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Thursday, 15 November 2012

To be; or not to be ...

One of the biggest problems with the UK and the EU is that there has never been a proper debate on whether Britain should be fully engaged, or not. At present most UK efforts are to stand on the sidelines and shout "No" at every proposal. This is not helped by the fact that the Brussels bureaucracy, originally set up to manage a three state membership, has just expanded exponentially and has become 'home' to failed party apparatchiks from all over the EU - think of our own glorious examples, Kinnock, Mandelson, Britten ...

The UK does need to get over the mindset that developed in the late Victorian and Edwardian period that Germany was threatening our Empire and our industrial trade. We no longer have either and we can either be a part of the successful economic zone of Northern Europe, helping shape it, or go it alone as a "once was; no longer influential" shadow perpetually standing on the sidelines hurling childish invective. Yes, we did 'beat' them in two world wars, but I think a more honest appraisal suggests we literally bled ourselves and them to a standstill. As for doing it again - us and who? We have neither the ships, aircraft, trained men, weapons or the industrial capacity to even contemplate it.

I currently live in Germany. One of the most striking features is that the adoption of EU Directives is done on a 'common sense' approach. There is none of the 'Gold Plating' Whitehall imposes on everything. The Unions are not locked in the arguments and battles of the 19th Century as they are in Britain and don't have an ideological desire to turn the country into a new 'soviet' state as many appear to do in the UK. Several things are striking in Germany about labour/employer relations. For one thing there is more partnership between workers and employers, most starkly highlighted by the failure of these relations in the Multinationals like the GM owned Opel company. The US "managers" try the same approach in Germany that they use in the US and seem unable to engage their workforce meaningfully. My experience in the UK is similar, "management" and "union" regard each other as enemies to be destroyed, not as partners in finding a healthy formula for both worker and investor. The other striking feature is that many companies are still majority owned by the founding families, and that 'family' involvement does, by and large, rein in the feature most repulsive about 'public' corporations in that there is less of the drive to maximise profit at the expense of everything else.

The EU does have its roots in the post war wave of socialist opportunism and ideological desire to 'internationalise' and create centrally planned and controlled economies worldwide. The current problems in the €urozone show that this has failed, but, as with any massive organisation, it takes at least 10 years before the direction and the thinking can be changed. 

If the EU is to survive, it needs to break out of - 

1. The Centralised scheme that is Brussels. There needs to be far less of the 'dictat' approach and a great deal more 'local' involvement in how and what will be adopted and applied. One of the biggest problems the UK faces is that its legal system is unique and largely incompatible with the systems in force everywhere else in Europe.

2. Introduce more direct elections, such as for the Commissioners and the EU Presidency. It is simply not good enough to argue that "we elect the Ministers who sit on the Council and elect the Commissioners." The people need to 'own' the institutions and post holders. We need to be involved far more directly in these elections and appointments.

3. The current agenda, often painted as a 'socialist' experiment, is driven by the flavour of the various member state governments, mostly dominated by France and many of the 'new' members from the East, that needs to change, but it does reflect the ideology of many of those in power. (Interestingly, Germany's Fr. Merkel, is anti-communist and right of centre, but how does one define the 'centre' in an age when the left dominated media defines it as 'socialism'?)

4. There needs to be a rethink on how the individual member states operate their economies, Greece has milked the cow dry, but its major problem was high state spending, far in excess of the income from tax revenue (they never bothered to collect it) or GDP. There probably needs to be a two tier economic system, but that creates further problems.

The EU desperately needs reform, everyone recognises that, but the UK needs first of all to decide whether it wishes to relegate itself to the fringes, dependent on Uncle Sam and the few former colonies it hasn't yet managed to alienate completely, or to adopt a more pragmatic approach and engage fully in Europe. Whether we like it or not, the EU is a democratic system of sorts. We can only expect to win majority support for our ideas if we can present a convincing argument to them. At the moment we don't, we behave like petty little children who throw tantrums when we can't get 'our' way. A good start would be to put an end to the constant presentation of the EU as some sort of 'German experiment in world domination' or as the 'Fourth Reich.' It isn't and frankly it is the perfect example of what is wrong with the UK mindset at present. 

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