The European flag flies above the streets of Strasbourg. Picture by francois, on Wikimedia.
The federalist camp is awfully fond of rebranding. Like most ideologues, if the facts change, their name does. It's far easier than adapting their argument to suit, or, even worse, changing their opinions. But one thing that the few fanatical federalists do that other ideologues do not is brand their opponents not merely as part of their rhetoric, but as part of their ideology. Any criticism, no matter how slight or valid, of the European Union is taken as absolute proof of the offending person's hatred and vilification of that noble institution; it is an irrational fear that many swivel-eyed nationalists are afflicted by, mentally disfigured by their opposition to what is clearly a worthy and just cause. It is Europhobia; where an individual despises with every fibre of their being the actions and initiatives of the European Union, whatever their origin, and whatever their goal, for no good reason other than its conception within the shadowy confines of Berlaymont.
It is a charge to which I, and, I assume, many other Eurosceptics would actually plead guilty - if it was illegal. I do not hate Europe or Europeans; I am European, by virtue of geography rather than the will of unelected commissars, and you can generally find me on the 'European' side of debates, where such a thing exists. Especially when it comes to good old-fashioned transatlantic feuding. But that does not mean that I should - as Kirsty Wark says - feel any pleasure when I see the EU flag being hoisted. Rather, for me, it means the opposite. I accept the charge of Europhobia, although I deny that there is anything irrational about it.
Do I oppose everything the EU does, whether I agree with it or not, and no matter its merits? Yes. Why? Because it has no democratic mandate to do so. It has never been voted for; it has never been voted against. Indeed, it has never actually held a popular ballot on its existence, and any national referendums have been heavily discouraged and, when completed, ignored, or repeated until the EU got the answer it wanted. Armed with the knowledge that 51% of 'EU citizens' and at least 60% of Britons do not want it, I ask: what legitimacy does this organisation actually have? It is a treaty organisation, and treaties usually do not require the approval of a democratic vote to be ratified. But it now has the ability to make law; indeed, it now makes at least one third of new laws on the UK statute books. Surely any organisation that can control people's lives should be subject to the ballot box? Why should anyone have power over us when we have no power over them?
Secondly, why should I obey the laws that the unelected executive of an unaccountable institution makes when it itself consistently refuses to do so? This is an organisation that has constantly changed its laws, retrospectively, to suit its own ends. They did so over the the national debt. They did it to make bailouts legal - after pulling off an £80,000,000,000 bailout. They now want to do it over the Schengen Treaty. Retrospective legislation from unelected executives does not seem the ideal way to run a continent; I prefer a government that stays within a legal framework which we have a say over, rather than one that makes its actions legal after they have been committed.
Thirdly, since when was it ever irrational to be fearful of the power of unelected institutions? Think of the people in this country who debate the powers of the House of Lords, or the monarchy. Are they irrational? Are they to be laughed at because they oppose an individual with no mandate having a role in government? No. So why are we? We have less power over a European commissioner than we do over the Queen. The EU is, as said, the source of at least one third of our laws, and we have no say over any of them, or the Commission that has sole right to propose and repeal them. As a citizen who is affected by these laws, I demand at least some say over what they are, and who passes them. The EU does not give me that right. Only a sovereign elected British parliament can give me that right.
That is why I campaign for one. Not out of an irrational fear of Europe, Europeans, or the European Union, but out of a deep-seated conviction that people should make the laws they live by. If it is wrong to stand for representative democracy in a sovereign parliament, then I - and 60-70% of the British electorate - am guilty.