The United Kingdom’s Referendum on European Union Membership
It’s never been the intention of this magazine to be political. However, the issue of whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union perhaps transcends ‘mere politics’ to facts that seem lost on the shambolic efforts at explanation, commentary and debate currently being delivered by much of the UK’s media.
The question is being narrowed down to one of migration and who’ll have more or less money/jobs. Isn’t the long term relationship of one great country with other great neighbouring countries (however diverse) worthy of deeper debate? We’re talking about one of the richest (in every sense of the term) areas of the world and somehow this ‘will we lose money?’ debate resonates with a very unattractive level of self-interest.
Will the UK lose out financially if the vote is to leave the EU? Well as far as I can tell nobody truly knows the answer. We simply have one display of ‘CEOs’ wheeled out to opine on one set of theories followed by a similar bunch, presumably all armed with similar facts and figures who tell us the opposite story. Stock markets and currencies may well be affected, one way or another, but not nearly as much as the financial jolt caused by either of the World Wars.
People died, not just one or two of them, but millions died; to eventually bring peace and stability to Europe. In the grand scale of things this peace has been short-lived and the EU is younger still. It’s not perfect, what large institution is? It’s over-staffed, bureaucratic, and perhaps not truly representative, but the same could be said of most large administrative bodies, particularly those governing many British cities.
When you view the development of the EU against civilisations generally it’s an infant. To vote to leave now is like divorcing before the wedding speeches. Changes to the EU would be good, improvement even better, perfection it will never be but for the sake of all those that came here and died, ‘working together’ has to be the key. Remember that the need for change does not signify failure it shows an evolving environment with changing circumstances.
Life cannot simply be a free for all. To benefit from the security and stability that togetherness brings there has to be central governance. Many people will recall (not all with joy) reading different political theorists’ views of the ’social contract’. This is the mechanism by which individuals agree to give up individual rights in order to benefit from a social society and the protection and enforcement of governance.
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are probably the most often quoted theorists and although their works originate from as far back as the seventeenth century their theories make contemplative reading in light of many of the world’s current political struggles.
I was naive, when I first came upon Hobbes’ political theories. I thought his description of the State of Nature (that’s a world with no social contract or control) as being ‘unbearable brutal’ was probably rather over-dramatic. It wasn’t then and it certainly isn’t now (we regularly see what happens in places that have lost social control, Daesh being a prime example) without control mechanisms the human state can be, and often is, brutal. Hobbes’ suggestion that absolutism was necessary now proves some merit when many regions, that have seen the end of absolutism, find a greater brutality now flourishing.
Originally, I preferred the theories of Rousseau ("Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains") and the idea that mankind was naturally good and that only a minimum level of governance was called for. This is perhaps perfect for a utopian society; where everyone’s working for the general good and not threatening anyone else’s property or well-being. Rousseau felt that man was only answerable to man and could not be subrogated by rulers. Now I see that this is the substance of fantasies. As soon as you introduce ownership and growing demands, which then create pressures on resources, you need effective governance and that means in the case of Europe, governance that covers the whole of the EU region. The United Kingdom cannot rely on being ‘simply an island, with its own agenda’ in today’s global world of opportunities and threats.
Survival under such pressures means surrendering the absolute right to do exactly what you want in exchange for an authority that’ll help you if someone takes your goods or threatens your well-being. Maybe this theory can work for smaller groups but life is just too complicated to allow Nations to be governed by Rousseau’s ‘government only by the people’.
So it’s the theories of John Locke which seem to me to resolve the question of the need to govern the EU. Locke maintained that governance should be limited to the protection of ’life, liberty and property’ and that those governing should be subject to all-encompassing laws of morality. He also believed that where powers were overstepped the governors should be removable. This sounds like a reasonable expectation for the EU.
Many people that complain about what the mechanisms of government in Europe do or don’t do have neither voted in European elections or visited the websites that allow access to each day’s activities, rulings and judgements. They’re simply fed by the persuasions of the media and the ill-informed.
I feel that there’s a fear amongst British people on mainland Europe that this vote is going to be dominated by people who don’t necessarily understand the current values, freedoms and opportunities of this great continent. The UK is not American, it’ European. However, with the coverage given to the American Presidential Elections; compared to recent voting in Germany, you could be forgiven for being confused. Europe is discussed when there are startling images of refuges to be shown or a bomb blasts. Many people do not fully appreciate the treasures that the continent holds; a millennia of shared history and peoples.
If you’re British and are living in France you can still vote in the referendum on the 23rd of June but it is important to register by the 7th June. Whichever way you vote, it’s important that people with some experience of the EU add their weight to the decision-making. You can register by visiting www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need to have your passport and National Insurance number to hand.
By A Atkinson
Hobbes, Thomas. 1651a. Leviathan. C.B Macpherson (Editor). London: Penguin Books (1985)
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration. Yale University Press (2003).
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Basic Political Writings. (Trans. Donald A. Cress) Hackett Publishing Company (1987).