And so it came to pass that the people of the United Kingdom voted out of the European Union. Now that voting for ‘independence’ has begun, the European Union might not be so very united after all. Why is it so difficult to spell out the advantages of the European Union?
The European Union was intended as a means to safeguard Europe against further wars like WW 1 (‘The Great War’) and WW 2. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed, and the human suffering caused on top of that can’t be over-estimated.
A war tends to blast a country to bits, the money system collapses as actual products get scarce, food supply grinds to a halt, and people get maimed and killed. Once the war is over, re-building it may be good for the economy, but in general the countries that profit most are usually not the countries that have been destroyed.
So it’s a good idea to stop this cycle of creation and destruction, and create peace and welfare through trade, hence the EU. After all, in the past trade has brought us knowledge, tonnes of money, and hitherto unknown and interesting products like broccoli and papayas. Personally, I think broccoli is preferable to war, but some people might disagree.
However, these days, politicians complain about the many rules and regulations, the disadvantages of the Euro, and of course the impossibility to stop immigration. But are these legitimate complaints?
The EU is in essence a body of legislation that regulates trade. The rules etc. help people and companies to do business all across Europe. If each country has its own definition of ‘broccoli’ then it’s harder to sell the stuff abroad, since people don’t know what they’re going to be buying and might be reluctant to do so. Same with import tariffs. If each country can randomly slap an extra price tag on products from ‘abroad’, trade will be hindered. As for intellectual property rights, manufacturers obviously have an easier time of it if their rights are recognised in as wide a territory as possible. For instance, European rules have helped Dutch creative professionals to receive an equitable remuneration from cable companies that broadcast television programmes in Poland.
As for the Euro, since a money system is all about trust and symbols, it’s an obvious advantage if everybody trusts the same symbolic European currency instead of devising a zillion separate systems that may or may not have any value. We weren’t better off when we were trading sheep skins against broccoli; or trading Florins against Greek Drachmas that could lose their value in the blink of an eye. If a central European bank is needed, and thus a system whereby a political union is realised so as to keep the faith in that one currency, that seems a small price to pay for peace and stability.
Migration and immigration has in the past been a way of redistributing wealth. Poor people travel to rich countries and try to get a little richer themselves; and in the course of a few generations they usually are better off than before – and interestingly, the people in their new country have not gotten any poorer, quite the reverse. Immigration is a problem in a world where trade is limited, money can’t be trusted and the balance of power may shift at any moment – immigration is not a problem in a well-regulated vast marketplace consisting of a lot of countries trading with each other, where the poor have a reasonable expectation of being able to carve out an existence.
What the Brexiteers seem to have forgotten, is that Europe may have a rich heritage, but that heritage has been wrought from a staggering amount of wars. These wars have been waged between empires and kingdoms, between states the size of Sardinia and the size of the Ottoman Empire, and these wars have all been made possible through the absence of a unified body of laws and a mal-functioning or absent judicial system to deal with transgressions.
To name a few wars during the 19th century: the Napoleonic wars, including wars between France and Sweden, Poland, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain; wars between the Russian empire and Great Britain; between the Ottoman empire and a slew of eastern European countries including the occupation of Greece; between Denmark, Norway, France, Sweden and Great Britain; a slew of revolutions in Poland, France, German and Italian states; between the Italian states and the Austrian empire; the Crimean wars; wars between Prussia and the Austrian empire; German civil war; war between France and Prussia – and this is not even including any wars between a European country and some other country abroad, like in the Middle East, Latin America or Africa, or with the not-so United States.
The succes of the European Union is really its ability to curb the lust for bloodshed of the ruling class and put a system of mutually beneficial trade in place, thereby creating a fairly prosporous population. That system may not be perfect but at least it seems to work. Best of all, contrary to popular belief, that system is based on the creation of a greater territory; where in the past such a territory was created through warfare, and the benefits of a bigger territory were reaped by only a few – mostly by kings and merchants.
Maybe the Brexiteers don’t really care for that, maybe they truly believe that the world is safe and sound now, or that it’s possible to close the door to their country as though the UK is a little house on the prairie. But as the merest knowledge of European history shows, it’s not really a good idea to have a bunch of separate countries lusting after the spoils of war – whereas it is a good idea to have a general rule of law and a well-regulated single market.
(This blog tends to be in Dutch, however on this occassion it’s not. WWW.KRACHT.LEGAL)