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Is there life outside of the EU yes but....
on 17 August 2014
The EU-too big, too invasive, too bureaucratic and costly, ultimately not serving the citizens for whom it was presumably set up to serve. Worse still it seemingly exists to create regulation, control and encourage waste, corruption and inefficiency. So much so that even its fondest friends have come to question the motives and even its relevance of the European behemoth in the modern world. In a nutshell that the argument of this temperate, concisely argued and well balanced book.
The big question is, what is Europe for? The EU means different things to different member states and different constituencies within those member states. For some it is a form of social harmonisation -human rights, taxation, competition, free movement of labour and travel. For others it is a form of market opportunity. The EU offers protection for producers, especially farmers and gives a free trade zone especially useful for big business. The EU offers especially for smaller, weaker or less prosperous nations like the ex-Iron Curtain countries a way to develop by gaining financial assistance or drawing from the expertise and rigour that that the various organs of the EU dispense or demand. Finally, of course there is the political and economic clout that all member states are meant to benefit from. Even so, argues the author, do the benefits outweigh the costs of the European project?
Bootle positions his arguments largely from the economic stand point. This is because without a strong economy -meaning that output, employment, productivity and general competitiveness are growing at least in line with global trends, then Europe will fail to coalesce as a sound social and political entity. This means the EU will get left behind and ultimately dissolve under the weight of internal dissent and disappointment. Bootle suggests that small, lean nations serve their citizens best. Nations who get swept up in grand dreams will like the builders of Babylon will find that eventually that little gets done in relation to the vast sums expended. Hence the Euro, the huge array of institutions, the vast swathes of legislation, the costs of running the whole show will slowly clog up all the machinery of government, the activities of business enterprise and the good will of Euroland voters.
Where Bootle scores most is that he is very even handed. Rather than simply rubbish the EU he can see that while it has many structural failings it has the potential to reform. He wants the EU to halt the tendency towards the consolidation of centralising powers and return to focusing on what will help Europe in the long run. Namely trade through freer markets. Trade creates wealth, competitiveness, increased productivity, innovation and employment. Let nations collaborate on say environmental and common security issues but otherwise grand schemes such as the Euro and further political and social integration should go in reverse or be dropped altogether.
The central query is what are the options for the UK? Well this depends on being able to access the costs and benefits Britain staying in the EU, which Bootle freely admits much to his credit are very hard to determine. Ultimately on trying to think about Britain's future either as a member of the EU as presently constituted, or becoming some sort of second tier or associate member is both perplexing and frustrating. Whatever happens, he reckons that the UK is too big a consumer of Euro goods to be ignored. So there is life after the EU, less cosy maybe, but possibly a lot more rewarding in the long run.
For myself, I think it really depends on your political outlook as to how you view staying in or leaving Europe. Being in Europe was never just about economics. The UK wanted a post-imperial role, wanted to have influence in European affairs and could see the many cultural, political and social ties that bind the nation to mainland Europe. So a simple enumeration of the economic arguments, pro and con are not enough. This leads to my only real criticism of this very readable and substantial book, that it gives insufficient weight to the social, political historical reasons for why and how the EU has developed. After all if we want the EU to reform we in the UK rather than simply `Battling for Britain' (an approach that has only led to isolation and a feeling of frustration from many fellow members), government needs to understand more fully the perspectives of other members in order to gain change. This requires collaboration,mutual respect and gain sharing. It might help if governments and parties gave a little more time and effort to `talk up' Europe rather than blaming the EU for failings in domestic policy. So an excellent book and fully deserving all the glowing reviews it has received.