16 July 2015

The EU has been as useful for world peace as learning Esperanto

By David Green

Many people have been drawn to the EU because its founders claimed it was intended to avoid another war in Europe. It was all about ‘working together’ instead of fighting. But in truth, building a new regional state at the expense of existing nation states has achieved even less than other post-war nostrums, such as learning Esperanto. The truly international institutions established at the end of World War Two, such as the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and GATT (now WTO), have been remarkably successful. We should focus our energy on making them a continued success, not on the dysfunctional regional sideshow that the EU has become. The Greeks are only the latest casualties of a structurally flawed project.

After 1945 there was a near universal determination to avoid another destructive war, but some approaches proved to be more effective than others. We can put them in three categories: those focused on personal action, such as learning Esperanto; those that wanted regional solutions, such as founding the EU; and those that aimed to bring together every nation in the world, such as establishing the UN.

The personal approaches emphasised the importance of friendly ties between private citizens across international boundaries. Some tried to invent a new language, Esperanto, to make private co-operation easier. It became something of a joke, but the ideal of developing countless non-government, personal, trading and organisational relationships across frontiers was sound. Learning to speak more than one language turned out to be more popular than mastering an artificially constructed international tongue.

The EU was initially a regional strategy for peace based on creating friendly common ground between the former aggressors Germany and Italy and the nations that had been invaded: France and the Benelux countries. Germany, however, did not cause a third war because of the EU, rather it was because the allies did not repeat their mistakes after World War One. Germany was defeated, forced to surrender unconditionally, disarmed, occupied and forcibly prevented from rearming.

However, the EU soon lost sight of its focus on peace and became an empire-building project with a life of its own. Many people are taken in by the talk of ‘working together’ but the alternative to the EU is not the absence of any mutual cooperation whatsoever, it is cooperation at the wider global level.

The third strategy for world peace after 1945 was true internationalism. It has been highly successful, and not only by comparison with the record of earlier failed attempts to set up confederations of the leading nations, such as the League of Nations. The UN has many faults, but it keeps potential protagonists talking and helps to avoid many of the misunderstandings that have led to wars in the past.

The IMF has brought economic stability to many nations and the World Bank has helped numerous developing countries achieve greater prosperity. The GATT and its successor the World Trade Organisation (WTO) successfully reduced tariffs and by applying its ‘most favoured nation’ rule has helped to avoid trade wars.

Today there are numerous international organisations making regulations designed to simplify mutual cooperation across boundaries and uphold common standards. A recent OECD report described the scale of growing international regulatory cooperation in the last 25 years as a kind of ‘Cambrian explosion’, reflecting the desire for truly international agreements. Geneva is the headquarters of many, including the WTO, the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Few areas have been untouched by the surge for freely-accepted international cooperation. There is the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the Basel Committee, the International Accounting Standards Board, the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the International Maritime Organisation, the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the International Pharmaceutical Regulation Forum, and the Financial Stability Board, to name only a fraction.

The vast majority of regulations now are made in these bodies and regional groups such as the EU tend to adopt international benchmarks with no more input than many small countries. Norway, for instance, is outside the EU but has its own seat at the WTO, whereas Britain has no seat of its own and must accept the majority view of the 28 members of the EU.

As a trading nation we need to concentrate our energy where it can be most effective and that is at the international not the regional level.

Moreover, serious threats to world peace have grown in recent years, not least from Russia, China, Iran and the so-called Islamic State. A country like ours, with a permanent seat on the Security Council, should focus on making the UN work as well as it can. The EU has no track record of success in international peace making. Its ambition, according to the previous President, Jose Manuel Barroso, has been for some time to make the EU a new military power. In his 2012 ‘state of the union’ address, he made it clear that the aim was to build a power bloc to rival the US and China. And he clearly envisaged an EU capable of exerting military force. The world, he said, needs a Europe that is capable of ‘deploying military missions’. Former EU Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, made the point even more starkly last year when he said that the EU was no longer about peace but about power.

The EU is an aspiring regional power defining itself against others, whereas the national loyalty of a free state is focused on creating the institutions that bring out the best in its own people and prevent the abuse of office by political leaders. Free countries want the same accountability of international leaders to their constituent bodies as they have achieved in their own countries.

Within the EU ‘working together’ has meant a narrow elite pushing through its ambition for a new European state. Its lack of respect for democratic methods even upset former UK Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who openly professes his commitment to ‘ever closer union’. In a speech in December 2013, Dominic Grieve found himself calling for national parliaments to be given ‘a bigger and more significant role in the EU’. The proposal for a European Public Prosecutor, he thought, most strongly illustrated ‘the extent to which some in the present Commission now seem dangerously out of touch with the people of Europe they are supposed to serve’. Grieve accused the Commission of failing to observe the rule of law. Indeed it appeared to consider itself above the law. ‘Where is the practice of “mutual sincere cooperation” promised in Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union?’, he asked.

The Commission was a ‘repeat offender’, frequently disregarding the known preferences of the Council of Ministers. The Council was composed of government ministers answerable to electorates. By-passing it breached not only the inter-institutional balance, but also undermined the legitimacy of the EU. He gave the example of a Memorandum of Understanding with Switzerland that the Commission had signed without Council authorisation. It was not an isolated incident but ‘one of many’.

The EU political class tries to portray its opponents as narrow nationalists who are hostile to international co-operation. But the real dispute is about the best form of international relations, not whether to have any cross-country dealings at all.

The EU pretends to be against all nationalism, but is only against territorial sentiment that it regards as a rival to its own power. On closer examination, we can see that the EU is not really internationalism at all, but another kind of nationalism. The EU also gets credit for opposing the aggressive nationalism that we associate with Germany and two devastating world wars, but the EU does not renounce all territorial loyalty. It promotes its own version of ‘national’ sentiment – European citizenship – by means of flags, anthems, a costly but not yet open ‘house of European history’, and more.

The aspiration of the majority of the British people for the return of their powers of self-government is not a renunciation of international co-operation. Quite the opposite: when we defend our own independence, we also stand up for the only sound basis for friendly international relations.
Encouraging mutually beneficial trade, and the peace that it makes more likely, is best accomplished through the widest possible international agreements about tariffs and the numerous regulations that the exchange of goods and services inevitably entails. The EU is built around its customs union, an outdated device that, against the international trend, has kept many import tariffs at a high level, especially on foodstuffs from poorer countries.

The future lies in promoting friendly trading relations between all the civilised countries of the world, not in regional empire building.

David Green is the author of The Demise of the Free State: Why British Democracy and the EU Don't Mix