Having to vote in or out of the EU as it stands is a depressing prospect. It’s caught between a rock (a grossly dysfunctional and undemocratic union based on Napoleonic bureaucracy and neo-liberal economics in the service of a small class of Eurocrats) and a hard place (an isolated UK, living in the past, feeding on right-wing anti-foreigner rhetoric, and tearing up whatever workers’ rights and social services are still standing). I don’t find either of these options particularly appealing, although the second is more frightening than the first. I will vote to stay in, but I don’t do so gladly, and I will only do so because the alternative seems even worse – perhaps much, much worse.
What I’d really like to do is to tear up the European Union and start again on a completely different basis, rejecting the damned Monet model of ‘ever closer union’ and building instead a loosely confederated intergovernmental union of sovereign but associated states. I can imagine it with something like the Articles of Confederation as its institutional basis and the Commonwealth Charter as its normative basis. That’s all we need, and that’s something I could make a positive case for and would actively want to be part of. Sometimes, I wonder whether it’s work bringing the whole house down so that it can be rebuilt – Brexit triggering a string of other decisions to leave, which reduce the EU to a rump and then give rise to another form of looser union amongst the former member states. But I don’t have enough trust in our political leadership to see that as a likely outcome. I do have some vague hope, though, that the EU cannot continue in its current form, and that a growing frustration with centralisation from inside the EU’s member states will result in the defeat of the federalist agenda and opportunites to build a looser, anti-federalist, ‘Europe of Nations’ – or at least a variable geometry Europe with lots of opt-outs.
I also wish, sometimes, that the Commonwealth could have developed into something like the EU – an opportunity that existed, briefly, in the early decades of the 20th century. I’m very sympathetic to those who see Australia, New Zealand, Canada, maybe even South Africa, Jamaica and India, as our ‘natural’ partners and allies, rather than other European countries. But that ship has not only sailed, it has sunk. The empire is over, for good and ill, and it’s not coming back. We have to live in the present, not in imaginary pasts.
I’ll say one thing, though: every time a Eurofederalist member of the Elite like Juncker opens his arrogant mouth, I inch closer to putting my mark in the ‘Leave’ box.