The Case For Euroscepticism
In a sense, I was born thanks to the EU. Without it, my parents would have never met, and I wouldn’t be here today to write this article. For the past 15 years, I saw the European Union as a wonderful project of international relations, freedom and community between very different countries. I found it impressive how diverse cultures could set aside old differences to come to work together on a common project and allow us to move freely throughout the continent, explore and get to know these cultures just as my parents did once. Imagine my surprise when I had a strong conflict with someone who was deeply sceptical and negative about the European project. This made me think “What is going on in the head of a Euro-sceptic? Why would anyone be Euro-sceptic?”
The term itself first appeared in the 80’s in British newspapers, when journalists referred to conservative MPs who disagreed with the European policy as such.
The roots of Euro-scepticism are the doubts and the criticism expressed about the efficiency of the European communities’ programs. The complexity of the functioning of the EU and the application of its rules puts the brakes on different projects undertaken by the Commission. This adds to the fact that the sprawling bureaucracy of the EU renders it distant for most European citizens, who cannot identify with the institutions. If we take the words of Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, on the law-making process of the EU, the Union is led by a “bunch of elite conspirators.” Indeed, who would like to be dictated by self-important and overpaid social engineers who followed useless studies and who have no connection whatsoever with ordinary people?
Similarly, another point of critique against the European Union and its bureaucracy is its cost. For example, the yearly amount spent on the administrative work and transports deployed for the monthly meetings of the Parliament in Strasbourg can rise up to 114 million euros. For a union that asserts that it is reducing its CO2 footprint, it should maybe think about refraining from transporting all the Parliament’s documents across Europe by lorry every month.
The economy also plays a significant role in euro-sceptic discourse. The economic principles on which the Union is based are judged as either too generalised or overly liberal. In the case of the United Kingdom, as with all islands, it has a large fishing sector. However, a European law declared that the UK could only fish 20% of the fishing stock swimming in British territorial waters. This led to many people losing their jobs in coastal areas.
Loss of control
On the international stage, the European Union is not viewed as a solid whole but rather as a gathering of separate states. Therefore, the image it endeavours to display fails to match up to the strength projected by the less divided United States. The example of NATO illustrates how divided Europe is despite its claim of unity when we see that the United States spearheads NATO while a more European, less military mind-set, would better fit European countries.
But the main reason why the EU is so sharply criticised by Euro-sceptics is primarily because of the question of sovereignty. When a state becomes a member of the EU, it gives away a part of its sovereignty to the Union and then has to implement the different regulations imposed on all member states in its legal system. But why should this supranational entity have the right to regulate what happens within the borders of a country? What legitimacy do these distant institutions have, that they get to have a say in the political affairs of a state? After WWII, there was a legitimate reason for states to give their power to the European Union, hoping to avoid the errors of the past. However, like so many things, these reasons gradually disappeared from people’s minds. Slowly, the European Union became such a remote existence to its people that they could no longer connect to it or have any sense of belonging to this shared European identity.
The issue of identity is another favourite argument of Euro-sceptics, as they claim that the European Union was built against the will of the people. In 2004, a treaty foreseeing a European Constitution were refused by France and the Netherlands through popular referenda. Europe was created by the states, not by the people as they refused this project of European Constitution. The last European elections, in 2015, showed the peoples’ disinterest in Europe, as the rate of voting abstention was the highest ever witnessed in European. After all, one cannot say one has a vote if that vote is not used. There lies the whole indifference of people.
Furthermore, the Union gathers many different cultures, languages and religions between its members, but with all the regulations it imposes on member states, these special traits of countries may disappear through a cultural standardisation of the continent.
What would the French people be without their cheeses, Belgians without their chocolate or the Dutch without their bikes? This cultural standardisation of Europe is slowly erasing the national identities of the states and their people. So why does Euro-scepticism exist? Mainly because of the fear people have of losing their identity, culture and country. Because states gave away their sovereignty and the supranational authority that the European Union represents is too vague and too distant for people to identify with. The more I think about this reasoning, the more I build walls to separate myself from it even more than I was before. Why? Because if the European Union did not decide 30 years ago to allow students from all over Europe to discover British theatre and share their cultures, this article would not be on your screens today.
By Charlotte Pion
Charlotte Pion is a Student in Arts and Culture at FASoS and writes for the Diplomat