The experts solemnly assured us that something was vital for our safety and security – and it turns out that they were talking through the backs of their necks. I wonder, sometimes, whether we will see the same phenomenon in our discussions of the EU. Like the old-fashioned cork or the ban on mobiles on planes, the EU has been assumed to be indispensable. For more than 50 years we have been told that it is a vital part of the “security architecture” of the world.
It was set up by idealists, in the shocked aftermath of the Second World War, to “lock in” Germany: to make sure that no German leader ever went mad again; to stop Germany rolling around the continent like a loose cannon. Well, look at Germany now. Does anyone fear German military revanchism today? The idea is bonkers. Then we were told that the EU was vital as a “bulwark” against the Soviet Union, and communist aggression.
Well, look at Russia today. The main dispute is now about whether Ukraine should be more aligned with Brussels or with Moscow, and even then, no one in western Europe is much exercised. Communism is dead. The threat has been exploded. The “bulwark” argument has been shown to be, er, total bulwarks.
In the next couple of years we are entitled to pose the question: what is the POINT of the EU? I don’t mean, what ghastly penalties will Britain suffer if we should decide to get out. We all know the kind of scaremongering we can expect from the likes of Nick Clegg – the “millions” of lost jobs, the vanishing foreign investment, the giant mutant rats with gooseberry eyes: the kind of stuff they said would happen if we failed to join the euro. I want to hear the positive arguments FOR the EU.
Why have we bubblegummed together this hapless congeries of independent states? Is it to be a united force in international trade negotiations, when the EU’s agricultural subsidies so royally stuff the farmers of developing countries? Is it to have a joint foreign policy, when the EU has been so ludicrously disunited on everything from the Falklands to Libya? Is it to agree standards for widgets, when that could surely be done without this apparatus of supranational law?
Maybe there is a positive vision to be set out – I am just not hearing it yet. Let me give a final example of this phenomenon – the lingering of old ways of thinking, old habits, to the point where they become superstitions. As I was writing this, there was an unfamiliar ringing noise behind me. Prooot proot, it went. It was the landline! I don’t know about you, but in our house the landline has passed into virtual disuse.
The only people who ring it are cold callers; everyone else calls the mobile phone of the person they want to reach. I am starting to wonder whether the landline is actually necessary these days. Is there some elf ’n’ safety reason why a household needs a landline, as we career towards 2014? Do we need a fixed line telephone, or can we do perfectly well without?
I am not sure: but at the moment it feels as if the EU is the Bakelite handset of 21st-century geopolitics, yesterday’s answer to the problems of the day before yesterday. If there is a positive case for this spatchcocked federation, we need to start hearing it now.