Thursday, 14 April 2016

It's time to break out of Fortress Europe

I've lost count of the number of articles I have read deconstructing the Swiss Option. Notably how Switzerland's refusal to open up its borders cuts it off from a number of cooperation agreements with the EU. In particular they draw our attention to academic cooperation. That's all true to a point, which is why I lean toward Norway as a transitional mechanism.

But the message is clear. The EU will not bend to accommodate the democratic will of close neighbours. If it does not get its own way it will freeze allies out. And on top of this we hear talk of how the EU will make it difficult to trade with them if we leave the EU. Again, much of this is diffused by the Norway Option, but again it's broadly correct. We are going to have to concede to the EU agenda to leave without kicking up a fuss.

Some would have it that this is the precise reason for not leaving. For me that's simply not good enough. Because what they are actually saying is that the EU is bullying and wholly exclusive. Why do we want to be part of that? And that gets me thinking. How far could science advance were there a truly non-discriminatory academic cooperation programme?

It wouldn't be difficult to achieve. After all we have two of the top universities in the world and thanks to our natural inclination toward upholding the rule of law we are top of the league in soft power rankings. Wouldn't that be better? If the EU really was a government interested in cooperation and internationalism, participation in cooperation agreements would not be so proscribed.

And what if there could be a global standards and regulations agreement where voluntary observance grants you access rather than having to acquiesce to anti-democratic demands? And what if you could secure opt outs without having to ask permission? That wouldn't take much doing. We already have ISO, UNECE and the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. We have e-TIR and the Paris MOU - all of which form the basis of a global single market - and one based on multilateralism rather than supranationalism.

We already get most of our technical regulations from these international bodies because that's where the EU gets its own regulations. So that gets me wondering why we need a middleman. Why should we shut ourselves off from the whole world and be subject to the EU's demands? It's not like we need the EU to develop a digital single market in services. The ITU is doing that along with the many global banking regulators.

If we take the europhiles at their word that trade would be complicated and hindered by the EU then we really must be losing out. Why do we want to be part of a union that forces to choose? Instead, we could be like Norway and have a full vote and a full voice on all in the international bodies and have a say in them before they go anywhere near the EU. They say we can't have the best of both world, but it seems to me that we can.

Ok so we might end up adopting one in five EU rules but fishing, agriculture, energy, trade and aid would be back in our hands, and we would pay a lot less for the privilege. More to the point it's a brilliant compromise. It gives the outers most of what they want while still maintaining close cooperation with the EU. And if it means accepting freedom of movement, I can live with that. That's not so bad. Joining Efta makes Efta the fourth largest bloc on earth. More than enough clout to renegotiate the EEA agreement later down the line, and we'd have a real unilateral emergency brake.

As much as it would be a major catalyst for broader European reform it would spark a huge conversation here at home as to how we want to use our new found liberty. And being free to choose alliances, we are no longer bound to side with the EU each and every time. No more can it tell us how to vote at any of the top tables. And while we are at it, why not push for greater democratisation of the IMO, WTO and UNECE?

The europhiles have made it quite clear with all these histrionics that the EU is protectionist and exclusive. That makes our case for us. All this noise they make has given us a real insight into the character of the EU: "Do as we say or you can't play". Does this sound like a government interested in cooperation and internationalism to you? No. Me neither.

They tell us the rest of the world will exclude us from big bang trade deals, but the real work is done at these global forums removing technical barriers to trade. We can do more to reduce transaction costs and open up new markets by cooperating there. What happens between non-state actors is far more significant than bloc deals between giants. After all, the EU ends up adopting ISO standards and Codex/UNECE regulations. To my mind, in substance the alliance between Codex and ISO has more far reaching potential than even TTIP - which probably won't even pass.

If we really do want to be an outward looking internationalist nation then we need to be free of the EU. We can't afford the stagnation of the Eurozone nor can we wait years for them to complete their big bang trade deals. We'll get further with small increments. That's how it's done in the modern age yet the EU is still wedded to the practices of the last century.

There's no point trying to reform the EU. David Cameron showed us that it can't be done - and we're still going to be having this same argument in another thirty years if we don't leave. We'll still be locked into Euro-parochialism.

I'm under no illusions here. There may be transitional costs and short term disruption but change is good. I believe the EU is stagnating and it will gradually strangle our global competitiveness. Agility will help us compensate and we will probably enhance our global standing as we launch new initiatives to open up new markets. We're not alone in wanting to reboot world trade.

What we do want is a revolution in how things get done and Brexit really will be it. Without a seismic gesture, the EU will never reform. It will never see that the fault lies in its own DNA and that it can never be a democracy. It will never be open to the world, it will never bend to the needs of all its members. It will cling on for dear life trying to hold the order together. We have already seen from the Euro crisis that no price is too high for their vanity and hubris. And that's why it cannot survive. It doesn't have a mandate worth speaking of and it never will.

Whichever way you look at it, this stale idea from the last century has had its day and for whatever good it did the cracks are beginning to show. Brexit could well be the move that reorders the post-war settlement along lines nature intends rather than the egos of a euro elite. The result can only be a more democratic Europe, with nations each playing to their strengths rather than keeping up the pretence that one size fits all.

On the whole I see Brexit as a breath of fresh air all round that breaks a forty year stalemate. And when the EU folds, there will be that global single market, and once again Europe can take its place in a global marketplace rather than shutting itself off from the world. It's time to break out of Fortress Europe and see what we are made of. Let's give it a bash!

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