Looking back over the history of the European Union I wish we had joined at the beginning in 1951 when the European Coal and Steel Community was inaugurated. I think that Europe would have been a better place today had we done so – but there is no point crying over spilt milk.
Back then Britain still had an empire of sorts and many in Britain could or would not conceive that the British Empire was about to fall apart; so one could readily understand the reluctance of the British people to join in the European journey.
When Britain finally joined in 1971 the original member states had already designed a Europe to suit themselves. Many of their policies were not suitable for Britain. For example, the protectionist and grossly inefficient Common Agricultural Policy was awash with grain, butter and beef mountains and wine lakes; with its high level of food prices it did not suit the average food buyer or third world food producers. The poorly designed Common Fisheries Policy seemed to be determined to wipe out fish stocks. There was no single market in goods and services. Member states used all manner of means to protect their industries against their more efficient neighbours. All meetings were held in multilingual settings making ordinary discussions difficult if not almost impossible. The project was basically run for the benefit of the French – and who could blame them.
Britain makes changes
But what excellent changes have occurred through British membership. Okay the Common Agriculture Policy is still around but it is much reduced. Britain has substantially reformed the fisheries policy. Britain pushed though the single market and encouraged the expansion of the union to include all Europe. Britain made Europe look outwards – to be more competitive and created Europe to be the arbiter of global standards in trade and technology. English is now the working language of the European Union with half the 500 million people having a functional competence in spoken and written English (apparently the average Dutch-person has a higher ability in English than the average Brit).
If Britain could make such changes over the last forty years just think what could be done over the next forty. Of course there is more work to be done. By improving Europe we can help improve the whole world and, most importantly, make the lives of the British people better. Britain cannot do this without getting engaged.
Britain cannot be engaged unless it adopts all European Union law – no opt outs. In my view, the first items on the agenda are to establish the euro on a firm footing and to manage migration properly but there are medium-term to longer-term structural changes that need to be made too – like increasing democratic accountability.
Europe needs to manage its own borders. It should no longer rely on member states to do so. Britain does not rely on Sussex to monitor our borders and nor should Europe rely on Greece or Hungary. The processing, management and funding of non-European migrant should be entirely the responsibility of the European government. I understand that 25% percent of recent migrants have come from Albania – nowhere near Syria. It was pretty poor when I was there but it is not war ravaged. Rather than let each state pass migrants onto Germany, Europe must set up border police and processing staff (where necessary a coast guard too) and these people must be directly employed by the European government – responsible to the European government using property owned, leased or rented by the European government. I completely understand that such an approach is only a sticking plaster but Europe must get a grip.
Just like any modern country, Europe needs a currency and that currency must be backed by its government. To properly function, among other things, there must also be an equalisation mechanism between the various member states. Just like in Britain where funds flow from richer places like Surrey to poorer places like Northern Ireland (the average family in Surrey gives the average family in Northern Ireland £1,200 a year) so in Europe we should transfer funds from the richer part of Europe to the poorer parts. It means that the European government provides directly to each European citizen a small monthly sum. Very little is needed to completely stabilise the European economy. True, European taxation would increase from the current 1% to 3% but that is nothing compared to the 40% that Westminster takes already. The level of taxation would be limited by treaty so could not be increased without a referendum.
A further policy change that Britain would have to deal with itself would be to convert most welfare into a contributional framework. There are two reasons for this: one because it is a good idea anyway (returning to the original basis for welfare when the Liberals invented it and Labour installed it after the war); second, because that is how virtually all the member states of the union work. This policy would not end “welfare migration” but it would reduce it. Welfare tourism is much lower than most people imagine it to be in any case. A much more successful approach for Britain would be to resource the revenue staff to enable them to make sure employers are employing legal workers and paying them properly.
Britain could say to the other member states – we will join the euro and the passport area as long as the above measures are put in place and that every other member state also joins when we do.
No varied geometry, no opt-outs. If you want to be in you are welcome to be in but the only other option is out.
Currently, Britain isn’t really in the European Union. It is sort of semi-detached. For example, one can drive from the Algarve, on the Atlantic, right across Europe to the Ukrainian border and you will not have to stop for passport control anywhere, or customs and euros are the currency in every country travelled though. For nearly all Europeans, for all intents and purposes, Europe is already one country – it is just that the British, who normally fly, tunnel or take the ferry rather than drive (with all security that goes with them), rarely experience the freedom of moving around the world without borders.
We are in a time warp.
We need to vote in – really in.