*This blog post is part of the Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration series
By Juliet Lodge*
When MEPs and foreign diplomats, years ago, surveying the EU landscape, reflected on the history of the European ‘community’, and noted that ‘no one loves the EU’, few would have expected to see publics taking to the street protesting their ‘love’ and allegiance to the EU.
Yet this is what preceded the 60th anniversary of the founding of the European communities. Parties, marches, festivals celebrated the EU across Europe. Even in the UK.
The sense of European identity is far more deeply rooted in the UK than a beastly Parliament has the courage to admit. Rarely articulated, even more seldom demonstrated, the British attachment to Europe is deeply emotional and part of the people’s psyche. The children and grandchildren of grandparents, many of whom worked to integrate Europe more deeply, take the Four Freedoms for granted. They expect to be able to interact without fear of obstacle with other Europeans, to travel, study and work in other EU countries; to marry other EU nationals; to continue being ‘European citizens’. The furore and petitions on citizenship alarm the Government. The people’s unquestioning allegiance to the UK cannot be taken for granted. And so the great legacy of European integration, its great gift to successive generations, has proved its worth and credibility.
The fathers of European integration challenged each generation to make Europe in line with the challenges facing it, accommodating and constructively adapting to change together.
They believed that by the small but politically bold and daring steps to tie coal and steel production in the original founding member states together, thereby making war among them materially impossible, the people would learn to appreciate and value the advantages of integration. They argued that as a supranational body better served the socio-economic welfare interests of people, the lure of political ambitions spouted by ideologues would diminish. Attachment to the body better satisficing those interests would deter people from aggression against each other and lead them to continue to seek to integration for the common good.
Idealist though these ideas were, they have sustained successive iterations of the European community treaties and generations of Europeans.
One of the main premises was that deep integration required a small number of member states to be feasible: the wider the scope of members, the more shallow integration would be. Hence the differences between the Council of Europe and the European Union : one is based on intergovernmental cooperation, the other on integration. The European Union is more federal and more deeply integrated than the Founding fathers could have foreseen.
The Brexit fiasco demonstrates the other great truth of integration. It is irreversible. Deliberately so. The commitment to an ever closer union is more than rhetoric. It has tangible expression, not merely in policies, institutions and practices but in Europeans themselves.
It is against these realities that the British uprising in favour of the EU has to be seen. Not that the British have much of an understanding of European integration and its history. But they do have a growing sense that the EU is something they are not prepared to sacrifice on the altar of deceitful, rightwing-inspired, archaic ideologies seeking to divide not merely the UK but Europe.
This presents the government with a huge problem. In trying to turn the UK into a low-tax, minimalist welfare, off-shore colony of the United States, the Government lost the trust of the people it claims to represent. Leaving the EU is not an expression of the ‘will of the people’. It is an expression of a power grab.
The great paradox of the British celebrations of the EU’s 60th birthday lies in how the public have turned the tables on the Government’s lies. A Government that has used the referendum as an excuse for facilitating Toryisation of Britain and the dismantling of the welfare state in the name of confused, archaic Tory dogma, faces a revolt. The 60th anniversary has not been deceitfully hijacked. But is has provided a unifying idea and sense of common destiny around which diverse citizens have mobilised, both in celebration of the European idea and in rebellion against a power grab.
The British political class is left squirming at the prospect of their privileged position being scrutinised and rendered accountable. MPs’ simplistic lies spewed through a populist prism of deceitful personality politics have discredited democracy, respect for political authority, eroded the legitimacy of parliament and revealed the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ to be a deck of cards.
MPs have shown themselves to be shamefully ill-informed about Europe, ignorant and largely unwilling to honour their duty to put the country’s interest as a member of the EU above that of their squalid leaders’ personal dogmas. The shame runs deep. The cunning perversion of democracy makes scoundrels of all who do not challenge and oppose it. And that is why citizens are taking to the streets in support of Europe.
Other parliaments across the EU can have their say on any Brexit deal. The British at best are constrained, at worst can’t. This should worry EU member governments, the Commission and MEPs profoundly.
The Commission is the ‘guardian of the treaty’ and what it stands for, including the Charter of fundamental rights. In the past, it has warned some former Central and East European members over breaching democratic practice, signalling EU investigation and potential suspension of benefits. In view of how the referendum was won on the basis of lies and electoral impropriety, following through a Brexit is unsafe.
It is unsafe from the EU’s point of view of setting a precedent in disregarding such breaches of democratic values central to the success of the EU. It is unsafe from the point of view of all EU citizens everywhere whose governments may be tempted to use them as bargaining chips to put pressure on their fellow governments.
For the EU to ignore what is happening inside one of its members would not be a mark of respect for the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a member state. It would be the hand of doom.
To ignore the erosion of democracy, and the suppression of UK EU citizens’ voices and despair over the idea of leaving the EU, would be to deny those British citizens the opportunities given their counterparts in the past when faced with negative outcomes in referendums, such as on Maastricht.
The EU must not fail in its obligations to all EU citizens facing an oppressive, intimidating bully. The British are part of the European community of citizens. Facing problems, we should work together, as we have over the past 40 years, to resolve them cooperatively.
A spiteful, arrogant toddler should be dealt with as such. Our EU brothers and sisters should not be expected to appease the Brexit bullies’ tantrum. Anything else would send out the wrong message to all across the EU and elsewhere in the world.
The choice for the EU is respect for democracy or tyranny? Fairness and justice or arbitrary dogma dictating illegitimate decisions on the basis of the whims of spoilt bratism?
The EU’s member governments’ and MEPs’ first obligation is to prevent harm. The British government has failed, not just minimally but deeply and,as Michael Heseltine put it, MPs need to remember they are not performing fleas.
Those who can’t grasp the EU’s founding commitment to the ideal of working for the betterment of the common good, fail not just their constituents but the whole community of EU citizens. They have trashed their duty towards humanity in pursuing narcissistic nihilism.
Ultimately, they will fail. European integration constructs an ever closer union by so intermeshing socio-economic and political life that disintegration becomes materially impossible and psychologically unthinkable.
European integration has created generations whose European identity is in their blood, embedded in a deep-felt, but rarely articulated, sense of Europeanism. That is more durable than the ephemeral destructiveness of Brexit. The British intend to remain part of Europe, contributing to integration and, should Brexit ever happen, rejoining it the moment the current government is ousted.
*Prof. Dr. Dr. Juliet Lodge (BA MA MPhil PhD DLitt) Emerita, University of Leeds, UK, was co-founder of, and director of the Jean Monnet European Centre of Excellence and has held a Jean Monnet chair since the Jean Monnet chairs were first launched. She is senior researcher with Saher UK, and Member of the Expert Group on Privacy of the Biometrics Institute, London. She was elected by a European jury European Woman of Europe in 1992 (having been selected as UK Woman of Europe the previous year, and honoured with a Golden ECU and European Woman of Achievement awards).
**Link to photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/landahlauts/9659792998/in/photolist-fHAXV9-JvYRpS-HxKy5W-JuduG7-pxfTzy-NTzrSh-KiUEuE-JtetuR-Hq4g7Y-JgBkE5-HN9HRj-J5YKw7-RMAdEn-QCazst-pCYyMa-SCMpL2-J2fJpu-Jji9Aw-S6pMYY-EsUHK4-Jvj7b6-Hswoh4-HzZqg8-SQ94Xs-Jyg6MP-JqeL39-HN23vi-QCuwMj-SCocKj-GsvPFU-JNcqRV-RXoz95-Jjasuy-rpugCx-Jq68D8-JtyNBb-JLYaME-J5KqRS-QXPkXk-J3LwxC-S65Cf9-RYgdcc-SzapVa-S5hN9d-Hv7kcN-JjU5PU-J3XQZ5-RXQvBE-JEq9Mi-R393mC