Monday, June 09, 2003

The British Aversion Towards Federal Europe

I came across a post today by Matthew Yglesias, in which he expresses his enthusiasm for the idea of a "stronger" (i.e. more federally centralized) European Union.

Still, my gut tells me that a strong and united Europe would, as long as it's something actual Europeans would want, be good for America. I think greater equity in the intercontinental power dynamics would probably bring about a more responsible and productive relationship for both sides despite inevitable disagreements.

Needless to say, I disagree intensely. This sort of thinking strikes me as extremely naive, supposing as it does that the Federal Europe that would arise would engage in the same sort of benign disagreement that is currently the case between the United States and powers like France and Germany. The truth of the matter is that the whole notion of European integration, from its' very conception, has been as much about "standing up to America" as it has been about increasing prosperity by free trade - certainly this was Charles de Gaulle's dream. If anything, nowadays free trade takes a backseat to the dream of forging an entity that can frustrate American "hegemony".

Following is the response I provided to Matthew's post:

"It would be easy to imagine that my distaste for "Federal Europe" stems from a dislike of continental Europeans (a dislike which is admittedly widespread in Britain and largely reciprocated on the continent, particularly in France), but that isn't so in my case. I know the history of Europe better than most, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the present day, I understand one major continental language fluently and can get by in a few others, and I've friends from all nearly all of the present and future member states of the E.U.

Given all this, if one thing does stand out, it is that the better I know my fellow Europeans, the less I want to live under their own domestic arrangements. I don't want to live with continental-style compulsory I.D. cards, I much prefer common law to the Napoleonic Code, I can't stand the idea that Habeas Corpus or trial-by-jury might be done away with, I jealously guard my right to commit lese majeste or to call Tony Blair a silly wanker (try that sort of thing in France!), and I feel more secure entrusting my rights to an MP elected in a first-past-the-post system than to some hack who got into parliament on a PR-based party list. Why should I endanger all of this to fulfill someone else's federalist fantasies?

I can understand how for a Portuguese or Spaniard with memories of dictatorship, or for an Italian who's had nothing but short-lived governments racked with corruption, or even for a Frenchman whose country has seen 5 republics, 2 monarchies and 2 empires since 1792 (along with 2 military defeats and 1 near-defeat from a certain neighbor across the Rhine) Europe might seem like a wonderful thing, a major advancement on what went before, and a safeguard of the progress that has been made to date.

The trouble is that on this side of the English Channel none of these sorts of troubles have been a real concern since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Why emasculate the oldest and stablest of sovereign parliaments for the sake of a will-of-the-wisp notion like a "Federal Europe?" If there is one virtue the British possess, it is a distaste for visionary or "revolutionary" ideas. It is that virtue that is once more at play today, as they resist the urgings of the Federasts (that isn't a typo!) to surrender ever more national sovereignty to the Wise Men of Brussels."