Paul Bowers answers some of the concerns expressed in a hefty mailbag from his two-part article on accession to the EU. Rejoining the EU – Assessing the Application and Rejoining the EU – the Screening Process.
A few days after the UK’s departure from the EU this appeared on Twitter:
“If you believe something to be irreversible, then it becomes irreversible.”
The author was Donald Tusk. He knows about political change. He was part of Solidarity in Poland during Communism. He knows about the EU, too.
I shall address in a future blog the larger, important issue of whether it is better to campaign for membership of the EU or to take a “stepping stone” approach.
Today’s article looks at other points raised (in bold) in response to my two-part blog on the EU accession process.
1: “No political party is calling for it, nor should we”
Voters in a democracy need not disempower themselves. We are not passive consumers. We can apply pressure. You can write to your MP or speak at a local party meeting. An opinion poll or a by-election does not determine the next Government. It may determine the options on offer at the next general election.
How many political aims have supporters who advocate against them?
This is perhaps the greatest curiosity of Brexit!
2: “We were the bad kid at the back of the class for 40 years”
Jean-Claude Juncker described how much the UK was appreciated and would be missed. He stated that the UK was valued for its pragmatism, providing a useful balance to Continental idealism.
The UK was the chief architect of the Single Market, and established the principle of opt-outs, vital to the organisation’s ability – until Brexit - to deepen while widening.
3: “They’ll never have us back”
This argument is contradicted by statements from politicians. Concrete interests suggest welcoming views will continue to be held.
From Ursula von der Leyen’s description of the UK as “old friends” to Emmanuel Macron’s “the door will always be open”, there is abundant evidence of pro-Rejoin sentiment among EU leaders. They didn’t want Brexit; they would like the chance to reverse it.
At a recent seminar chaired by London4Europe’s own Nick Hopkinson, an Irish Senator and leader of the pan-European ALDE group said, “the door is open wide, we’d love to have you back”. I asked him afterwards, if there was any potential block. “Who’s going to block you?” he said. “No-one’s going to block you. The only country blocking you is here.”
The UK expands the Single Market by 14%. It’s a G7 member, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear weapons state with global diplomatic presence and the world language. The UK is also wealthy. That’s not just a Brexiteer taunt: while France might be glad of a second military power, Germany would doubtless be happy not to carry alone the burden of “bailer-out of last resort”.
It would be an extraordinary failure of statecraft for the EU to reject UK membership, which would represent an historic reversal for Eurosceptics in other EU states, notably France. And in a war-shaken world where formerly peripheral states in the East are flocking to the EU flag, all the more so.
The decision is taken by politicians in the member states, the European Parliament and the Commission.
The Commission is primarily concerned with technical matters, as described in the previous blogs. But for the rest, national considerations sit alongside the EU’s expansive logic.
The EU tends to follow the lead of states which neighbour potential new members. The Irish Senator’s concern was not just to mend the Good Friday Agreement. “You can forget 800 years of history,” he told us. “The UK was our best ally.” Denmark saw the UK as an ally too. France we’ve mentioned. On fiscal matters, the UK was close to a group known as the “frugal four” - Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria. Further afield, there was a good relationship with the Baltics, thanks to the Atlanticism of their political class. And all across Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, there are states with large numbers of nationals in this country.
We started with the unthinkable fall of European Communism. That’s what Donald Tusk was alluding to in his comment on Brexit.
Politicians are early adopters. It’s a pronounced, sometimes unsettling, characteristic. International statesmen and stateswomen show this most of all. Reagan and Thatcher opened to Gorbachev when their populations still feared the opaque Soviet Union. Major and Blair embraced a peace process based on a contested IRA ceasefire long before mainland GB opinion was comfortable. In the 1990s, the EU engaged with Central and Eastern Europe to support nascent democracies and free markets. The EU welcomed Biden within days of Trump’s departure.
That’s leadership, which UK politicians are not showing on Rejoin. The electorate has good reason to pressure them.
I repeat the point that I made at the end of the previous blog. Early application is prudent, as it opens a structured dialogue about what if anything the EU needs from the UK before admission.
That is surely better than guessing in the dark.
Dr Paul Bowers is a member of the European Movement National Council and is a former Researcher in the House of Commons Library.
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.