Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest statements about the
European Union, indicating he favors a referendum by British
voters on whether or not they want to be part of the EU, especially
in its current direction towards the political unification of Europe,
is good news for British democracy. I suspect that Bill Cash, the
leader of the euroskeptics in the House of Commons, and the most
persistent and articulate critic of the EU, was cheered that his fellow
Conservative and leader is finally getting off the shilling (as close to
the dime that I can get), and standing up for the sovereignty of
Westminster (the British parliament), and thus for the citizens of the
In spite of our little spat circa 1776-82 with that kingdom,
and our necessary formal separation from its colonial control,
Americans have a profound debt to Great Britain, not only for
our common language, but our legacy from them for our laws,
customs and civic ideals.
King George III may have been a bit overbearing from our point of
view then, but his successor Queen Elizabeth II is now well-regarded,
and her grandson and eventual heir, Prince William, is quite popular,
as is his lovely bride, on this side of the Atlantic Pond.
The European Union, begun as an economic alliance of many nations
of Europe after World War II was a dream of a Frenchman who
understandably wanted to avoid the tragic political patterns of
Europe in the 20th century, including two world wars that brought
unspeakable violence and death to tens of millions. In the early
20th century, there were three major European nations, Germany,
France and Great Britain. France, which had dominated Europe
in the early 19th century, had re-emerged as a democracy at the
end of that century, and with her colonies, was a major economic
and military force. The British empire, whose navy controlled the
world’s seas, was the world’s largest economic power, and a German
empire, put together in the late1800s was an ambitious rival to
both. The other European empire, Austria-Hungary, was a natural
ally of Germany, although the tensions between its member states
was by the early 20th century pulling it apart. After World War I, it
ceased to exist as a unified empire. Still another empire, vast
Russia, half-European and half-Asian, had a key role in the tinderbox
that existed in Europe as the year 1914 began.
Europe had suffered a long series of wars in the 19th century, but now
endured carnage and depravity on a greater scale. It is no wonder, after
150 years of this violence, that Europeans would seek some structural
relief. Following World War II, and in the midst of the Cold War that
followed it, the remedy seemed to be some sort of formal cooperative
union. The founders of this proposed union, however, put it in place,
piece by piece, primarily thorough bureaucratic fiat. Instead of building
the Common Market with a grass roots appeal, admittedly a difficult
task, the Market and its successor, the European Union, was
constructed from the top down. If it were a physical building, this
would have been, of course, impossible. Less obviously perhaps, it
did not work politically, either.
Euroskeptics such as Bill Cash are not against an economic Europe.
They recognize the efficacy and necessity to create an economic
structure for the states of Europe, their obviously best and closest
markets, and to work cooperatively.
So what is the problem?
The problem is that the founders, and most of the current leaders,
of the European Union, want to unite the continent politically.
Germany has re-emerged as Europe’s largest nation and most
successful economy. Some argue that the threat of another malign
Germany is at the base of those who desire to transform Europe
into a single political entity. In any event, the process of
de-nationalizing is taking place gradually and insidiously. The
current economic crisis in Europe is even being employed as a
reason to hurry up the process. The fundamental flaws of
political union, however, are being revealed by this crisis. Many
of these flaws are deeply cultural, such as the difference between
the Greek work ethic and that of much of the rest of Europe.
Spain now has 27% unemployment, but it has a had relatively
high unemployment throughout its recent history, levels that
would not be tolerated in Germany or Sweden. What of the
inevitable efforts to homogenize European agricultural products,
removing standards now set by French wine growers, Dutch
cheese makers, Italian meat producers, et al? Will the distinction
and character of European products be rolled over into uniformity?
Will French champagne, Dutch gouda, Italian proscuitto, English
tweed cloth, Czech pilsener beer, Belgian chocolate, Greek olive oil,
Hungariian tokai wine, and innumerable other distinctive food
products of European nations lose their character through
bureaucratic, unappealable regulation?
Another flaw is the attempt to undo, in only a few decades, the
national identities, languages and customs that are centuries (and
even, in some cases, more than a thousand years) old, even preceding
current national borders.
Bill Cash has recently written a book about his cousin, John
Bright, who served in the House of Commons for many decades
in the 19th century. A great orator, Bright was considered in his own
time one of the greatest British political figures along with Disraeli
and Gladstone. Almost forgotten today, Bright became famous for
opposing the protectionist Corn Laws in the 1840s, and then turned
his attention to enabling more Englishmen to have the right to vote,
opposing capital punishment, and speaking out against slavery.
At a time when many British citizens sympathized with the
American South, John Bright cheered on Abraham Lincoln.
(A printed speech of Bright’s was found in Lincoln’s pocket the
night he was assassinated.) He was also a great champion of the
sovereignty of the English parliament. Bill Cash, in making the case
against European political union, has taken up his cousin’s legacy.
For many years, however, Cash’s own Conservative Party has been
split on the European question, and Cash has been relegated to the
back benches (except for a brief interval, 1991-93, when he was
named shadow attorney general). Immensely popular in his own
constituency, Cash has served as an M.P. since 1984, and has
continued to speak out forcefully for British sovereignty.
It would appear now that the Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron, hitherto ambivalent on the subject, has joined the cause.
As soon as the prime minister announced he intended to call a
referendum on Europe, his party’s poll numbers (which had been
trailing the opposition Labour Party badly) took a significant jump.
It has always been the assertion of the euroskeptics that, while
British voters wanted their nation to be part of the economic
European Union, they will not agree to surrender a thousand years
of British sovereignty to it. Now, presumably, the voters of this
venerable and great island nation will have the opportunity to say so.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.