The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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The Myth of Europe

Paper No. 39

Russell Lewis


Some of my best friends are Europhiles. Like many of their persuasion, while on most matters they have sensible views, at the very mention of the word “Europe” their critical faculties seem to go on strike. How otherwise can one account for their indifference to four undeniable defects in the EU which, if proven about any other political project would make them condemn it out of hand. These are its lack of democracy, its excessive regulation, its corruption and its structural bias against British interests.


Why are these upholders of parliamentary government so unconcerned about the European Union’s present oligarchic structure? Why aren’t they angry (especially the MPs among them) at the prospect, under federalism, of unelected bankers and bureaucrats becoming our masters and our General Elections becoming a farce? What made Tony Blair endorse so fulsomely as new President of the European Commission the Italian Romano Prodi, who, once appointed, announced that his first aim was to destroy the nation state? Why can’t they see that the sort of centralized unitary European state we shall be ruled by if the federalists have their way is such a threat to our right to govern ourselves that membership of it is not even worth considering?

It is not as if these Europhiles are under any illusion about the EU’s lack of democracy. One of the most prominent, Michael Heseltine, for example, in his book “The Challenge of Europe: Can Britain Win” readily acknowledges its undemocratic character. As he says, “The ... notable characteristic of present political arrangements is that they are about as ineffective and as unaccountable as they could be ... the institutions themselves are totally incapable of adjusting to that change. We have federalism by stealth, whether because national electorates cannot be told the truth or are not trusted to understand it, or because their elected leaders have failed to comprehend what they have assented to”.*


Again, the Europhiles know what everybody knows—that economic controls, with which Brussels is increasingly identified, promote inefficiency. It is astonishing to recall today, after the tragi–farce of beef and butter mountains, wine lakes and olive production subsidies claimed for double the acreage planted, that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was once the showpiece of the Community. Yet this white, or rather green elephant, which the council of Ministers has only made the feeblest efforts to reform, is a flop on virtually every count. It uses up nearly half the Community budget, adds £20 a week to the average family food bill, reduces the incomes of more efficient producers abroad including some of the world’s poorest peoples, is an ecological disaster (fostering overproduction of grain on unsuitable soils through excessive use of chemicals) is notoriously riddled with Mafia and other scams and has recently, over the hormones in beef issue in which the Commission is clearly in the wrong become a serious bone of contention with the United States, threatening to undermine world free trade.

In industry and services too Brussels regulation and protectionism raise producer, consumer and welfare costs, in this respect reflecting the deadweight bureaucratic culture of our continental partners which is today making mainland Europe the G7’s unemployment blackspot. In these circumstances the Brussels harmonization programme becomes not, as it claims to be, the route to a level playing field but a device for raising British costs to make us less competitive. Tony Blair knows this full well, otherwise why does he keep preaching to his continental partners that deregulating and tax–cutting are the only sure way to create jobs?

Professor Patrick Minford has calculated that if Britain harmonized completely with the rest of the EU, the combination of minimum wages, the rise of union power and the higher social costs burden could increase UK unemployment by as much as three million.


Regulation is moreover the seedbed of fraud and after the recent devastating report of the European Parliament which led to the sacking of Jacques Santer and his team, there is no need to give chapter and verse to show that the European Commission is riddled with corruption. The excuse offered by Madame Cresson, the worst offender — that she was guilty of no behaviour that is not standard in French administrative culture is beyond satire. It also illustrates the grossly irresponsible attitudes towards public duty among many members of the Continental political and bureaucratic elite, attitudes too deep–rooted to be removed by reformist tinkering. Romano Prodi, the new President appointed with the express task of cleaning up the Commission, has since been revealed as deeply suspect himself and lucky not to be in jail for jobbery in Italy.

Hostile to British Interests

Finally, Ministers and Foreign Office officials know very well that the EU is run by the Franco–German axis on an agenda routinely agreed between the two nations on the eve of each and every EU summit meeting. Why, then, do they surrender one British interest after another on the grounds, constantly belied by experience, that this will generate goodwill and prompt similar concessions from Germany and France? Even as recently as the eve of the February summit top FO officials produced a position paper blithely proposing, contrary to the Prime Minister’s emphatically declared position, that we should offer a reduction of our budget rebate in the hope of prompting equivalent climbdowns by our partners. The historical evidence points to the conclusion that the European Union is congenitally unfriendly if not blatantly hostile to British interests and no amount of diplomacy can change that melancholy fact.

When normally reasonable people sincerely support a policy and won’t let go despite apparently overwhelming objections to it,

They have lost their marbles
They think they have no choice because it is inevitable.
They calculate that the benefits of that policy outweigh the costs.

Not Bonkers But Out Of Date

Taking these possibilities in turn. First, though I think that the Euro–integrationists are wrong–headed, I don’t think that they are crazy. The one element of irrationality which may afflict some of them is a reluctance to admit that they are mistaken, or even more to admit that circumstances have changed so that a policy that was right in the past is wrong today because the situation has changed. Many, like the author, were enthusiastic supporters of greater European unity during the cold war because they saw it as a part of strengthening the west against the threat of military conquest or political subversion from the Soviet Union. It then seemed sensible for the Common Market to be the right institution for improving the economies of the member states and allowing them to shoulder a bigger share of the burden of self–defence. (I did however warn, in a pamphlet I wrote for the Institute of Economic Affairs, “Rome or Brussels” that, though, as I hoped, the Common Market would continue broadly on the lines of the Rome Treaty to promote free movement of goods, capital services and people within its borders and global free trade, it might follow the Brussels model and become more bureaucratic, more regulated and protectionist). Some, believing that the cold war division of the world would extend far into the future, even wondered whether the time might come when the Americans, tired of footing most of the bill for protecting the not too grateful Europeans, might elect an isolationist president and leave us in the lurch. Greater unity in Europe, with provision for our own defence capability thus appeared to many of us as the way we would have to go to survive. To those few who were worried about the dangers of centralization of power in Brussels it must be remembered that, up until the appointment of Jacques Delors as President of the Commission, the prospect of a European federal state trampling on the rights and interests of the sovereign member states seemed remote. A more economically integrated Europe did however appeal not only as a contribution of stiffening the West’s defence against the Soviets but also as a way of keeping the Germans on side, and, by making them feel fully included in the fraternity of western nations, reduced the temptation for them to do a deal with the Russians, go neutral and defect from NATO in exchange for ending the division of Germany.

Needless to say, for those who thought like this, the double collapse of the Soviet Union and the Berlin wall removed the two main props of the argument for Britain’s positive role in the European Community. Alas, for many politicians it was and remains embarrassing to change tack on a policy which they have espoused for decades. Few now recall how long it took many Tories to stop shouting the odds for Empire and Commonwealth, even when, as a power structure it had disappeared.

Europe As Economic Pace–Setter

Many British EU fans cling to the belief that the other senior members have an economic vitality that we lack and that, if we become more like them, their higher productivity and living standards will rub off on us. This view made sense in the 60s and 70s when Germany, France and Italy were enjoying economic miracles and we were suffering from inflation, stagnation and strikes. What most of them do not realize is that, meantime, the situation has not only changed but actually reversed. These former role models have diluted their dynamism in a mass of regulations, taxes and social contributions. OECD statistics show that, today, while our wage costs are lower than in Germany, France and Italy our living standards are substantially higher. On present trends Britain in GDP terms will soon resume its place as number four in the world economic league. And that is how it looks like continuing. As Anatole Kaletsky put it (The Times 8 June ’99) “Britain is almost certain to remain the world’s fourth– fifth– or sixth–largest economy for the rest of our lifetimes. The idea that such a country is too small to operate as an independent entity is therefore manifestly absurd”.

Relative Competitiveness & Living Standards
Wage Living
Cost* Standards†
US 100 100
Japan 100 103
UK 83 86
Germany 145 81
France 98 65
Italy 85 77
* Feb 98 estimate based on US bureau of Statistics Series
† Single Man on Average Earnings—OECD at Purchasing Power Parity 96

Historical Inevitability

So some Europhilia is no more than a post–Cold War and post– Wirtschaftswunder hangover, but most of it is not. For many a much more compelling theme of the Euro–rhetoric is the idea that federalism is part of history’s irresistible tide. Sovereign national states, it is claimed, reflect the age of steam, railways and the Morse code. Now outmoded by the global revolution in transport, telecommunications and information technology, they are having to make way for the superpowers of which Europe must either unite and join or shrink into insignificance. The most insidious propaganda ploy in favour of European Monetary Union is the claim that it is inevitable, so we might as well accept it. Many clever people are captivated by the thought of surfing the wave of the future—witness the crop of idealistic intellectuals who became Communists and even willing Soviet spies in Britain in the thirties. They were not perturbed at betraying their own country and succouring a totalitarian regime because they thought they were marching with history. For them the prestige of contributing to the unstoppable progress of mankind made such temporary embarrassments seem trivial. If evidence did surface of brutality and murder by the Soviet regime it was brushed aside with such pearls of wisdom as “You can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs”. This notion of events moving of their own accord and dragging us along, leaving us no other option than to give them a little push, is very appealing to those who yearn to walk with destiny. In the case of the Euro–federalists it is less a case of walking than riding, shown by their constant allusions to the European bus or boat that must not be missed. Yet this notion that history is a self–propelled vehicle which we can hop on to but cannot control is piffle. History is what we make it, no more no less. All too often, indeed, it is, as Gibbon described it, “a register of the crime, the vice and folly of mankind”, though it does not have to be. The European bus has no pre–programmed destination—it may ascend the sunlit uplands, or, like the Gadarene swine, rush over the cliff. Either way we are free to choose whether or not to jump aboard.

Evidence Against

In any case the facts don’t support the theory of a global drift from nation states to federal superstates. For one thing there are today roughly twice as many states in the United Nations Organization as there were at the time it was founded, most of them with under five million people. For another, far from national loyalties being on the wane, many of these new countries, both large and small, are giving top priority to nation building. Moreover, post–war history is littered with examples of federal failure, including Pakistan (with the loss of Bangladesh), the Central African Federation, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, to name but a few.


Related to this vision of history as an irresistible urge towards ever bigger units of government culminating in the superstate (and eventually world government, the most super superstate of all) is the belief that our continent, the cradle of civilization, forfeited its rightful place as world leader and fell, the exhausted casualty of rival nationalisms. The most benign expression of this view was put by Winston Churchill:”—If only Europe were united, there is no limit to the happiness, the prosperity or the glory which its three or four hundred people would enjoy”—though the Europe he was talking about was one to which, he assumed, Britain would never belong.

Federalist Ideology

Thus emerges the core Euro–federalist interpretation of history and the action programme which logically follows for those who believe in it:

Nationalist divisions brought about Europe’s decline:
The European peoples can only be restored to their rightful (leading) role in the world through the liquidation of nationalism and the abolition of the political and cultural institutions which underpin it.
National loyalties must be replaced by adherence to, on the one hand, the European Union and its array of supranational institutions, and on the other, regional governments which devitalise national organization and help to erase national consciousness.

Former European Supremacy

This interpretation of past and present has an appealing simplicity, comparable with Marx’s “All history is the history of class struggles” and like his is all the more plausible because it contains an element of truth. The major theme of the history of the last four centuries was indeed the Europeanisation of the World. From the fifteenth century onwards, European mariners explored the oceans, traded with distant lands and were followed by soldiers, priests and colonists. Their superior military technology and the explosive growth of their manufacturing made them irresistible. Europe’s pioneering of power–driven machinery, its sophisticated capitalist enterprise, and the population explosion fostered by the industrial revolution, gave its peoples dominion, either directly by conquest or indirectly by economic penetration, over most of the world. At the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee European–led progress seemed like a law of nature. As the poet Swinburne put it:

“Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change".

Then disaster struck. Two world wars in the first half of our century left Europe devastated and the world divided between the two outside superpowers of America and the Soviet Union. Western Europe at least recovered behind the NATO shield, though as a dependency of a benign USA, but the European empires disappeared.

Nationalism In The Dock

But was Europe’s downfall really due to the follies of its numerous nationalisms, and was disaster due to what some have called “Europe’s civil wars"? It would bemore accurate to attribute them to the folly of German nationalism. There is now a consensus among professional historians, including German historians, that both world wars began as German wars of conquest. The programme of the federalists to prevent future European wars by marginalising nationhood is thus founded on the false premiss that the wars are the product of rival nationalisms. Even if this were so (and the fact that wars occurred long before nationalism existed makes it look a bit silly) it is not true, as federalists claim, that the peace of Europe since World War ii has been kept by the Common Market stopping the nations of Europe from being at each other’s throats. The only threat to peace in Europe in the post–war period has come from the Soviet Union. That was contained by the Atlantic Alliance, the backbone of which was provided by America, until the Soviet collapse. Within Western Europe nationalist feelings have not disappeared but they have not led to war because the countries of which it consists (apart from Serbia, the exception which proves the rule) are democracies and experience so far shows that democracies do not tend to go to war with each other. This argument applies with special force to Germany which, today, is a stable democracy. The military clique which once ruled the roost there has disappeared and German militarism is dead. A further point, underlined by the post–war experience of Europe’s democracies, is that you don’t need an empire and you don’t need to grab other countries’ land in order to prosper. Wars to gain territory have therefore lost their appeal. Indeed the countries with the highest standards of living in Europe—Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries and Luxembourg—have never had empires (apart from Sweden, briefly, in the 17th century).

Glory In Diversity

Yet this belief that the great tragedy of Europe is its political divisions and that it would have been wonderful if it had long ago been united is a myth. On the contrary, the source of the glory and greatness of Europe has been its political diversity. This is not only true of the splendour and variety of its national cultures but also of the material power which it was able for centuries to project across the world. As mentioned above, Europe’s global dominance was based on its technological and economic prowess. Of first importance was military and naval technology, which rested on scientific advance. But science does not progress very far without freedom of inquiry and experiment. It is pertinent to note that in the ancient world the greatest scientific thinkers were found not in the great empires of Egypt and Rome but in the small, independent (and usually warring) cities of Greece. The modern scientific first took shape not in the great territorial states like Spain but in the little city republics of Renaissance Italy, whose citizens were also—it was no accident—the wealthiest people in Europe. Freedom of thought, both political and scientific, flourishes where power is dispersed. If it is dispersed geographically, intellectuals whose ideas are not politically or religiously correct in one country can emigrate to another where the authorities are more tolerant or at least find their ideas more congenial.

Fortunate Failue

If the various attempts by the Germans at creating an efficient empire on the Roman model during the middle ages had succeeded, or if the Papacy had won supremacy over the secular powers, scientific inquiry would not have withered on the vine. Not that the Protestants of the 16th century Reformation were necessarily more tolerant of new ideas than the Catholics, (Calvin punished what he regarded as heresy with great severity, while the great humanitarian thinker, Erasmus, was a Catholic). However the Protestant emphasis on people reading the Bible for themselves did encourage individualism. Catholic intolerance was more extreme than it would otherwise have been because, at an early stage, the Spaniards assumed leadership of the Catholic cause. For the Spaniards, unlike the other European peoples, had never stopped fighting the crusades. In their case it was waged against the Moorish Kingdoms for seven centuries until the final triumph over the Kingdom of Granada in 1492. Had Philip II of Spain succeeded in conquering the English, the Reformation would have been suppressed and political and intellectual freedom would have been eclipsed. He failed with the scattering of the Armada. Again, had Europe been united half a century later by the Catholic side winning the 30 Years War—with Spain still making the running and the Counter Reformation in full swing spearheaded by the Jesuits (founded by the Spaniard Ignatius Loyola) and enforced by the Spanish Inquisition—there would have been no scientific revolution in the 17th century. Newton’s apple would have dropped unobserved.

Scientists Persecuted

Anyone who doubts that should look at the fate of the great scientific genius Galileo, who, in 1633, in Spanish–controlled Italy at the height of the Thirty Years War, was forced on pain of death to recant his view that the earth went round the sun. This was because it was held, rather absurdly, to be contrary to scripture. After that he was put under house arrest and his career as a scientific thinker terminated. Yet he was lucky compared with Giordano Bruno whose ideas about the universe—billions of burning stars, matter composed of atoms, infinite space, rotating earth revolving round the sun—were rather close to what we think today. In February 1600 he was burnt for heresy in Rome.

The next attempt to unite Europe after the Spanish attempts at hegemony was under the France of Louis XIV, a more enlightened country than Spain. Even there, however, the great French philosopher Descartes, whose career overlapped that of Galileo, had found the Jesuitical atmosphere too stifling and moved to Protestant Holland. In his later years Louis XIV became increasingly authoritarian and finally expelled the Protestant Huguenots, to the great detriment of the French economy. It took the French intellectuals, who were possibly even more blinkered in their chauvinism than they are today, several decades to accept the ideas of Newton simply because he was a product of England, the traditional enemy.

So, had Europe united under Spanish or French absolutism, freedom of scientific inquiry would have been snuffed out. There would have been no “century of genius” as the era of scientific breakthrough associated with the names of, Galileo, Newton, Leibnitz and Descartes has been called. The economic cost would have been dire. The spate of technological innovation spurred by the new thinking and which culminated in the industrial revolution would not have occurred. Those many whose idea of Louis XIV’s rule in France is based on “The Three Musketeers” may be surprised to learn that it was during his reign that numerous artisans were executed, broken on the wheel, or sent to the galleys for not observing the outdated, anti–innovatory, textile regulations of Louis’ chief minister Colbert.

Unity Versus Capitalism

Moreover, had Europe been united under Spanish or French absolutism, that would have put paid to the rise of the enterprise culture of modern capitalism. For that too requires freedom (both economic and political), the rule of law and respect for individual property rights. It was the pathbreaking sociologist Max Weber, who first attributed the rise of capitalism to the virtues of honesty, thrift, sobriety and hard work inculcated by the Protestant religion, especially the Calvinist version. That, he believed, explained the Catholic south of Europe’s economic decline and the rise of the Protestant north from the late sixteenth century until recent times. More convincingly, however, Hugh Trevor–Roper has shown it was more a case of the Catholic response to Protestantism in the form of the Counter–Reformation that was to blame for suppressing intellectual freedom. As a result it drove out the creative and individualistic people who created wealth. Thus Italy, which had been the cradle of progressive ideas as well as the richest country in Europe in the 15th century, lost its intellectual edge and its prosperity during the 16th century after it fell under the heel of Spain and the Inquisition. Spain impoverished itself not only by endless wars and what Professor Paul Kennedy has dubbed ‘imperialist overstretch’ but also by the bigoted and wanton expulsion of the economically productive Jews and Moors. Spain’s neighbour Portugal, once in the van of advance in commerce, exploration and navigational science, fell so far into the trough of superstition and ignorance that, by the 18th century, as Voltaire’s Candide discovered, the response of the citizens of Lisbon to a catastrophic earthquake was to hold an auto–da–fé, to burn the heretics, who, they stupidly presumed to be responsible for the visitation of God’s wrath. Later on, as already mentioned, France dealt its own manufactures a serious blow by expelling the industrious (Protestant) Huguenots who took their skills to Britain and Holland.

The general truth which these examples illustrate is that the worst enemy of scientific and economic progress is oppressive government. You don’t get good science when research results have to conform to the bigotry of politicians or priests. You don’t get sustained economic progress where regulation is stifling, taxation is ruinous and private property can be confiscated at the ruler’s whim.

Unity Hinders Progress

This view may seem obvious enough to us today, but for centuries, indeed for millenia, it was far from apparent to regimes and cultures outside Europe, which, if wealth and sophistication were all that mattered, would have “taken off” into self–sustaining growth, many centuries ago, but in fact either stagnated or declined.

The main reason why our continent left the others trailing was that, since the Roman Empire, uniquely among civilizations, that of Europe was never united under a single authority. So dissenters from the orthodoxy in one country could usually in the last resort up sticks and emigrate to another. This diversity of political authority was partly due to geography. Europe’s mountain ranges, rivers and dense forests made it relatively easy for different peoples to live separate lives. That was not the case with the great riverine civilizations elsewhere. Egypt, the saying goes, is the gift of the Nile and the same went for the other old civilizations. Babylon, China and India were oriental despotisms under the thumb of whoever held the rivers and the canals they fed and thereby controlled the food supply. Despotism made all the difference. Apart from that, these other civilizations had most of the elements which should have enabled them to take off into self–sustaining growth.

Why Not China?

The Chinese produced a large number of important inventions including the wheelbarrow, the stirrup, the rigid horse collar (to prevent the horse from choking and the lack of which meant that the Romans used up horses ten times as fast as they should have done) paper, printing, gunpowder and porcelain. They had a water–driven machine for spinning hemp as early as the twelfth century—five hundred years ahead of England. They were smelting iron, by using coal and coke in blast furnaces and producing 125,000 tons a year back in the eleventh century, an output it took Britain 700 years to equal. In the fifteenth century the Chinese government sent out fleets of hundreds of ships including some 400 feet long and 160 feet wide (far larger than the Europeans were building even a century later) on seven expeditions to explore the Indian Ocean and the Indonesian archipelago.

Meddling Mandarins

Yet despite these early advances, which should have given the Chinese a head start in economic development, the impetus waned. In Europe paper and printing provided the means to universal literacy and an explosive spread of knowledge to whole populations. In China they remained a preserve of the mandarins who wanted to hang on to their knowledge monopoly. Gunpowder transformed warfare in Europe and hastened the end of feudal privilege. In China it was very little developed for war, because the Emperor and his mandarins didn’t need it to keep out the nomads on the frontier, who were the only enemy, and feared that firearms might fall into subversive hands. For, like all despots, they doubted the loyalty of their subjects. The hemp–spinning machine, another early Chinese invention, was never adapted for cotton and cotton manufacture and was never mechanized. Iron smelting fell into disuse. Clocks were the only things in which the Chinese acknowledged that the Europeans were far ahead—the Chinese only had water clocks which were quickly clogged with impurities and became inaccurate. In Europe mechanical clocks wrought a social revolution, imposing a new discipline and precision into economic life, and inculcating the notion of ‘time is money.’ With the development of the chronometer it became possible to measure longitude exactly for the first time and to navigate with great accuracy. In China, clocks were treated as toys for the Emperor and his court. As for maritime exploration, this was stopped by a faction at the imperial court who favoured a policy of isolation, like true Confucians abhorring commercial success, and eventually made it a capital crime to go to sea in a multimasted ship.

So China, despite huge initial advantages in wealth and technology, lost out, and almost, during the nineteenth century became a vassal of Europe. Why did it fail? Because it was united under a powerful dictatorial government interfering with and regulating everything and strangling enterprise. Its economy was run by a centralized bureaucracy not a free market and development was stifled by lack of institutionalized property rights.

Why Not India?

When the English arrived in India three and a half centuries ago, it was a populous empire where the ruling Moguls were fabulously rich. The revenue of the Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb is said to have amounted to ten times that of his contemporary, France’s Louis XIV, the richest, most powerful monarch in Europe. India had a very productive agriculture and made the world’s finest cotton yarn and textiles. Yet, though many businessmen made a fortune, they could never be sure that it would not be confiscated by a predatory government. Therefore, instead of ploughing their profits into the business, they bought gold and jewels and hid them. Similarly the peasant did not try to improve his lot by investing in tools or better methods of production for fear of seizure by extortionate tax collectors. The Emperor and his court had no idea of improving their domains: if they wanted more money they just squeezed the peasant a bit harder. In other words the conditions of capitalist development and technological progress—legally guaranteed, private property rights and free markets—did not exist. It was a country of the opulent few and the impoverished many who had no reason to love their masters. No wonder it fell like a ripe plum into the English lap.

Why Not The Arabs?

Between 750 and 1100 Islamic science and technology far surpassed those of Christian Europe. Muslims gave us algebra, adopted paper and introduced coffee and sugar. Even the Ottoman Turks, who eventually became a byword for obscurantism, were, to start with, eager to use cannon and clocks. Unfortunately for them, though happily for their Christian foes, the religious zealots soon got the upper hand. As a result, for centuries many Muslim countries were opposed to printing, particularly of the Koran. There were no printing presses in Istanbul until the 19th century. The Muslim ideal appears to be a theocracy. The distinction between the religious and the secular authority, embedded in the European mind by the long medieval struggle between the Empire and the Papacy, was not recognized by the Muslim world. Is it even today? In any case we only have to look at the recent history of Iran to see that economic backwardness is assured when the fundamentalists take charge.

(Footnote: I am deeply indebted for the above examples of the relative failure of non–European peoples, at least until recent times, to develop modern scientific, technological and economic advance to the masterful study by David S. Landes, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations", Little Brown 1998).

Soviet Arthritis

A more modern example of the weakness of societies which exercise thought control was the Soviet Union. Scientists there had to toe the party line. Charlatans, like the agronomist Lysenko, who claimed to grow blue tomatoes in the Ukraine but who faked his results, flourished. (A biologist friend of mine at Cambridge went to one of his lectures and managed to grab one of the so–called blue tomatoes that was on the lectern and found that it was made of wax). Lysenko was able to ensure that only his ideas were taught in the schools. He believed in the discredited Lamarckian theory that acquired characteristics could be inherited (blacksmiths father sons with big muscles) which fitted in nicely with Marxist ideas about the new Soviet man. He outlawed the Mendelian theory of genetic inheritance, which rested on solid research and was and is universally accepted elsewhere. Interestingly enough it was the military leaders who (after they saw the air defence system they had given to the Syrians easily taken out by the Israelis with the help of far superior American weaponry) were the first to recognize that, in a high–tech world, Soviet blinkered science and technology could not provide the sophisticated weapons needed to compete with those developed by the nerds of Silicon Valley and Seattle—particularly when President Reagan initiated the Star Wars challenge. They concluded that the only hope was to modernize their whole society which meant making it more free. That was the real beginning of glasnost and the collapse of the regime.


That, as they say, is history. Yet today’s protagonists of a united Europe will argue that, though past would–be unifiers of our continent might have undermined the very qualities that gave Europe the edge over the rest, that would not be the case today. They they will say is because Europe now consists of democracies in which intellectual liberty is guaranteed. Alas this argument does not convince. As mentioned above, though the member states are democracies, the EU is not. Although its institutions resemble those of the U.S. with their apparent division of powers between executive, legislative and judicial functions, in practice they reinforce the European old boy network and Brussels–style “democratic centralism”.

Legal Serfdom

The European Commission’s scheme to unify by stealth the legal structure of the EU in the so–called corpus juris is especially alarming. In Britain the legal pillars of personal liberty are habeas corpus, trial by jury and the presumption of the courts that the accused is innocent until proved guilty. All these are threatened by the so–called Corpus Juris scheme of unifying EU law at present in the drafting stage. In Britain we take for granted habeas corpus — the right of an individual not be held in prison without charge. On most of the European mainland where the Napoleonic code is the norm, there is no such right. In France two fifths of the prison population is held on remand, that is on the order of a judge on suspicion of having committed a crime most of them without being formally charged. Their average length of stay in prison is four months, but some languish for years without being brought to trial. M. Jospin’s government, to its credit, is trying to reform this situation though far from radically. In Italy and Belgium the situation is worse. Indeed in Italy those held in preventive detention without trial amount to half the total. Do we really want to harmonize into a system of law which tramples thus on rights we in this country have known for centuries?

Totalitarian Democracy

Those who have lived through decades of the Cold War and watched the wholesale faking of popular government in the so–called “peoples democracies”, have no excuse for forgetting that that there is such a thing as totalitarian democracy and that possession of the vote is no guarantee of freedom. Nobody voted more often than the citizens of the Soviet Union and much good it did them since they had no genuine choice! In Europe, however, it might be thought that elections should at least ensure that an unpopular government can be removed. Yet the general drift towards proportional representation, even in Britain—it is being used in EU elections and elections for the assembly and parliament of Wales and Scotland—works towards party not popular rule. In the worst scenario, numerous parties emerge and governments are formed out of coalitions which make deals about policies which bear absolutely no relation to what people thought they were voting for. In the party fixers’ politically correct equivalent of smoke–filled rooms, all policies are negotiable. Also, unless there is a universal revulsion against the traditional parties, as happened in Italy in the early 90s, elections produce only slight changes in representation with 80% or more of the MPs remaining in their seats—and in some cases in power as well—permanently (remember that until his arrest for his Mafia connections, Signor Andreotti had been in every Italian government since World War 2). With the list system, this means that senior figures in the parties are irremovable. In that situation why should the elected representatives care a fig about the electors? This is the position within many countries in mainland Europe already. Since the EU authorities are far more divorced from the electors than they are in the national governments, the more that power comes to be centralized in Brussels the more dictatorial the regime under which we shall be living. Of course figureheads like the bumbling and discredited M. Jacques Santer do not seem very threatening, but he is only a front for a bureaucracy and Europolitical clique which is increasingly in the saddle and out of control.

Subsidiarity A Fraud

Europhiles argue that the dangers of centralization in the EU are kept at bay by the principle of subsidiarity—according to which a ‘higher’ level of government should only act when its action is more ‘effective’ than that at the lower level would be. This claim is a cynical fraud. The obligation in Article C of the Treaty of European Union to respect in full the acquis communautaire (the accumulated body of policies which have been transferred to the EU level) comprehensively contradicts the devolutionary principle. Meanwhile there is no natural limit to the blatant and unconcealed desire of the Brussels politico/bureaucratic complex to add to its existing powers. All the numerous proposals for further integration, notably in defence, foreign policy and social harmonization are strongly centralist, with not a whiff of subsidiarity about them. Already libertarians have sounded the alarm about the trend within Europe’s national states towards growing concentration of political and economic power. Laws and regulations have multiplied exponentially while the government’s share of the national income has grown stupendously. The EU institutions only magnify this ominous trend.

Freedom Day Comes Late

The Adam Smith Institute has popularized the idea of freedom day—the day each year that people stop working for the government and start working for themselves. In Britain it is in late May, on the European mainland mostly it is well into August. Government has traditionally been bigger on the continent than in Britain. Indeed at the start of this century Britain’s freedom day came in mid–February, despite the heavy cost of the naval arms race This is no place to trace how this huge growth in leviathan occurred. Suffice it to say that the biggest component of this growth has been in a welfare provision which is a bad joke because it mostly consists of taking the citizen’s money from one pocket and putting much the same amount back in the other, minus what the bureaucracy creams off. State welfare is not even an exercise in so–called social justice because, as has been proved, the poor do worse out of it than the middle class. Mrs. Thatcher sought zealously to reverse this big brother trend with wholesale unloading of state assets and the repeal of swathes of price–fixing regulations, but recoiled at tackling the welfare state. In mainland Europe, there has also been modest progress in privatization but welfare liabilities, particularly pensions have spun out of control.

Don’t Harmonize, Denationalize

For Britain, harmonization into an EU system in which we have to pay for lavish German Italian, French and Belgian pensions would be a nightmare. One thing is for sure: the more public spending is done by Brussels the less accountable and more extravagant it will be. I never thought the time would ever come that I would advocate denationalization, but, as far as the powers which Brussels has filched from national parliaments are concerned, the more denationalization the better. The way forward for Europe is not through imposing uniformity which can only stifle its peoples’ creative energies, but through restoring the diversity which has been the key to its past achievements. This will only happen if it unburdens itself of the deadweight state which represses incentive and devalues effort. It is ironic that, since 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and the cause of political and economic freedom has been sweeping the world, the European Union has been moving in the opposite direction. The latest research (“1999 Index of Economic Freedom” by Johnson, Holmes and Kirkpatrick, the Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal) has shown that it is the countries with the most economic and political freedom—that is where there is the least state interference—where the people prosper most and also where there is the greatest degree of economic equality. So there is not even a case for government intervention to further so–called “social justice”. The task for Europe in the next few decades is to reduce the huge state burden which has grown up in this century and today threatens to engulf it. It cannot be tackled by Brussels whose control freaks will merely aggravate the problem. Only the national governments of the EU member states can lighten the loads which they themselves have heaped on their peoples and which have since been gratuitously added to by the EU. It is time to institute cutthroat rivalry between the EU member states rivalry in downsizing government. Otherwise Europe will wilt under pressure not only from hi–tech America but from the low cost, emerging world and the liberated but still impoverished countries of the former Communist bloc.

There is no Third Way compromise of free economy production financing socialist largesse. There is no Rhineland corporatist or social market alternative. These are failed politico–economic models out of the same stable as the discredited European myth. If our continent is to flourish again there must indeed be cooperation between its sovereign member states, but cooperation which is largely driven by competition. The force will only be with them if they bulldoze the debris of overgovernment and restore the civic society of free peoples on which Europe’s past glories were built.

* He does admittedly suggest a way to meet the problem by institutional reform. Yet his proposal to reassert control by national parliaments over the EU by sending contingents from them to a new Euroland upper house, though superficially plausible, would raise once again the problem of dual membership which (in the old European Assembly) proved insoluble before. I mean the problem of political schizophrenia — of loyalties divided between two different bodies and, through lack of full commitment to either, correspondingly ineffective. Besides, as there is no such thing as a coherent European public opinion for it to reflect, Europe–wide democratic representation in the European Parliament is incapable of assuming coherent form. The new body would be nothing more than a tower of Babel (despite the availability of instantaneous interpretation)