|Daniel Hannan, MEP|
There is no living politician, of any nation, who we admire more than the brilliant and eloquent Daniel Hannan. A writer and a blogger, Hannan has been a member of the European Parliament representing South East England for the Conservative Party since 1999. If you haven't read his best-selling Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples made the Modern World, do yourself a huge favor and buy it today.
Our appreciation for this very thoughtful Tory has only grown since reading his recent response to José Manuel Barroso, an EU bureaucrat who suggested that Britain would be a second-rate country outside the EU.
Mr. Hannan's smashing response in The Daily Mail follows:
So we've got zero influence, eh? Outside the EU we’d be a second-rate country, would we?
The easy reaction is outrage. How dare José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing head of the Brussels civil service, hector Britain, the nation that, by helping liberate Europe from fascism, made the wretched EU possible in the first place?
But I’d rather take Mr Barroso seriously. Let’s assess the claim that, if it weren’t for the EU, we’d count for little in the world.
Consider, first, the assets that the United Kingdom has.
We are either the seventh or the sixth largest economy on the planet. (Depending on which measure you use, we have either just overtaken, or are just about to overtake, France.)
At a time when the eurozone is stagnant, we are the fastest-growing major economy on Earth. We have — this is a truly amazing statistic — created more jobs over the past four years than the other 27 members of the EU put together. Indeed, on current trends, at some point in the next 30 years, our economy will overtake Germany’s.
While our trade with the EU is in the red and declining, our trade with the rest of the world is in the black and growing.
Nor are our assets purely economic. We have, in London, the world’s greatest city: not just its financial hub but, on most definitions, its cultural hub, too.
Ours is humanity’s most widely spoken language. English has legal status in 37 states, and is used by almost every major international body, from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (a forum to promote free trade among Pacific Rim countries) to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It’s even used by organisations whose member states don’t speak English, such as the European Free Trade Association.
Our common law system is universally respected — to the extent that two foreign companies from the same country will often pay a premium to sign their contracts in UK jurisdiction, knowing that, whatever their other faults, our judges don’t take bribes.
We are the world’s fourth military power, one of only five nations capable of deploying force globally. We are one of seven nuclear states, with renowned special forces and a global intelligence-gathering capacity which we share with the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Our institutions and leading figures are recognised around the world, from Manchester United to Wimbledon, from Downton Abbey to the Duchess of Cambridge. Small wonder we are ranked top in the soft power index (based on countries’ influence in terms of politics, diplomacy, business, culture, sport and education rather than financial or military might), edging even above the United States.
We are a leading member of the G20 and the G8, of Nato and the Commonwealth, and one of five permanent seat-holders on the UN Security Council. How much bigger do we have to be, for Heaven’s sake, before we’re capable of governing ourselves?
How does Mr Barroso think seven million Swiss manage, or 320,000 Icelanders? Or, come to that, the 32,000 people of San Marino, who recently rejected EU membership in a referendum, preferring to remain in a free trade area?
Like most countries, we joined what is now the EU out of pessimism. At the time, in the early Seventies, it was Britain’s lowest moment as a nation. It was the era of double-digit inflation, prices and incomes policies, trade union militancy, power cuts and the three-day week. The consensus among commentators was that Britain was finished.
It was against this miserable background that Parliament voted to join in 1972, and the electorate ratified the decision by referendum in 1975.
Would people have voted the same way either ten years earlier or ten years later? I doubt it. We would have lacked the necessary sense of national despair.
Contrary to what the doom-mongers of the Seventies feared, the decline over the past 40 years has come, not in Britain or the Anglosphere, but in Europe.
In the year that we joined, Western Europe accounted for 36 per cent of the world economy. Today, that figure is 24 per cent, and in ten years’ time it will be 14 per cent. Last year, the Commonwealth’s economy overtook the eurozone’s.
Britain is a global trader, linked by history to every continent and archipelago. Yet we have managed to confine ourselves in the only trade bloc on the planet that is shrinking economically.
Mr Barroso says that, outside the EU, we’d lack clout. Really?
Consider, as an example of a non-EU state, Norway, with a population of four million. Norway has an active and engaged foreign policy. Its diplomats played a key role in negotiating peace settlements in South East Asia, Sudan and Sri Lanka — as well as, albeit less successfully, brokering the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine.
Strong words: David Cameron hit back yesterday at Jose Manuel Barroso (left), saying voters were his 'boss'
Norway has the capacity to do these things because, not being part of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, it has diplomatic autonomy.
Are we truly to believe that Britain, a nation of nearly 64 million, a mercantile and maritime people linked to every corner of the world, would have no influence if we had an independent foreign policy?
There is one place, though, where we truly do lack influence: Brussels.
There have been 55 occasions when the UK voted against an EU measure in the Council of Ministers (the figure is deceptively low because, by tradition, countries rarely push matters to the vote when they can see that they will lose). Guess how many times, out of those 55, we succeeded in blocking the measure? That’s right: zero.
That literally is, to use Mr Barroso’s phrase, ‘zero influence’.
Cast your mind back just a few weeks to the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, the defeated prime minister of Luxembourg, as Mr Barroso’s successor as president of the European Commission.
David Cameron could hardly have made clearer the strength of Britain’s opposition. The PM had precedent on his side: there was a general understanding that such appointments would not be made against the wishes of one of the big member states.
He also had constitutional right on his side: Mr Juncker’s claim to the job rested on a power-grab by the European Parliament that stretched the interpretation of a clause in the European Treaty beyond any normal bounds, and had not been sanctioned by the member states.
Yet, in the event, how many countries backed Britain? How many of the other 27 states felt that it would be inappropriate to appoint a man who made no secret of his belief in a United States of Europe, who had called for a European army and police force, for pan-European taxes and an EU-wide minimum wage? How many? One: Hungary.
In a revealing aside, Mr Barroso has linked the calls from some Britons to leave the EU with the Scottish independence campaigns.
It’s a telling parallel. Most Scots voted last month to keep the Union because they felt at least some sense of British identity. Three hundred years of common statehood, resting on a common language and culture, have created a shared British patriotism.
Mr Barroso’s analogy confirms that he sees the EU, too, as a nation. People like him wouldn’t talk like this if the EU were simply an international association like the Arctic Council or the World Health Organisation.
Incidentally, Mr Barroso’s intervention reminds us that there is rarely much gratitude in Brussels. He secured his post partly with the help of British Conservative MEPs, though you wouldn’t think it today.
I mention this because there are alarming reports that David Cameron doesn’t want Conservative MEPs to oppose Mr Juncker’s appointment as President in a vote on it in the European Parliament tomorrow.
Having fought the recent Euro-election campaign on the platform we Tories did, opposing these federalists is a straightforward question of keeping faith with our voters.
The biggest complaint people have about politicians and the EU is that we say one thing in our home countries and do another in Brussels.
I’ll be voting against Mr Juncker and his Euro-zealots. I hope other Conservatives will join me.