Our victorious leader, David Cameron, emerged from the negotiating table, resisting what must have been drooping eyes from the long hours—as emphasised by many of our media outlets. I respect that Mr. Cameron had been pushed into a corner. The EU referendum is the referendum that no Tory ever wanted to hold.
However, in crude terms, the “special status” secured as a result of his “fighting for Britain” pandered to concerns about migrants’ “burden” on the welfare system, and immigration more generally. Yes, the block on further incursions on our sovereignty is good news, but it doesn’t address the current problems. And interestingly, it has quietly protected the City of London from regulation, and even demanded that the EU as a whole take further steps to deregulate its financial markets (see, 2008 crash for more details).
But let’s have some perspective. We aren’t in the Euro-zone and we aren’t in Schengen. We are a peripheral state in the EU. The continent has issues that are far more pressing.
To bust a myth, the Commission is not completely undemocratic. The appointment process of the President of the Executive Branch draws the most criticism, but this was—in theory—changed in 2014. A more accurate description of the EU would be that it has a ‘democratic deficit’. Turnout to EU votes are low, and there is indeed, the risk that current cracks in the organisation’s democratic nature could be exploited in the future. Indeed, some particularly passionate politicians, such as Viviane Reding—then Vice President of the European Commission in 2014—desire an increased degree of political union: a federal United States of Europe.
For now, the concerning elements of the EU are not its internal organisational problems—though they may be attributed to helping to cause other problems. The prime example of EU failure is Greece. The Greek socialist party, Syriza, has been a major force politics since 2011—with increasing prominence in democratic mandate. Both the EU and much of the press have continually ignored the voices and condition of the people of Greece, with the justification of maintaining ‘sensible’ austerity policies.
This ignorance of democracy in Greece highlights the central problem of the European project. The EU and the Eurozone have created a situation where an entire continent is subjected to the mismatch between centralised monetary policies and the attempts to maintain state-led fiscal and political policies. Those such as Yanis Varoufakis describe this as a way of maximising profit for Europe’s most wealthy nations at the expense of the less wealthy.
This may be the central economic issue, but it is not the most newsworthy. When Russia annexed Crimea, western media labelled as an act of Russian tyranny and aggression on the border of Europe. The same was said when Russian forces began to enter into East Ukraine. However, what the commentators failed to note was the contribution of the EU in the situation. It was the EU that acted first in trying to further relations between itself and Ukraine. The crux of this desire to have greater geo-political control came when the USA-EU supported near neo-Nazi party Svoboda, and declared that a ‘democratic’ overthrow had occurred. Of course Russian aggression was partly to blame, but the EU is in blatant denial of this example, of its desires for expansionism.
Another problem is the continuing desire to draw Turkey into the European Union. As Turkey is a US ally, it would no doubt be useful for those interests. It would secure relations that help to regulate pipelines, trade routes, and Russian access to the Mediterranean Sea. In what appears to be a part of a furthering of relations, Turkey is currently being paid by the EU to help keep migrants away from sacred European soil. To give some context, Turkey is still violent against the Kurdish ethnic group, and even the EU itself admits that in the country’s 2015 elections, “principles of democracy were undermined”.
Then, of course, there is TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). A secretive ‘free-trade’ agreement is being negotiated between the USA and the European commission. It is suggested that when eventually passed the project will have the power of bypassing national laws in favour of corporate interests.
The issues that the EU faces are abstract and hard to summarise, but one thing is clear: whilst the British people will discuss the implications of Brexit and the reforms that Cameron has achieved, there are wider issues that need addressing. Here lies the problem. With the turnouts of European elections being so low, and their use often being that merely of the protest vote—there is little opportunity for the people of Europe to question the European Union directly. Although we are a peripheral state to the issues mentioned above, perhaps Cameron’s reforms show that politicians are unlikely to look beyond their national interests. In that case, the only powerful method for ‘changing’ the EU—for whatever reason— is the gradual fragmentation of the European Union by the independent exits of its member states. That spells a frightening future, unless there is to be a united movement for major change.