From Free Life, Issue 19, November 1993
ISSN: 0260 5112
Address to the Euro-Sceptics
by Sean Gabb
Long before the Treaty of Maastricht was ratified, I imagine that many of my readers had tired of the debate surrounding it. Of course, it was always clear that full implementation would be a national disaster. It would bring us under the heel of a European police state. It would allow a Conservative Government to achieve what many of our recent ancestors died trying to prevent.
Yet it was equally clear that the Treaty would be ratified. Our parliamentary institutions were too corrupted for the Government's will to be frustrated. The courts, at home and abroad, would place no obstacle of their own. The question, for at least a year before ratification, was not if we should have Maastricht, but only when. And now we have it.
This being said, the time has come for Lady Thatcher and the other Euro-sceptics to face reality – that is, to start behaving like English conservatives, rather than excitable foreign ultras. Their best model is not Joseph de Maistre, who wasted his life denouncing events that he could neither resist nor shape, but Sir Robert Peel. Certainly, he resisted the Great Reform Bill – but not to the bitter end. Though deploring the widened franchise, he accepted it and defeated its radical creators by turning it Conservative.
There are differences, I know. Maastricht, unlike Reform, is wholly bad. But there are resemblances that go beyond the failure of opposition. The Treaty will be disastrous – but only if fully implemented. Therefore, full implementation must be prevented; and the way to do this is to make sure that the Europe for which the Treaty was designed will not be the Europe on which attempts are made to impose it.
Often overlooked in the flood of bad news from the old Soviet Bloc are five important facts. Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary and Slovenia are fast meeting all the basic conditions of entry to the European Community. They are stable parliamentary democracies. They are committed to open markets. The Czech Republic, indeed, is becoming a second Switzerland under the enlightened rule of Václav Klaus. It has one of the most stable currencies in Europe, less state ownership that Spain or Italy – and coupon privatisation will soon reduce this below British levels – and an unemployment rate below five per cent.
If in less spectacular manner, the four other economies are coming though the rigours of economic reform in surprisingly good shape. Increasingly, there is no moral case for a European Community that excludes these countries.
Yet, if they are allowed in, the present balance of the Community will be unsettled. Institutions created for six member states, and working badly for twelve, will break down in a Community of seventeen or twenty. Think of all those extra languages to be given equal status, all those new Commissioners. Try to imagine how the Common Agricultural Policy might be applied to Hungary and Poland.
And what does not break down will be deliberately broken. I doubt if even the most drivelling Brussels regulation has tended to impoverish the Community as a whole. Rules banning the sale of apples less than 5cm across, or preventing painters from taking away their own empty tins, impose costs on specific groups. But the overall effect in a rich Western economy is only to slow the rate of growth.
Applied anywhere in Eastern Europe their effect would be immediate slump. Industrial wages in Bohemia are a tenth of those a few miles south in Bavaria. Safety and quality regulations press far more lightly on enterprise. This is because the Czech worker is about one tenth as productive as the German – and would compare still worse if coddled or hampered to the same degree. Only while wages and conditions are allowed to reflect productivity can the Czechs remain fully employed.
Mr Klaus and the other Eastern leaders know this perfectly well. The abstract arguments are compelling. The case of East Germany is unanswerable. They want to get inside the Community for many reasons – but not to export jobs. Once inside, they will either ignore Brussels or help to silence it.
Here is the real path to victory. The Battle of Maastricht is lost. The war for Europe has scarcely begun. But anyone who will fight this can advance from the most unassailable moral high ground. The demand must be for speedy and full membership for the five most advanced Eastern countries, and for binding conditions of entry to be laid down for the others. There must be no more talk of "associate" membership or "free" trade agreements – no more figleaves behind which German capital can monopolise these countries while the present corporatist balance within the Community remains secure.
Our Euro-sceptics call themselves true champions of the European dream. Their opponents call them nostalgic xenophobes. I for one will judge what they really are by how much more time they waste in sulking over the lost cause of Maastricht.
© 1993 – 2015, seangabb.
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