Saturday, April 23, 2016

On Europe

In the near future, I have to vote on whether I wish the UK to remain within the European Union.

I love Europe but then I'm biased because I’m European. I’m British and always will be. But this is not a question of identity but of Union. It’s also the first time, being 48 years old, that I’ve ever been asked the question. For most of my life, I’ve been within the European Union, I’ve voted for MEPs but I’ve never chosen whether I wanted to be.

I’ve heard plenty of arguments from both sides - the leaves and the remains - and the question has vexed me. I’ve been told about immigration threats but immigration isn’t a threat, it’s a benefit. I know the lazy use it as an excuse to hide mismanagement of housing, social and service policies but that’s all it is  - something to blame for other failings. I live a land with low population densities in the countryside, a growing economy and plenty of room if people choose to make that happen.

I’ve heard the arguments of cost but whilst we’re talking of billions in payment, we have billions in rebates. There are many benefits from the Union - the freedom of movement, co-operation on science to workers' rights. We’re stronger as a larger union and there’s no solid reason to believe that any “savings” won’t be flittered away on tax breaks.

I’ve heard the arguments on security, we may tighten our borders but we also co-operate with others. I can’t see that co-operation changing much either way. I can’t see a convincing case we’d be safer.

I’ve heard the arguments on trade both with our European partners and potential future hypotheticals. I can’t see we’d actually stop trade with Europe if we left, the UK is an important destination but we also lack trade negotiators and what guarantee do we have that such future trade arrangements might happen? I would suspect there’d be some fall-out especially if the threats of consequences - also known as vengeance politics - happened.

I know that EU is subject to extensive lobbying by corporate interests, we’ve seen this first hand with the decision by the EC to suddenly declare open standards as FRAND. It’s a minor  and trivial point for most but one which could have profound impacts on open source software.  It’s also one we fought against lobbyists in the UK only to find it snuck in via the “European Union route.” 

But then, how many times has our own Government introduced legislation via "Europe" and then declared back home that they are forced to take this legislation because "Europe" says so.  Whilst, the UK has a good record on transparency it is not uniform and it is lazy to think that backroom deals and hushed secrets on international trade agreements (TTIP) are a Union problem and somehow distant from us.

I know Obama has urged us to stay but then that surely is in the self interest of the US, its Gov, its multinationals and its military. I was of course dismayed by the ridiculous, trifling and offensive arguments by Boris, rambling on about Churchill’s statue and Kenyan heritage. But then offensive is not an uncommon word when listening to some of the views of those who want to exit and the nationalist propaganda they peddle. 

I know I’m being bombarded by fear and uncertainty. If we leave Europe then millions of jobs will be lost, we’ll lose international status, become a rogue state of little Englanders and bigots. That’s not the country I know but then I understand that one way to silence people is by “association” to undesirable characteristics and one way to coerce is through fear and uncertainty. I saw the same games played in Scotland.  We will probably lose some jobs, maybe some trade, maybe some status - I’m sure there will be downsides to leaving. But I’m weary of the old tales of doom and gloom - “if you stop non doms then your entire economy will collapse” or “If you introduce this legislation then all the banks will move to Hong Kong”

There’s is however, one thing I never weary of. Democracy

It is an ideal which though never truly reached, we should always strive for. We, the people, lend our members of parliament the power to make decisions over us. We do this through elections. It’s a power they have to give back and which we grant to new MPs. We are not constrained by policies and choices of the past, we have parliamentary sovereignty.  These powers, as Tony Benn once said, must be returned undiminished.

But this is the first time I am voting on the European Union. We have a body known as the European Commission that is not elected, that we (the people) do not grant authority and power to but instead it is appointed and has taken power signed in treaty after treaty. It governs many policies from agriculture to trade. It makes trade deals. It has close associations to industry to corporations and we have no recourse. We cannot vote it out.

Except this one time.

I will not willingly surrender power to unelected undemocratic institutions. If all the bodies of the EU, if the EC was elected then maybe things would be different but they’re not. As much as I want to see a strong Europe, I have been given a chance to change something that has ruled over me without permission and has taken power with no apparent intention to give it back.

So, I am faced with a choice. 

I could decide to continue to hand over power to bodies that include unelected undemocratic institutions in return for keeping the status quo, maybe a bit of wishful thinking that we can change it but lets be honest it would really be about that bit of extra security and keeping the economy ticking along. Who wants to upset the apple cart? But then I’m not the only one effected because this was done to me. My parents generation handed my power away cheaply to unelected officials such as the EC who now govern many aspects of my life.  

To vote to remain, I would be doing the same to my son that was done to me. What would I say when he was older - I took away your power and gave it, without your permission, without thought for your future to unelected bureaucrats for a bit of security, safety and better job prospects?

I would rather die. 

Democracy is not something to be given away, to be sold, it is something incredibly precious that we keep for future generations and it is worth fighting for. I don’t care what the impacts are, I don’t care if we all end up poor but I’m sure some of you might. For me, the only way forward with democracy is more democracy not less.

There are many reasons, many attractions and many comforts that urge me to vote to remain in the European Union. There are vile people voting against it for the most atrocious, bigoted and nationalistic reasons.

There is only one reasonable reason to vote against remaining in the European Union and that reason is democracy. However, that reason trumps everything else. So will I cower under fear and uncertainty, be concerned about what people might think through association or even hide in one box rather than tick another. No. 

I am not voting against Europe, I am voting against the undemocratic institutions, the executive of the European Union - the European Commission - and all the technocrats and structures (e.g. the EuroGroup) that have been forced on others.

I have been given a chance to take power back from the unelected, to increase democracy rather than diminish it for both myself and future generations. I will seize that chance. 

I will vote to leave the European Union.

I will still be a European.