The 9th of May is supposed to mark a celebratory day for the European Union, congratulating itself for peace and unity in Europe. On May 9th 1950, Robert Schuman, then Foreign minister of France, set out his so-called Schuman Plan, which suggested that Germany and France should ease the sharing of strategic resources like coal in order to make a war between the two countries virtually impossible. This policy led to the European Community on Coal and Steel: a forerunner in the creation of what would become the European Union in the early 1990’s.
While the EU might celebrate the legacy of Robert Schuman’s free trade advocacy, its political structure has degenerated into something far more invasive than the mere easement of political dialogue. It actively combats the free market. For instance, the EU constantly considers tax harmonisation and over-regulates people’s personal habits (the EU recently introduced heavy regulation regarding e-cigarettes).
While trade barriers inside the EU have been abolished, the EU acts like a protectionist block when it comes to non-EU members: it subsidises European farmers, sets very high food standards (which keep African goods off the market) and imposes import taxes.
“Only a fourth of all Brexit voters support UKIP”, said the conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Daniel Hannan in a speech in Strasbourg last July. And indeed, while public perception of the European continent classifies many Brexit fans as anti-immigration and, all too often, as racists and bigots, there is a genuine Anglo-Saxon euroscepticism out there, which relies on the following principles:
- Localism (the belief that the policymakers should be as close to citizens as possible, so that many important decisions should actually be taken on the local level),
- Small government (a palpable scepticism towards big government and its tendency to constantly grow), and
- Free markets (the opposition to government interfering in prices and interactions on the labour market).
These principles, while sometimes forgotten by certain governments, have been engrained in the Anglo-Saxon spirit for a long time and they have driven the Brexit spirit. Without the British small-government opposition to the EU, Brexit never would have happened. In fact, by illustrating that the union has lost its free trade roots (and become a poster child for social democracy), Brexiteers should be an inspiration to the political personnel in Brussels.
Don’t Be that Populist
Meanwhile, the eurosceptic movement, including that inside the liberty movement, has been infested with a different kind of opposition to the Brussels bureaucracy. These members of the new political right are not allies to the liberty movement, as they reject the EU for the one reason: they believe that the immigration that the EU allows for is to the detriment of the European culture.
We could point out that the European Union’s immigration policy guides movement inside of its own borders, while immigration from outside is left up to its member states, but, more important than setting the facts straight, we need to address one important point: The enemies of our enemies aren’t our friends.
When we shout ‘power to the people’ we defend individualism, the power of the people to govern themselves, not the power of the people to bully their neighbours, even if they have different reasons than those who are already in charge. We may agree with advocates of different political agendas, but let us not forget what their motivations are.
Europe Day is a day when we should remind officials in Brussels that the EU was a project of mutual cooperation, not that of crushing regulation, instead of burning the EU flag in an attempt to gain attention.
If the European Union does fail in the end, it will need advocates of small government and free markets to replace the void with liberty, not nationalists who wish to replace the EU with another brand of big government.
Lovers of liberty, in the United Kingdom or abroad, need to understand that we don’t oppose the European Union because we are contrarians, or because we enjoy the rush of being the negating viewpoint, but because our belief in small government is sincere. International organisations should not have the vast power to interfere in the life of individuals.
And neither should anyone else.
Bill Wirtz studies French Law at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France.