The EU is only an episode in European history – and is doomed to failure
Europe is not the same as the European Union. The European Union is only an episode in Europe’s history. The two, nevertheless, are frequently treated as if they were identical. It is, however, entirely possible to be a Europhile, in the sense of valuing and engaging with Europe’s cultures, peoples and history, and to be opposed to the European Union and thus to Britain’s continued membership of it.
Britain and continental Europe share much. Cultural, religious, philosophical and political movements and ideas have spilled across from one to the other. It would be strange if they had not, given their proximity. Nevertheless, exchanges of this kind are hardly sufficient to justify political union. The histories of Poland and Russia are similarly entangled, but no one would now suggest that they should join together.
The way that ideas have spread in Europe is important. One of the strengths of Europe has been its diversity. The separate experiences of Europe’s countries have acted as inspirations and warnings to others. The example of British manufacturing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, underpinned by the free-trade philosophy of Smith and Ricardo, overturned the regulatory and protectionist regime that prevailed across much of Central Europe. Bismarck’s early welfare state and Swiss federalism had their own emulators. Across large parts of Europe, the lesson of the French Revolution stimulated the politics of conservatism and of gradual change, and so on.
The high modernist ideology that underpins the EU is predicated on the erosion of differences between countries. It would seek to impose single solutions that are blind to complexity and inimical to the sort of local experimentation that has been one of the driving forces in European history. Not only therefore are the EU and Europe different things. By putting its stress on political, economic and social convergence, the EU may also be antithetical to Europe’s historical dynamic.