Government and Institutions

Remain needs a positive vision of what the EU could look like in 30 years’ time

So far, the Brexit debate has hardly been inspiring. The Remain side has struggled to come out with facts that resonate with the public and that are also accurate. The Brexit side is split: some want to leave the EU because they want a free Britain looking out to the world; others want more protectionism and to put the shutters up when it comes to migration.

At least there has been some attempt by Brexiteers to paint a picture of life on the outside. The Remain side, on the other hand, lacks any vision or imagination. So what could they say about how they might like the EU to look in 30 years’ time?

First, a reformed EU would do more than pay lip service to the principle of subsidiarity enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty. The principle was easily recognisable to Jacques Delors because it is a key principle of Catholic social teaching and Delors was a devout Catholic. However, the way it is described in the treaties inverts the original meaning of the term. The treaties state that the EU is obliged to act where it believes it could be more effective or could achieve desired policy objectives better than lower tiers of government. In one of the explanations of the principle in EU documents it states that action should only be taken at local level “where it proves to be necessary”.

This is not what the principle should be about. The idea of subsidiarity is that the higher level of government should only intervene if necessary or if the lower level is not capable of acting. Furthermore, the higher level of government should only intervene in such a way that it aids the lower level of government and does not dictate to it. If the function can be carried out by civil society or other organisations, the government should not get involved at all.

How might this be operationalised? Let’s take the example of labour market regulation. The objective might be decent working conditions. If the principle of subsidiarity applied, we would ask whether this objective was already achieved via market and civil society mechanisms (for example, trade unions, mutual aid societies and so on). Insofar as market mechanisms do not suffice (perhaps relating to the protection of children, to take a relatively uncontroversial area), local or national government could intervene. When we look at the problem this way round, it is difficult to see any justification for action at EU level.

Of course, the EU is nowhere near approaching problems in this way. But the UK government and the Remain movement could give us a vision of a new EU instead of basing their argument only around the idea that life outside might be a little bit frightening.

In any new model, the principle of subsidiarity would be paramount – and this would require changes to the way the EU is governed.

A complementary plank of a reform agenda should involve “variable geometry”. When it comes to regulation, a subset of countries should be able to act together without regulation being imposed on all the others. In other words, the EU needs to become a “bottom-up” rather than a “top-down” institution: this would be especially relevant for financial regulation.

Of course, those arguing that we should leave will say that the EU is so intransigent and so far from taking such a liberal approach that meaningful reform is a lost cause. They would probably be right. But both sides could do with injecting a bit of “hope” and “change” into their campaigns. This is especially true of Remain.

Prof Philip Booth is the IEA’s Academic and Research Director, and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. This article was first published by City AM.

Academic and Research Director, IEA

Philip Booth is Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is also Director of the Vinson Centre and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He also holds the position of (interim) Director of Catholic Mission at St. Mary’s having previously been Director of Research and Public Engagement and Dean of the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences. From 2002-2016, Philip was Academic and Research Director (previously, Editorial and Programme Director) at the IEA. From 2002-2015 he was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. He is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Federal Studies at the University of Kent and Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Australia. Previously, Philip Booth worked for the Bank of England as an adviser on financial stability issues and he was also Associate Dean of Cass Business School and held various other academic positions at City University. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. He is Deputy Editor of Economic Affairs. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and an honorary member of the Society of Actuaries of Poland. He has previously worked in the investment department of Axa Equity and Law and was been involved in a number of projects to help develop actuarial professions and actuarial, finance and investment professional teaching programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. Philip has a BA in Economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.


2 thoughts on “Remain needs a positive vision of what the EU could look like in 30 years’ time”

  1. Posted 09/03/2016 at 17:33 | Permalink

    The UK’s experience of the European Union suggests that it is both complacent and inflexible. That may explain, if not excuse, the grudging concession of some fairly minor changes in response to David Cameron’s timid ‘demands’ (which fell far short of the contents of his Bloomberg speech, calling for ‘fundamental, far-reaching reforms’ to the EU). My take is (a) that the Brexit side will win the Referendum as UK voters resent the elitist and bullying tone of the ‘Remain’ campaign, and (b) that then the EU may begin to realise that they have made a big mistake. I don’t know if they, like me, appreciate the saying attributed to Confucius: ‘Someone who has made a mistake and doesn’t correct it is making another mistake’. If they do, the opportunity may arise for a genuinely fundamental reform of the EU, quite possibly led by a UK outside the EU. I envisage this as allowing some countries to leave the Eurozone and join a Multi Currency Union, either still inside the EU, or maybe even outside it (like the UK). Indeed, such an MCU might even appeal to Norway and Switzerland if it limited itself in the main to trading arrangements and dropped most of the political stuff.

  2. Posted 09/03/2016 at 18:07 | Permalink

    I can only compare this to the Scottish Indyref, where the “No” campaign was completely negative and didn’t lay out its vision for a UK in 30 years like you suggest, nor did it offer any hope for those of us who wanted to stay in and were faced with a possible exit. But it won anyway, probably because the “Yes” campaign put too much emphasis on SNP politics and not enough on what an independent Scotland might look like. The Brexit campaign isn’t much different. The “Out” campaign thinks the “Remain” campaign is using fear, but then it does so too (see Iain Duncan Smith on terrorism). The “Remain” campaign doesn’t communicate the benefits of remaining too well, probably because they are as diverse as the Brexiters. I think we’re just going to have to accept this is a many-faceted campaign, not just about where we stand on a one-dimensional axis.

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