"An ever closer union between ever different countries."
- Bruno Maçães, Portuguese Minister for Europe
has come for the European Union. With a narrow majority election victory under
his belt, British Prime Minister David Cameron is now focused on the next big
choice the British public will have to make. It was a vital part of his
election campaign, and it will likely prove to be a vital moment for all of
Europe: the referendum about a possible Brexit, scheduled to take place
sometime before 2017. The European Union is (once again) a hot topic, and many
will start to wonder whether we are passed its 'best before' date.
there are many legitimate issues and talking points concerning the future of
the European Union, a broad public campaign requires sound bites and populist
one-liners that hit home. The British, along with other reform-wishers, have
found their required straw man in the form of a clause in the preamble to the
1957 Treaty of Rome; nowadays know as the Treaty on the Functioning of the
European Union (TFEU). It is, as you've most certainly heard, the striving for "an ever closer union among the peoples
of Europe," which has recently been the target of much rhetoric abuse.
It seems we
have come to a point of saturation in terms of closeness. Fear of loss of
autonomy and national identity has caused a surge in patriotism (and sometimes
even nationalism) across large parts of Europe. Due to the diverse, tumultuous,
and rich history of the many states that compose the European Union, it looks
like the ever-closer union may have gone a bridge too far.
But what is
an ever-closer union? It seems the current resentment against the European
Union is based upon a hyperbolic fear for a supranational European identity and
state, which will abolish any and all individuality among the member states.
Although clearly irrational, incredible, and idiotic, this hypothetical
scenario is used to garner support for EU reform: anything and everything to
avoid that ever-closer union.
is, however, that no one is certain what that ever-closer union exactly
entails, which means no one is certain what the European Union is. Is it a
confederation, or a federation? What kind of ever-closer union are we working
towards? For example, the unilateral right to withdraw from the Union wasn't
introduced until the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. By definition, one of the
crucial differences between a confederation and federation is that membership
is voluntary in the former, and involuntary in the latter. This is hardly
decisive though, since many other elements of the European Union show clear
federalist notions, such as open borders, the European Court of Justice, a
common currency (for most, not all), and common economic policies.
as a euphemism for the European Union, has become notorious for the sheer bulk
of rules and regulations it creates, concerning things as arbitrary as the
packaging of olive oil. It might be time, however, for the European Union to
divert some of that olive-oil-packaging-rule-making time and energy towards
determining what sort of ever-closer union we are working towards. Because how
can we be for or against something, or want to change the direction for that
matter, when no one knows exactly what that direction is? We have collectively
boarded a bus that is heading towards 'Union', but not even the driver knows
what route we're taking, or what and where Union is. We have committed to this
journey, but at the next stop the Brit is going to decide whether to get out or
not, leaving the rest of the passengers wondering what this means for the rest
of our trip. Perhaps a road map will help us make a more informed decision.