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Forget About Britain,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Diet of Brussels: The Changing Face of Europe (Hardcover)In Diet of Brussels, Leon Brittan, champion of free markets - except when he is not - and one of Lady Thatcher's favorites once upon a time, makes his case for Britain's membership in the European Union. That Mr. Brittan is strongly pro-EU is never in question, that he cares about Britain more than he does markets is quite another.
Mr. Brittan's argument is that Britain has no choice but to be in the EU, and that it needs to "fight its corner" for free markets. In the book, he describes his various battles as an EU Commissioner, and rightly points out that conservatives have had not a few victories within Europe - most specifically including the so-called stability pact committing individual governments to fiscal restraint and deregulation.
Yet, if the intent of Mr. Brittan is to persuade his countrymen that the EU is good for them, it is interesting that he never says much of anything good about Britain. Occassionally he compliments the Thatcher Government for keeping the EU on the straight and narrow of free markets and fiscal rectitude. Yet in general, Britain hardly figures into the book at all - even in the concluding chapter about what Britain's role in the EU should be.
This is the crux of the problem and the failure of the book. Brittan defends markets better than he defends Britain. To those in Britain who are called Eurosceptics - a large majority if the polls are to be believed - that is a reversal of priorities, and it is one that even Brittan himself cannot universally defend.
For example, early in the book, Brittan makes a passing reference to the distinction between Europe's states and Europe's cultures, and makes it quite clear that the cultures matter more. Yet later, when describing the dispute with the United States over the film industry, Brittan quite cheerfully announces his willingness to use the power of the state - by protecting Europe's various national film studios - to protect the culture. He seems not to note the relationship between the culture and the state.
Like many conservative europhiles, Brittan does not seem to understand that free market capitalism is a tool in the defense of freedom in the state, not an end in itself. The state exists, as Burke noted, to provide for certain human needs, and is more than a thing of mere physical locality.
Brittan, who to be fair calls himself at one point in the book a liberal in the classical sense, seems not to understand that the EU must ultimately erase Britain as a state, and thus in time will dilute its culture. Furthermore, this is true regardless if the classical liberals or the socialists emerge triumphant in Brussels. Both share the same implicit commitment to an internationalism that will dilute Britain's soverign status. Indeed, that historically prefers broad notions of an abstract "humanity" to the idea of more narrow ethnic and religious loyalties around which most humans define themselves.
Brittan counters this claim by arguing that such a status is a delusion because Britain does not have total freedom of action in the real world. That argument is a canard, however, because it does not make a reasoned distinction about where power is centered.
A Parliament that is committed to NATO has certain judgments taken out of its hands, but retains the right to define the limits under which those judments are made, and can ultimately quit NATO altogether if it chooses. A Parliament that is bound simply to implement, rubber stamp in effect, the initiatives of the EU and the EU court is effectively dead.
The soverignty question is not absolute, and never has been in history. In the end, however, the locus of decision making matters because it determines who will have the initiative when choices have to be made - however limited the range of options might be.
Brittan never probes this issue, but instead buys into the tired arguments about shared or pooled soverignty, or whatever.
Similarly, he sees the euro as an absolute good for promoting market discipline and points to all the good things that have happened - better budget discipine, etc. - as governments prepared to join. This neglects the fact that all these good things have happened while the euro is nothing more than a common currency alongside the national currencies. This makes the euro look a bit extraneous - why not simply tie all the national currencies together at a fixed rate? What about the common currency alongside the national currencies that Lady Thatcher once proposed? Brittan does not tell us.
As to Britain's influence in an EU world, Mr. Brittan presumes that it will be greater, particularly with the United States. Yet the truth is that during, for example, the Persian Gulf War, the UK mattered not because Britain was in the EU, but because it was out of it. It was the fact that Britain acted - and acted quickly - unlike its other EU couterparts, that made it important in Washington's calculations. A Britain that had been bound to the EU would not have mattered.
The EU has largely been ineffectual in the international arena, and an EU with greater control over its member's defense and security policies will simply incline Washington to skip London and go straight to Brussels since Britain will be only 1/15th of the decision making process. Britain still matters in the world because it still retains much economic and military power, not simply because it is operating in some self-appointed role as a bridge across the Atlantic.
Of course, Brittan is not wrong when he emphasizes the importance of free markets and prosperity, but in elevating those values above all others he weakens his argument. In the end, the British - English, Scots, Welsh - value what they are, their history and culture, more than they value markets and money. It is Brittan's failure to acknowledge that fact and address it that makes his book singularly ineffective, and that leaves Eurosceptics singularly unconvinced.