Imagine, if you will, an anti-interventionist movement that has mobilised millions of people to vote and has in its ranks thousands of dedicated activists. Not only that but the electorate is aware of its main grievance and is overwhelmingly backing its stance. Its enemies are in disarray and it has captured the main opposition party. But the reason why Euroscepticism in Britain is so vibrant is not that the British are especially sensible, but that they are especially threatened. The battle for Britain is being fought, and it could yet be lost.
Europe is becoming a state and little will stop it. The citizens of the undemocratic continental countries welcome it, apart from grumbling from protectionist Frenchmen and currency proud Germans. Some countries have no wish to be invaded, like France and view trading sovereignty as preferable to surrendering it. Other nations, like the Germans, that have no wish to see their country plumb depths of human evil as they did in the Holocaust. Yet more, like the Italians have thoroughly lost confidence in their governing classes. The British (or increasingly the English) are different. We have not been invaded, our Empire was not angelic but neither was it evil, and our governing class is more incompetent than corrupt (with the exception of Mr. Blair and his coterie). We simply do not need a new currency, army or body of law; and most of us do not want it imposed by weak or corrupt neighbours.
There are two crucial elections for Britains relationship with Europe, one in the past and one in the future. In the past there were the European Election of June this year, where the unpopular Conservative opposition scored a surprising victory on a Eurosceptic agenda and Labour went down to its worst electoral defeat for fifteen years. At the same time the single issue United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) got three seats out of seventy-five. This was a serious blow to the federating agenda. The vote to come is the vote on Economic and Monetary Union (E&MU) where the British people will be asked to decide whether or not they want to give up the pound. Except they probably wont. The polls are firmly against E&MU that it looks like any vote is going to go against it, despite seemingly endless Government propaganda. The Eurosceptics have found the money and allies in the media that they simply did not have in 1975 when they lost the vote on whether or not to join the European Union. My (admittedly unreliable) sources in the Blair camp say that he has given up on winning a straight vote on E&MU, and has accepted he cant realistically rig the vote. There are two alternatives open, to completely give up on a vote and leave the Conservatives bereft of their main issue, or to give the British a vote on their very membership of the EU, which the British are still for. The prize is now wide open for the Eurosceptics, for by accident Mr. Blair may take us out of the European Union, then he would have an honoured place in the history books.
Obviously when good men see a cause that threatens their independence, nay their very way of life, they stand shoulder to shoulder to stop the coming onslaught. You believed that? What were you doing in history class? The fact is that like all good and noble causes the Eurosceptics are squabbling like little children, which is the best way. Most British people are not settled in their Euroscepticism. Some people just oppose further federating moves such as the Single Currency. Other British people dislike what Europe has done to their livelihood or hobby. Yet more want Britain to grab back powers that they have already given, and some (like myself) see that there is no way out of European federalism, except for withdrawal from the European Union. There are so many groups that there is even dispute as to who the coordinating body is, is it the Congress for Democracy or the Anti-Maastricht alliance. The fact is that the sheer numbers of Eurosceptic groups means that there is something for almost anybody, left, right or center; tepid sceptic to outright unilateralist. Moreover, if you find no group that suits your taste, you can form a new one. It is politics for the Internet generation.
Now I must turn to the belly of the beast. I really do not want to but I must let you see the opposition. Unlike the vibrant and bewildering variety of the Eurosceptics, the pro-Europeans present a united, disciplined and lifeless front. The European Movement (EM), a group actually funded by the European Union, is the heart of the Euroctopus and nothing moves without its permission. The sad spectacle of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, which attempted to destabilise the moderately Eurosceptic leadership of the Conservative Party, is a case in point. It was totally staffed and mainly funded by the European Movement. It went down to humiliating defeat in the European elections, failing to gain any seats and seeing the real Conservative Party go to its first nationwide victory in seven years. There has been a similar disaster with the launch of its cross party organization Britain in Europe, which, due to the electoral prerogatives of Tony Blair had to change its stance from being pro-Euro to being pro-EU. The fact is that the pro-Europeans are too closely connected to one another and too dependent on government and EU money to be able to win an election on their own. They will need a very uneven playing field to win.
Any success for the Eurosceptic cause is going to hinge on the position of the Conservative Party. Many Eurosceptics hate this, as like the Republicans the Conservatives are a party obsessed by power with a passing interest in principles. But in the end the Conservatives have the organization, the "brand loyalty" of voters and a set of rather good and ruthless politicians. In any coming referendum the reach of the Conservative Party will be vital for any "No" vote. And luckily things have drastically improved in the recent past. The previous leader of the party, John Major, was convinced of the inevitability of further EU integration, although worried about the effect that public admission of this would have on his fractured party. He was responsible for Britain signing the federating Maastricht treaty. His successor William Hague is altogether more sceptic on the European question, who has skillfully marginalised the Federalist rump within the party. He has always condemned calls for withdrawal as "extreme", but unlike Mr. Blair or Mr. Major he refuses to doubt the sanity of the withdrawers, possibly bringing to mind Barry Goldwaters dictum "extremism in the cause of liberty is no vice." It will be of crucial importance where the Conservative Party falls in a referendum on membership of the EU, and unfortunately there is a long way to go before the Conservatives can feel confident of withdrawal, although they seem willing to toy with something close to it. But the membership is more Eurosceptic than the leadership and they are starting to flex their muscles so perhaps there is a glimmer of hope.
The brightest star in the Eurosceptic firmament is the United Kingdom Independence Party. Although they call themselves a party and stand for election they are in reality a single-issue pressure group. Their aim is to make withdrawal from the European Union a respectable cause. With three Members of the European Parliament from the last election they are starting to have a healthily bracing effect on official conservative policy. Although going through a bitter feud at the moment they are definitely the party to watch.
The crushing advantage of the Eurosceptic movement is the ability to set up backbiting and jealous grouplets who can occupy tiny territories in the public debate. A territory that needs to be occupied are the genuinely undecided, who are pro-EU but unsure about further federation, at least for now. New Europe founded by Lord Owen (joint author of the failed Vance-Owen plan) appeals to these undecided types. Its argument is that we must stay within the EU, but further federating moves such as Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), should be dealt with cautiously. It has a number of retired politicians who have harmed their career through support of the EU, David Owen left the Labour Party for example because of its commitment to withdraw from the EU during the partys quasi-Marxist stage in the 1980s. The message is clear, it is perfectly possible to be wary of a single currency and be neither a Tory nor a withdrawer. New Europeans sister organization, Business for Sterling, aims for a similar constituency, those who want to keep the pound, but who are worried about the consequences. It also fulfills the useful function of being a group of fairly senior big businessmen, who are against the Euro, one of the myths of the EU is that big business always wants greater integration, not always it seems.
The range of the change to EU life is staggering, not just involving surrendering economic policy to a foreign central bank, it affects the law, the armed forces and the very political culture of Britain itself. The fact is that no one group can agree on what is the most important issue, what is the appropriate response to the EU and which are the important constituencies to organize. There are consequently a wide variety of pressure groups; this will give you some idea:
There are many more groups, which I cannot really do justice to here, but the pro-independence movement is far more vibrant than its opponents, even if bewilderingly so.
The Nazi antecedents of European Federalism are fairly well established; the first prominent British political leader to call for European Federalism was Sir Oswald Moseley, the fascist leader. This does not stop the intellectual heirs of Hitler and Mussolini attempting to smear the present Eurosceptic movement. The pro-Europeans will try to find racist links, and racists will try to infiltrate the Eurosceptic movement, but they will be living a lie. One of the few things that can be predicted with any certainty over the next few years is that the fascist smear will be used. Do not believe it when you hear it.
The European Union matters for a number of reasons. One is that its increasing ambitions are going to lead to American involvement in more Kosovos than you ever fought possible. Another problem is that it is in its basic form highly critical of "Anglo-Saxon" norms, and so while begging with one hand may be beating America with the other. But the most important point is that it gives hope to Internationalists everywhere. One of our most potent arguments is that "Internationalism has never worked when its been tried". Europe will work, but very badly. It is imperative that all Americans who oppose needless international involvement know just how bad Europe works, and how tyrannical it is becoming. Remember it will be the model for America when your time comes.
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