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Saying the EU ‘wants an army’ makes no sense

Jonathan Lindsell, 22 March 2016

The EU is not a monolith. It should not be a radical point to argue that the European Union is not, and does not operate as, a unified entity. Its many institutions and 28 countries do not act as a hive mind controlled by some central intelligence. There is disagreement at every stage; between MEPs in the European Parliament, between Commissioners, between national ministers meeting in the Council of the European Union, and – at the top – between national leaders.

This is obvious: sceptics acknowledge it when it suits them, such as when discussing the 2015 Greek bailout to highlight elements they argued were undemocratic. There it was not ‘EU vs itself’ but ‘Germany vs Greece’ within the eurozone.

But when it comes to discussing Britain’s place in the EU, the language used almost always assumes that the (rest of the) EU is single-minded, and that that single-mindedness is turned against Britain. This allows sceptics to pick quotations from individual European politicians, who in no way dictate the whole Union’s direction, and claim: “This is what the EU wants to do.”

Typically claims made about what the EU wants to do are contrary to mainstream UK wishes. The EU will let Turkey join with a poor human rights record and give all the Turks immediate free movement rights; the EU wants an EU army; the EU wants a continent-wide maternity leave package; the EU wants control of member states’ welfare policy; the EU wants to control our asylum policy; the EU wants its own fiscal and economics minister.

Just because one Dutch MEP, one Italian commissioner, even one German head of state, says they want to do something does not mean it becomes EU policy. Saying the EU wants to institute a new policy because Emmanuel Macron, France’s economy minister, said he was exploring it, makes as much sense as saying the EU wants to do something because Sajid Javid, UK business minister, proposed it.

On the issues that most concern Britain the EU is gloriously conflicted. Firstly, Britain retains a veto on matters like foreign policy and military policy, as well as any new EU treaties or treaty changes, so these cannot advance without our government’s support. Secondly, we may be slightly shielded from Eurozone reforms by David Cameron’s deal (here is the wrong place to consider how much). Thirdly, and most importantly, the other EU countries are split down the middle on the big questions of giving more banking/fiscal/economic control to the Commission.

It is hard to see Greece under Syriza signing a new treaty that gives away economic powers any time soon. Likewise Spain, which delivered a hung parliament this winter after the muscular left party Podemos gained 65 seats. Likewise Portugal, led by a fragile centre left – far left alliance. Likewise Cyprus, unlikely to budge on Turkish accession any time soon. Again here, Britain has a veto on new members.

On the right, it is difficult to imagine Poland’s Law and Justice government, whose ethos is based on hostility to outside interference, signing any treaty that advances European federalism. The anti-euro Finns Party are in government in Helsinki with Timo Soini the Foreign Minister. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán delights in frustrating the Commission and pushing his own powers as far as he can. Slovenia and the Czech Republic have expressed wariness over Brussels during the asylum crisis. Even France and Germany have to be careful of their populist fringes: both Front National and Alternative für Deutschland are gathering strength.

This means dire Eurosceptic warnings about the diabolical plans of the EU-federalists, and the humiliations they mean to pile on Britain if we vote Remain, are hallucinatory.

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