Monday, 6 June 2016

To all of you who want to "fix" the EU....

Disclaimer, I am not an expert, professional or Politician, just a developer having a rant!

Introduction

The British referendum on whether to remain a member of the EU has caused a lot of heated debate. Well, I say debate but much of it has descended into a plethora of Straw Man and Ad-Hominem fallacies. I use these big words to point out that these are well-known and well-documented logical issues that have not been used to restrain the various supposedly educated or otherwise tongue-in-cheek arguments for either side.

Straw Man means you make an irrelevant point that you disprove thinking you have disproved the main question. For instance, saying that we should leave the EU because you hate the European Court of Human Rights is a Straw Man argument because the ECHR is not part of the EU but the Council of Europe.

Ad-hominem argument is basically saying the argument is discredited because for some reason you don't like or respect the person making the argument or you don't believe they are qualified to make it. For example, we will take an example from Boris Johnson's life where he did something strange or questionable and then imply that he cannot be trusted on his views of Europe. Clearly, the fact that someone might or might not be qualified on a subject is not proof that their views are partially or entirely false (or true). Somebody said recently (I can't remember who) when asked, "So you trust Boris Johnson, Michael Gove etc. to know what's right" and his reply was, "I don't have to trust them but I trust the truth they have said".

How do we change the EU?

Anyway, I have already largely digressed. I wanted to talk about an issue that seems to have been largely unnoticed and certainly not discussed anywhere. The whole issue of, "if we remain in the EU, we can help change/improve it, whereas if we leave we cannot". Let us leave the issue that we could of course have some influence from outside just as America does to us but let us ignore that and look at the other side of it. An idealistic statement like this sounds too good to argue right? Who could disagree with staying and improving it? There is just one possible problem.

How is that even possible?

The EU is not a complete monster. Some people might think it is but most people think it is basically a large and expensive bureaucracy that has some level of usefulness between very and not very much. Clearly, there are things it has done and will do that are good and some things which are not. In order to improve it though, we have to identify what is bad and then decide how to improve it.

Sovereignty

This is a biggie for lots of people - the idea of being self-governing. The Remain camp have taken pains to point out that not many of our laws come from Brussels but even the most conservative estimates put this as a significant figure. It is also one thing to be given laws that you should probably have implemented but never got round to like harmonizing technical standards and some environmental measures but the whole fishing and farming quotas have been a protectionist mess so much so that some of the money we give to them gets given back to help the farmers (eh?). Now the EU, be definition, cannot exist without taking sovereignty away, since it is a Federal system of Rule. If it was not, it would be somewhere between a Free Trade Area and a discussion place. It must have rule over national governments to do its job of making decisions for the common good.

Verdict: Unchangeable

Influence

Influence is another of those things that seems reasonable but what does it really mean? Each country gets to choose one Commissioner (or rather the government does) regardless of size or prosperity, the parliament on the other hand gives a seat roughly per million people. Wow - one representative for a million people! Now, the Parliament cannot instigate or repeal legislation so basically its a rubber stamp process. In fact, the loss of 70 out of 70 times we voted against legislation proves how ineffective the process is - too many people who believe in the EU and will not countenance the fact that some legislation is bad.

That means we have about a 15th of the influence in the Parliament (which is split across parties anyway) and a 28th of the Commission. That is exactly how much influence we do have and how would that ever change? Do we ask for 2 Commissioners because we are wealthy or just because we are awkward? Why would we ever be given more than the proportional system that already exists? I can't imagine any other workable system, we are stuck with what we have.

Verdict: Unchangeable

Waste

One of the big criticisms is waste and that comes in two forms. Firstly the waste of the system itself, its 60 buildings in Brussels, buildings in Strasbourg and Luxembourg as well as the famous gravy train where thousands of employees earn more money than the UK Prime Minister! They have a fixed flat rate of tax at 21% that exists outside of any nations system which mean that no-one inside the system is likely to vote for change and no-one from outside can force them to do so. Can you imagine what would happen if the UK said, "we're leaving if you don't cut salaries and overheads"? Well, they wouldn't but it wouldn't happen. Can you reduce things in general? No, I can't see how. It is, after all, bureaucracy, it believes in an outdated system of paperwork and regulation of every area of life. Have you seen the massive boxes of paper outside each office in the EU building? Basically, we pay massive amounts for people who love paperwork - there is no obvious to reduce it.

The other type of waste is what the EU spends money on but that is, of course, highly subjective. Spending umpteen million or billion on farming is no-doubt welcomed by farming but decried by other struggling industries. Spending money on art facilities and museums etc is dubious, since these should be for national governments to prioritize in my opinion, not for the EU to effectively ringfence when other spending is not. It also has that bad smell of cronyism where you pay money to people who will then naturally support you. Again, it is good to give money to NGOs but are we really comfortable with the EU deciding which groups and how much on our behalf? Isn't the point that we should directly believe in these charities so we can support them directly? Who knows what the cost of lobbying is for smaller charities who miss out their slice of the pie because it is easier to make large payments to large organisations?

Like all bureaucracies, it will spend whatever money it gets given and, again, I don't see how it would change other than trying to convince them that our priorities are their priorities and to reiterate, why would we ever expect that as a 28th of the system?

Verdict: Unchangeable

Conclusion

I honestly can't think of any ways in which we could "stay and improve" the EU apart from some tinkering. I think expecting more than that is naive. Comments like, "we should just try it" or "we won't know until we try" etc. are again, naive considering that for the past 30 years, we have been in the EU and trying to change it to suit our own ends. As I said before, why should we expect to? We cannot have it both ways, we either accept the EU for it is and accept it cannot be changed or we leave it and try and establish relationships that are relevant for us in a modern world which don't have to rely on over-regulation but instead allow people the freedom to be creative and to invent new things, new working practices - that allow the innovative and efficient to uproot the incumbents who are lazily trying to live off past glories.

The only other option would be to return the EU to its Free Trade roots but I honestly can't see that happening. It looks a bit like the Labour Vote in the 2010 General Election. Why would so many people vote for Labour after mismanaging the money? Because they were paid off by generous welfare payments and would never vote to lose those - who would? Apart from a few very affluent countries, many in the EU are struggling and the EU, at least, seems to be their saviour. Why would they ever vote to leave a system that gives them free money for pushing some paper around?
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