Robert Oulds’ book, Everything You Wanted to Know About the EU, published in 2013, is still timely and even more applicable than when first published; I doubt whether any of its central contentions have been subsequently disproved, and we all have to welcome are some updates about the statistics that are probably likely to further confirm his fundamental contentions. In fact a number of the events since 2013, specifically the Syrian crisis, must add more weight to his position. So, partisan? Yes, but being partisan does not disqualify one from having an informed opinion, or farther from being right. The purpose of criticism is to observe the thing for what it is and to do that one must know one’s own subjectivity initially and build that into the equation. This I think Robert Oulds has admirably done; and for the integrity of the review I need to disclose that I have known Robert for several years and respect him as a friend. With that in mind, what of his book?
The book contains a brief introduction and then has 7 meaty chapters covering in more detail than most people would like the economic, political, legal, historical workings of the EU, especially as they relate to the United Kingdom. There was much criticism lately of the quality of the debate: that it lacks real information, real analysis, and is all about’bullet-points’ each side fires in the other. Well, if you feel that’s the case, read this book. Instead of bullet points, Oulds provides chapter, verse and statistics on all the critical issues; further, he also provides a balanced commentary. To put that in perspective: where the EU does benefit the UK he is not slow in recognizing it. However, with Oulds, the key issue is always the balance of arguments: the cost-benefit analysis Quite simply, so that in reading the book one increasingly feels that although there are a few great things about being in the EU, yet there are several negatives too the position of staying there to some rational mind is untenable.
What, then, of some of his arguments? What have I found especially compelling in studying this work? I really do like his general observations about how things operate. This is similar to discussing first principles. A good example occurs in chapter 2, The Trouble with the EU, when he sees:”Political unions aren’t needed for commerce; in fact from enhancing trade politics and politicians really create barriers to trade.” Aren’t we guilty in the UK of a double-think here? We all know that political interference in business is catastrophic, hence the need during the past 40 years to de-nationalise numerous chronically underperforming industries; knowing that, how then can it be consistent with Britain’s corporate leaders to claim company would be better in the EU, which is just not’state-run-regulated’ but’supra-state run’? When you think of this, it’s foolish: FOOTSIE 100 Chiefs asking the UK Government for less red-tape and regulation and then implying the only hope for our company and economy is being in the EU. Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, but still trades with it under two bilateral arrangements. It therefore must accept – on its terms – some constraints, but as Oulds notes:”Since the start of 1993, when the Single Market came into being, the Swiss have adapted their legal code to bring it into line with only approximately two thousand EU legislative instruments. The U.K., together with other EU members, has however had over 20,000 enforced from above”. If we then look at the expenses of the, as Oulds does in enormous detail, the Bilateral agreements enabled them to have access to the market in a cost to them of 550 million Swiss France’s a year; whereas if they were to have full EU membership the cost would rise to 4.9 Billion Swiss Francs – a nine fold increase. And this”excludes the cost of the inevitable increase in EU laws”! That is, the 18,000 legislative instruments they missed since 1993 – and more because 2013!!! These figures, incidentally, aren’t composed by Oulds but based on the Swiss Federal Council’s own research incorporated within their Europe Report.
Citing the work of Professor Jean-Jacques Rosa, a French economist,”It [the EU] enforces and enriches the rents of big, older business firms and bureaucracies and freezes the hierarchical structure of both industry and political production at a moment when innovation, new smaller firms, and lighter government are required. It is a recipe for rapid decrease.” Surely, this should resonate with us? We know that entrepreneurialism depends on flexibility, innovation and vision – the exact reverse of what the EU offers us by being members.
Robert Oulds provides many more examples of where the EU works against our interests as Brits, and I have hardly mentioned the important sovereignty and political arguments. Space prohibits my outlining his points here, suffice to say, as one major point that Oulds explores: the rise of the political right wing in Europe, which the EU likes to characterise itself as the winner against, is almost certainly (and especially from the 3 years since his book was published) a result of the EU: the’democratic deficit’ has been felt everywhere across Europe, and rather than creating stability and security the EU is fomenting widespread opposition to its imperialist and non-democrat diktats, leading to extremism.
But to return the financial problem, it would be best to end on a positive note, for if we leave the EU, what options do we have? As Oulds explains: quite a lot! He goes into fine detail that the situation appertaining to different international organisations and scenarios, two of these organisations, one obscure to most of us, and one well known, hold out massive hope for our progress and success in the wider world should we opt to leave the EU. These two organisations are EFTA, the less well known, and the Commonwealth of Nations itself. Briefly, on the former, it is evident, if somewhat inconvenient for the EU, the four European countries which are currently members – Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – have some of the greatest standards of living for their populations of any nations anywhere in the world. So much for suffering by not actually being in the EU. One significant statistic that Oulds cites is that in 2011 EFTA exported $189.2B worth of good to the EU; the USA itself only managed $90B. This is pretty incredible stuff, but if we believe the Commonwealth, and the choice of re-activating that choice, then what is possible could truly amaze us.
John Cridland, former Director General of the Confederation of British Industries, said in 2001:”We’ve concentrated too much on Europe – we will need to get out and build export markets in the rest of the world”. Currently, of course, that the”UK is prevented from creating its own unique bilateral investment treaties on its own terms with Commonwealth countries, but also the EU prevents the UK from reaching trade agreements with these critters [markets within the Commonwealth]”. Lest we forget the Commonwealth comprises”54 countries stretching across every inhabited continent on the planet; even Europe where the UK isn’t the only member. More impressively still:”The inhabitants of the Commonwealth is almost two and a quarter billion people, approaching a third of the planet’s population, living on more than eleven and a half million square miles; nearly a quarter of the planet’s land mass. Furthermore, this territory is rich in natural resources, which not only offer the international economy with the commodities which enable growth but can also give its member states real potential.” Since Oulds goes on to observe:”Currently, the Chinese are forging links with these resource rich states; the UK’s Eurocentric orientation is making Britain lose out on the abundant opportunities overseas.”
There’s much more to say about this wonderful book, but space prohibits. It’s a vital book for those who genuinely want to reach out to a few of the facts underpinning this debate and to move away from fear and slander: the notion that just nutters and Little-Englanders could possibly wish to move away from our lovely Big Brother, the EU.
But I have to end on one critical note about this book, good as it is: given the caliber of research and the citations employed, the lack of an index is a major flaw; maybe a new, updated edition – timely now – will correct this otherwise great read.
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