other than a sovereign Parliament sitting in Westminster.
- Most EU member states have written constitutions so do not find federalism a foreign imported idea. The English have no tradition, nor interest, in federalism. Why would they if, as a majority, they can control power centrally from London?
- Most EU member states do not regard regulations as evil per se and are familiar with the concept of a directive or a regulation. The English are totally spooked by such talk.
- EU jurisprudence reflects the civil law heritage of most EU member states. The English are more comfortable with sifting through pages of written judgements to extrapolate the law, not numbered Articles.
- Most EU member states are committed to maintaining their welfare state. The English are trying to dismantle theirs.
- The largest political grouping in the European Parliament are the Christian Democrats. The English do not do political parties with religious name-tags.
The attitude of the English privileged elite towards the EU is best illustrated by Cameron’s do or die fight over the next Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker.
Juncker, in short, represents everything the public school boy David Cameron does not. A free-market, laissez-fair, toff familiar with the rules of cricket, Juncker is not. In fact Juncker is the least likely candidate to deliver what Cameron so desperately wants – reform of the EU.
Juncker is a Christian Democrat, federalist committed to high taxes. Cameron believes in one central, sovereign Parliament based in London with low taxes and a sense of noblesse oblige through a big society rather than regulated welfare paid for by tax-payers. Juncker is a civil-law lawyer happy to regulate the EU economy into recovery if need be. Cameron believes the nebulous market should set things right never government. Juncker spends hours in late night meetings trying to save the euro. Cameron thinks the euro is a waste of time. Juncker hails from an irrelevant, small country. Cameron hails from glorious England.
No wonder then that Cameron has staked his reputation and probably his career on ensuring Juncker does not become the next Commission President. For once, however, EU Perspectives, finds itself in alignment with Cameron – but for completely different reasons.
Juncker is indeed a weak candidate. The accusation that he represents the past and not the future has some merit to it. Juncker is facing corruption scandals at home and is tainted by all the hostility surrounding his candidacy. To pretend that the Parliamentary candidates are democratically chosen is stretching the concept of “democracy” to the very brink of what defines democracy. For many the spitzenkandidaten look more like an inter-party stich-up than anything resembling real democracy. In any case, far, far better candidates exist who could do a much better job of juggling the many challenges the EU faces in the coming years.
Yet, if Cameron is serious about finding an alternative to Juncker he has gone about it in the worst way possible. The public school boy, with his head stuck in the past, is totally and utterly inept at reading between the lines – a sign of how out of touch from reality the current British government is.
Has Cameron not read that Merckel, in private, doubts Juncker’s candidacy? Has he not heard that Juncker is facing scandals at home for past indiscretions? Is Cameron not aware that many other EU Heads of States have given a lukewarm response to his candidacy? Has he not figured out that the other EU Heads of States are not that interested in giving the European Parliament control over the Commission Presidency with their dubious sptitzenkandidaten?
Rather than playing a subtle behind the scenes card to try and persuade other EU Head of States to drop Juncker, Cameron thinks he can alter events in Brussels by coming out all guns blazing, rowing round and round in circles on a lake in Sweden and behaving like a nineteenth century British politician. Memories are long in Brussels. Has Cameron ever helped an ally out during the tricky years of euro-crisis and recession? No. Has Cameron given much of his time to help Europe pull itself out of recession. No. Does Cameron veto hard negotiated Treaty changes? Yes.
No one in Brussels, (forgive the public school analogy) is batting for him. Why would they? His past obstreperousness and aloofness have left him bereft of allies or natural bed-fellows who are irritated rather than convinced by Cameron’s rhetoric.
Cameron has pushed them all – Merkel, Renzi, Hollande – into a corner where they would rather appoint Juncker as President of the European Commission then give the British the illusion that they can behave like a majority when in fact they have become just another minority grouping in the EU who are heading for the exit.
It is a hard pill for the English to swallow but in the new Europe they are a minority whose interests are best served through participation, negotiation and membership. Things are done differently on the continent. Get over it. It’s not all bad. In fact there is a lot of good coming out of the EU albeit the approach to governance is different to that of the UK. What is blatantly obvious is that standing on the side-lines crying “we was robbed” is the standard battle cry of those who have lost the game. Cameron should be there to make sure Britain, with the English included, have their interests best served in Brussels not trying to pretend that Britain in a modern context can ever be the same beast it was fifty years ago.