Time to hug a eurosceptic?

, by Jason O’Mahony

Time to hug a eurosceptic?

Life would be so much easier if eurosceptics were just plain evil. Those of us who believe in the idea of a united Europe would find life so much easier if they were Voldemort-style characters that we could just dismiss with a “Eurospelliamus!” and a wave of a rolled-up copy of the Treaty of Rome used as a wand. But here’s the problem: They’re not all communists or nazis or racists, and they’re not always wrong. Many of them rightly pointed out that the single currency would be threatened by the fact that it was not the currency of a fiscal union, and guess what? They were right. We were wrong.

However, that does not mean that the return to the unhindered nation-state is in our interests either. There is a single reason to continue to support European integration.

It is, in short, the fact that we live on Earth.

To our near east, Russia descends into an undemocratic state. In the far east, a giant power run by a dictatorship is stepping out onto the world stage. In Pakistan, a fundamentalist bigot plots to assault our way of life in the streets in which we live. And, as the markets have proven, there are huge economic forces and corporate interests which can sweep aside the ability of a nation-state to govern its own affairs. This is 21st century Earth, where our values of tolerance, religious freedom, equality, freedom of speech, democratic government, indeed our ability to run our very societies are under assault.

The nation-state is not obsolete. It is our cultural anchor, what defines us all as people. But sovereignty means nothing if it cannot deliver the outcomes we seek.

We can hold up our 1945 borders as thin scraps of shelter against the colossal forces, economic, political and environmental, that threaten to overwhelm us. But those eurosceptics who oppose European unity have to step up and answer how can we stand fast to our values when even powerful nations like Britain can only afford half an aircraft carrier?

Pro-Europeans, on the other hand, need to accept that it is not heresy to criticise the union, or to advocate the repatriation of powers back to the states. It is not outrageous to point to the shoddy way the Lisbon treaty was arrived at, or the way EU officials are appointed. There are plenty of proud pro-Europeans who felt soiled by the whole grubby process. But by the same extent, eurosceptics have to remove their blinkers and accept that in a world with nations boasting populations in the hundreds of millions, no matter how passionately you wave your national flag, it simply will not be enough. As Timothy Garton Ash has said, the 21st century will be an age of giants.

We have to recognise that millions of Europeans are not actively opposed to the EU, but have growing doubts about it. Moderate eurosceptics do not all agree about what sort of EU they wish to see either: Does anyone believe that Martin McGuinness and William Hague both have the same vision of Europe? Does anyone believe that the French eurosceptics share the same vision of Europe as a British free-market eurosceptic?

It’s time to think radical thoughts about legitimising the EU in the eyes of Europeans who do not want abolition, but are losing faith in the EU. With the exception of France, Denmark and Ireland, who consulted their citizens in 1992, European citizens have never been asked whether they wished to be citizens of the European Union. Perhaps it is time that EU citizenship be just that: A voluntary opt-in for every citizen of a member-state to make. It can be done when citizens renew their passports or identity cards, signing a declaration rejecting their joint EU citizenship and the rights and privileges that come with it. Millions of Europeans will. But I suspect hundreds of millions will not, and that in itself will prove to the extremist eurosceptics that they do not speak as the authentic voice of the people of Europe, because it will be millions of ordinary Europeans making the choice to opt into EU citizenship themselves.

It is extremely doubtful as to whether this generation of Europeans will ever love “Europe”, and this writer for one is very sceptical as to whether future generations will ever fly blue flags from their porches on a summer evening. The EU will at best be tolerated, like income tax or sewage treatment plants, regarded with enthusiasm by very few but grudgingly accepted by the many as a necessity. With that in mind, we should not fear those on the eurosceptic side who call for a referendum in Britain or elsewhere on withdrawal. We have to give our people the right to vent their anger and make the call, or else it will be harnessed and utilised by ugly and dangerous forces the likes of which this continent has had far too much experience of in its past.

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