The “stay” campaign is making much of the purported risks of leaving the EU. They seem reluctant to defend the EU on its merits, apparently taking the view that it’s a disagreeable necessity. Let’s explore this with five questions about risk. 1. Political risk
As a defender of the EU, do you deny that
- the EU is an inherently political project?
- its political capital and administrative energies have been focussed on continental unification?
- despite this, everyone acknowledges the EU’s longstanding “democratic deficit”, with multiple and confusing executive and judicial bodies which are not held to account?
- one, the ECB, has been at liberty to inflict a classic “bankers ramp”, penalising Greece as a creditor, without regard to the political reasons for its default, in which the EU itself is as much an offender as Greece itself?
- another, the ECJ, conceives of itself as an instrument of unification, leading to judgements which are arbitrary, intrusive and unpredictable.
In consequence, how happy are you about the risks which the EU poses to basic stability for itself and the UK?
2. Administrative or performance risk
How do you look away from the evidence that
- twenty one years of failed audits attest to the EU’s administrative dysfunction at the most basic level?
- the EU’s trade policy is hampered by its focus on the problems of the past, specifically tariffs on goods, rather than the future, that is services and nontariff barriers?
- the EU’s nontariff barriers give rise to harmonisation which is unnecessary and intrusive, with the World Bank describing its restrictions as second only to Russia?
- trade policy is also hampered by the EU’s emphasis on deepening its own internal market - in particular its headline currency policy - rather than opening it up to global commerce?
- this has diverted political capital and administrative resource from less dramatic but more effective measures, stalling its FTA programme, slowing growth in output and external trade, and adding nothing to the UK’s exports?
- the EU’s treatment of the free market in labour gives rise to uncontrolled migration and prevents national control over entitlement to welfare?
- the EU’s internal decision-making is so opaque as to give rise to the newly invented word of “comitology”?
How comfortable does this leave you when you think about the risks which the EU’s way of doing business poses to meeting its own objectives?
3. Economic risk
How can you shrug off concerns that
- the EU’s inherent corporatism has led to its “regulatory capture” by continental producer interests, especially manufacturing and agricultural interests, giving rise to intrusive harmonisation to the detriment of the UK?
- the EU has de facto given up on free markets in the matters most important to UK, capital and services?
- the EU’s passporting arrangements for banks risk contagion?
- the EU’s treatment of the free market in labour has given rise to intrusive regulation on employment conditions?
- the CAP has led to higher food prices and has restricted supply?
- the EU’s Internal decision-making (comitology) is barrier to the conduct of business?
- the UK has suffered from its loss of independent representation in international trade bodies?
How does this leave you as to the risks which the EU’s policies pose to economic welfare for itself and the UK?
4. Reputational risk
How easy do you find it to look away from the spectacle of
- a prolonged currency crisis threatening disruption among our neighbours?
- the EU’s treatment of migrants adding to chaos on its borders and doing nothing to ease turbulence in the Middle East?
- the EU’s tariff walls restricting supply of entry-level manufactures (eg, clothing) from emerging market suppliers?
- the CAP raising restricting agricultural supply from emerging market suppliers?
- the EU presiding over the highest level of nontariff measures among major traders but for Russia?
- the EU admitting to the world’s most complicated tariff regime?
What do your answers suggest as to the risks which the EU’s policies pose to its reputation in the global community, as well as the collateral damage to the UK’s reputation as a member?
Tell the truth, now: are you proud of the EU? do you admire what it’s made of itself? what it has achieved for this country? does its pattern of conduct and outcome sit well with your own standards and values? Or to revert to the formula to which stayers seem to be committed, what necessity justifies the nation’s continued commitment to a body showing such dysfunction?
We should apologise for the “and another thing” character of these relentless questions. But the rhetoric does enable us to go beyond the commonplace that the “stayers” have given up defending the EU on the basis of its good intentions. We can now see that they are challenged to do so on the pragmatic basis that remaining makes for risk-avoidance.