Two years removed from the referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union, Brexit remains a highly contentious issue. The vitriolic narratives from both the Leave and Remain campaigns have not subsided, but have instead led to nationwide polarization on the issue of the EU and its role in general. While the Union sets about implementing the ‘consultas ciudadanas’ in pro-EU countries such as Spain in order to keep the favor of the public, UK citizens have largely been left to their own devices on the matter of deciphering what exactly the EU does and does not do.
This was demonstrated well in the clash of pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit protests on the two-year anniversary of the vote, which came to pass recently. Although seemingly the epitome of chaos, through the range of amusing and aggressive displays of loyalty to one side of the debate or the other on the part of ordinary people, it becomes somewhat clearer to see what the citizens of Britain truly know about the EU by the arguments they tote. There is a myriad of emotive arguments and false dichotomies on either side,– sovereignty vs. globalism; Kafkaism vs. straightforward work, etc.– but in matters as important as these, it is important to examine theories with more tangible consequences. One such idea is that the EU can protect states from themselves. But how much truth can this theory hold?
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that there is no reason to believe that there will never be any extremists in the upper ranks of the EU. Therein lies a dangerous level of trust in an establishment. No organization is immune to corruption, nor political influences that we subjectively deem unfavorable. If we completely put our trust into the EU for political neutrality where member states’ affairs are concerned, we leave ourselves entirely vulnerable to the political whims of the Union.
It also quickly becomes apparent that the EU is actually incapable and unwilling to intervene in state affairs. For instance, article 4.2 of the 2009 Lisbon treaty states that the EU “shall respect… essential state functions [of member states]… including territorial integrity… [and] maintaining law and order,” as reported by the Guardian. The EU neither wishes nor is able to interfere with state discord. This was further demonstrated by the incredibly weak and delayed response on the part of the European Union in condemning brutality surrounding the 2017 independence referendum for Catalonia. It is not within the EU’s own interests to condone separatism within its member states, as this could lead to further fracturing within the EU, as well as political instability in countries with increasing stakes in the Union, such as Spain.
Another example of this lack of omnipotence on the part of the EU, perhaps surprising to those who believe it to be a viable safeguard against dangerous statism, is demonstrated by the fact that the EU explicitly declares that it will not prevent member states from arms trades of any kind— including, implicitly, arms deals with countries known to be run largely by terrorist regimes and rebel groups. This, surely, counts as one of the ‘questionable’ acts against which pro-EU activists hope that the Union can safeguard against. The UN’s Arms Trade Treaty has been made compatible with the acquis communautaire, in that member states are not under any reasonable duress not to act as they wish, effectively. They may exercise their right to acquire weaponry, and “[place it] on the market… [with] explosives for civil uses”— all without the expectation that the EU will interfere at all.
Furthermore, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is not able to act in the name of justice as freely or easily as its name might suggest. It can condemn or condone actions, and pledge support for various campaigns, but when member states violate Human Rights conventions, the best it can do is examine state legislation; the European Court of Justice (ECJ) can do even less, in that it can only examine EU law, and only if there are legal loopholes to be corrected; it cannot enforce laws in its member states.
In conclusion, there is, in reality, very little that the Union can do to control governments’ actions by force, and even less that it is willing to do. On both sides of the debate, there is the misguided notion that the EU’s notoriously strict bureaucracy extends beyond the trivial. For better or for worse, the EU cannot take control of us.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.