Tuesday 25 August 2015

Adapt or die

Nobody is more acutely aware of the EU's need for reform than the EU. It is overextended in its ambitions, while badly needing to consolidate that which it has already assumed responsibility for. In the east it has bitten off more than it can chew. The Eurozone can't take on anymore basketcases, the neighbourhood policy isn't working and the Eurozone requires that members reform at a faster rate.

All of which is set to be addressed by the next EU treaty which will pull Switzerland and Norway closer and push us out in alignment with them, in what will appear to be associate membership. Cameron has little if any influence in this. But he will claim this as his great reform. What he's selling us is membership on more or less the same terms. Superficially, it will look like a great accomplishment. In reality, it's a con.

Here we must add a note of caution. Eurosceptics have claimed from the outset that Cameron will get no real reforms and we have always known we'd be sold a crock - but the specifics matter. Eurosceptics have spent much of this year discussing the alternatives to EU membership. In arguing for something like the Norway option, by creating a two tier Europe, bringing Efta states in closer, with Britain as the leading non-eurozone member, Cameron will not unreasonably be able to claim that what he has secured looks a lot like what has otherwise been proposed.

To the uninitiated, it will seem like an attractive proposition and moderate Tories might well be genuinely convinced. In fact we are already seeing a corp of Judas goats lining up. Tories who will join the No camp only to switch when the package is announced. That Boris Johnson is up to no good. They will turn round to us and say "what's your problem? This is more or less what you wanted."

It will look like a loser trading relationship, takes us notionally out of ever closer union and insulates us from the woes of the Eurozone. In reality it merely formalises the status quo and the political reality that ever closer union is dead in the water anyway. It might be enough for the swing vote to say yes.

In light of this, we should be careful in arguing for anything approaching the Norway option or other Efta option, not least because the new treaty makes it redundant but also because it may no longer exist as a proposition. Our blogs have only ever mooted the Norway option as an interim stepping stone in order to secure a departure lounge mechanism for the decade or so it will take to design genuine independence.

As we have previously argued, this associate status actually solves nothing. It might well work for Norway and Switzerland, and that will weaken our case, so we need to push hard on explaining the inadequacies of it, and why we must take a different path. In doing so we can't put forward a message of saving billions and closing the borders down. As much as Ukip failed to make any breakthrough in the general election, a ComRes poll today puts Ukip back down to nine per cent, while on the local level it looks like they are bleeding support and losing council seats.

Whatever we sell, it will have to be good. Insular nationalism attracts the very worst kind of people with the very worst prejudices based on a flimsy set of assumptions. The "going global" mantras coming from that shop carry little weight when contrasted with the noises made by their supporters and their MEP's. A global vision looks irreconcilable with a movement that is just itching to place border guards on every point of entry and inspect every vehicle coming in and out of the country.

Similarly prating about an Anglosphere really speaks to nobody. That just means English speaking countries which can rapidly be translated by the opposition as white countries only. That's the last place we want to be. Also the Commonwealth idea just doesn't have wings. It has many associations and those who preach it tend to be old men in blazers. More to the point, bringing Commonwealth nations into the global trading network is going to require massive investment in terms of modernising governance, roads and ports.

Meanwhile miserly bean counting over budget contributions just locks us into bickering over numbers and most people won't know who to believe. They'll tune out and go with whoever has the more credible message. The short of it is, we need a wow factor. A bigger, better idea.

We argue that Brexit makes room for much needed domestic democratic reform, but also that Brexit gives us a chance to redefine Europe and the single market and that we can show global leadership in addressing global problems.

We're going to get the usual baloney about not being big enough to go it alone, but in terms of GDP and political influence as a permanent member of the UNSC and NATO, such arguments are silly. We can "go it alone" as indeed smaller economies do. But we will want to be cooperating fully with the EU, participating in the community of nations as part of the economic and social life of the continent.

The starting point is that in or out of the EU, the EU isn't going anywhere, we will need a relationship with it and we still need it. That should give some europsceptics pause for thought in their use of rhetoric. Any vision we present that isn't grounded in political reality, and instead seethes with EUphobia, is going to be trampled on in the polls.

We have to get past the usual hackneyed debates and have something innovative to say that speaks to what people really want. Populism isn't popular and while people may want something done about the migrant crisis, putting up walls is not going to win votes. Nihilism, cynicism and misanthropy cannot win.

We need to be opening up new debates about new directions and bringing something genuinely new to the table. If we're going over old ground, crunching the same numbers and moaning about the same things, then we are going to bore people. Frankly, how the eurosceptic brigade are not themselves bored of the standard arguments beats me. But we can't afford to bore the public. Boredom more than anything will kill our chances stone dead.

Eurosceptics are going to have to bin all the arguments they have rehearsed for decades. The world has changed, the battlefield has changed, and more to the point, these same arguments didn't work the last time we have a referendum. The opposition knows what to expect of us, it knows our arguments as well as we do, and it's not the burning issue that eurosceptics believe it is. If we don't have something new to sell, it really is game over. Adapt or die. 

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