Obama Lectures Britons About Europe – Perhaps It Should Be the Other Way Around

When the President gets back from honoring communists and murderers in Cuba, he will begin planning for a trip to the United Kingdom on April 22nd. While there he plans, we are told, to break with all precedent and interfere with the referendum about Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. The British MEP Dan Hannan has a great column in today’s Washington Examiner about this, explaining why this is a spectacularly bad idea, and suggesting that the President might want to reread the Declaration of Independence first:

The EU is showing its age. It’s a leftover from the top-down,dirigiste, big-bloc thinking of the 1950s. This might explain President Obama’s soft spot for it. But the rest of the world is going in the opposite direction. In an era of Skype and cheap air travel, regional customs unions look obsolete. The idea that we should meekly acquiesce in the rulings of transnational bureaucracies seems terribly 20th century.

Take another look at your Declaration of Independence. See how aptly the colonists’ grievances might now be leveled against the EU: “a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution”; “abolishing the free System of English Laws”; “declaring themselves invested with the power to legislate for us”; “obstructing the Laws for the Naturalization of Foreigners”. There is even, uncannily, an anticipation of the European Parliament, which moves every month between Brussels and Strasbourg: “He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable and distant”.

Indeed. The European Union has turned into something quite offensive to the British constitution (and yes, the Brits do have one). However, it didn’t need to have gone that way.

I’ve just returned from a conference of world taxpayer groups and European think tanks held in Berlin. There was almost universal regret at what has happened to Europe. The dream of peace and trade that seemed so wonderful in the 1990s has turned into a nightmare of terrorism, seemingly unstoppable mass migration, and financial ruin. Most of these problems, however, could probably have been obviated if the EU had been just a little bit more, well, Euroskeptic. A Europe of competing nations with their own legislative frameworks acting within the confines of a strong trade treaty – no Euro, no bailouts, no weak countries propped up and uncertainly controlled by stronger countries – would probably have achieved all the benefits of economic liberalization that the EU has achieved (I will never suggest that the EU has not done a lot of good on the continent) without the costs we currently see and probably be a darn sight more dynamic and innovative to boot.

Indeed, the agenda the Europe should have followed is the one outlined by Margaret Thatcher in her Bruges speech in 1988. In it she outlined 5 principles for a Europe in which Britain could be strongly engaged and which would probably have produced the sort of Europe I described above:

  • willing and active cooperation between independent sovereign states
  • follow policies that tackled problems in a practical way, “however difficult that may be” (by which she meant abolishing counter-productive policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy)
  • follow policies which encourage enterprise (and note that she said, “But it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants.”)
  • Europe should not be protectionist
  • Europe must continue to maintain a sure defence through NATO

This Europe, a Thatcherite Europe, is what we lost sight of in the 1990s. Ironically, what a sensible President would do is not lecture Britain about what a wonderful thing the EU is, but lecture Europe about what the EU should be – and perhaps, just perhaps, that is quite a bit more British in outlook than it has been to date.

Originally posted to National Review.