With just over two weeks to go until the referendum, here is why I’ll be voting to remain.
The EU expresses solidarity
Most of the big issues facing our country are, in fact, global issues. The economy is global; the planet we live on is, rather obviously, global; and there is a global (not European) refugee crisis, with around 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.
There has never been a time in history when it has been more important for countries to seek to express solidarity with each other. With these enormous global challenges, we need to strengthen the bonds of affection, trust and cooperation between nations, not weaken them. These bonds are particularly important between neighbouring countries, and they are in everybody’s best interests: just as the different countries of the United Kingdom are better off when they work together, so are the countries of Europe better off when they work together.
The EU referendum is our opportunity to say to our neighbours in Europe that we are committed to working together as we face these enormous global challenges. That is, by far, my strongest reason for wanting to remain in the EU.
The EU is committed to subsidiarity
If the EU were an obstinately power-grabbing and centralising institution, then I would want us to seek other ways of expressing our solidarity with other countries in Europe. But the exact opposite is true. Enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon is a commitment to the principle of subsidiarity (Hat Tip: Timothy Gowers):
Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.
The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. National Parliaments ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedure set out in that Protocol.
We are increasingly following this principle within the UK. Decisions that are more appropriately made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are made at those levels, while decisions affecting the whole of the UK are made in Westminster.
The EU is committed to the same principle. Only those decisions that need to be made at a European level are supposed to be made at that level.
But what if the EU doesn’t live up to this? What if decisions are made in Brussels, which should be made at a more local level? Well, if this is the case, then the EU is simply not being true to itself, and it should change: the member states should ensure that those powers are devolved (back) to the national governments.
The EU is democratic
If the EU were undemocratic and unaccountable, then I would want us to seek to form a completely different institution, as a way of expressing our solidarity with our European neighbours. But, again, the exact opposite is true.
You can read a lot of nonsense about how undemocratic the EU is. The facts are that there is nothing in the EU that falls outside of the control of the elected governments of the member states and the elected members of the European Parliament.
The European Commission is often brought up for criticism here. But note the following (see here for details):
- The President of the Commission is nominated by the elected heads of state/government, and this candidate is then approved (or not) by the elected MEPs.
- The other members of the Commission are nominated by the member states (one Commissioner per state), and this group of candidates is then approved (or not) by the elected MEPs.
- The elected MEPs have the power to dismiss the Commission through a vote of no confidence.
Having said that, there are plenty of ways in which the EU should be more democratic. (For example, the European Parliament should be given the power to propose legislation.) But there are plenty of ways in which our own Parliament should be more democratic. Should the UK be broken up and abolished, simply because Parliament is not as democratic as it should be? Of course not. So nor should we leave the democratic EU simply because it should be more democratic.
So it’s three cheers for the EU from me. Of course the EU isn’t perfect. But it is vitally important, at this time in world history, for us to be seeking ways of expressing solidarity with other countries, particularly with our nearest neighbours. Failure to do so will leave us increasingly at the mercy of global forces that are outside of our control.
(In addition, it seems clear that a decision to leave the EU would be a massive and near-suicidal leap into the dark, and that might be a relevant consideration.)
Update 9 June: if you want to read more, my friend Tom King has written a mammoth post here: Why I’m voting to remain in the EU.