Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Superficial opinions / EU

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To complement a recent text on naive beliefs, a few words on how my own opinions on the EU have changed. (Also in light of the recent UK general election, and its character as an almost-referendum on Brexit.)

The question of the EU first entered my own life in a major manner with the early 1990s Swedish debates on EU membership, culminating in a referendum in 1994.

At the time, I was extremely positive, seeing advantages like fewer trade obstacles, likelihood of higher growth, easier migration*, a lesser risk of war, …

*And the ease of my own later migration to Germany is a result of the Swedish and German memberships.

In my opinion formation there were (at least) two weaknesses: I was too unaware of disadvantages and, too some degree, I was influenced by “the party-line”, in that the party I supported was strongly positive and that I might not have reflected enough over potential down-sides.*

*An issue that I have observed at a fairly large scale among others, including absurdities like Leftists simultaneously claiming the correctness of Gender-Feminism and Evolution, despite these being largely incompatible, on the basis that these are both “should believe” ideas in some circles. (I am, obviously, pro Evolution and anti Gender-Feminism, having actually looked into these topics with a critical mindset.)

As time has gone by, I have seen a number of problems. Some are of an almost unavoidable nature, unless the EU is to be a half-measure, as with e.g. the extra layers of government that risk to further reduce the independence of the individual, increase costs and bureaucracy, etc., or with the risk that certain political ideas can become more “monopolistic”, reducing the possibility of escaping a “bad” country through migration, because all other near-by countries are equally “bad”.* Others are pure implementation errors, like the excessive redistribution of money from wealthier to less wealthy countries within the EU.**

*Among many examples of potential bad legislation that reduces civic rights in favor of the government or increases copyright durations unduly. Of course, such legislation can equally be made in the “good” direction, but the risks outweigh the chance of benefits in my eyes, and the reduced option of escape remains. What, e.g., if the insane Swedish sex laws were exported to the entire EU at some point? More generally, I have only over time become aware of how ridiculously much of what politicians decide is nonsensical or harmful; and while I have long been in favor of small government, possibly even some version of a Nachtwächterstaat, my realization of the harm that big and/or over-involved governments cause has grown year by year.

**This is unfair, distorts the free markets, creates inappropriate incentives for less wealthy countries to join, and causes resentment in the wealthier (including as a Brexit contributor). Moreover, the money flows often depend on e.g. negotiation skill and the strength of the negotiation position, rather than uniform and objective criteria.

I am still in favor of the EU (and Swedish/German membership), because the overall advantages seem to outweigh the overall disadvantages, but my opinion is far more nuanced than e.g. in 1994 when I, at age 19, voted “yes”. Moreover, I do not rule out that the Brexit will bring a net-benefit to Europe and the citizens of the EU through ensuring a greater degree of diversity of policy and development. (But I suspect that it will still turn out to be bad for the UK and its population and/or the EU when viewed as a state.)

I would also say that there are many implementation errors in the current EU, e.g. the aforementioned re-distribution of wealth between countries, and that many* of the benefits of the EU could be reached by other means. For instance, freer trade and easier border passage could be achieved without the EU (to a large degree, this even amounts to removing artificial obstacles imposed by the individual states); for instance, a high degree of uniformity of e.g. product regulations could be achieved by voluntary means, be it by states or businesses. In this line, I am willing to at least consider suggestions like that an earlier level of integration within the EU was better than the current level.

*By no means all, unless a similarly “heavy” solution as the EU still results. For instance, every or almost every aspect of the EU could be replicated by separate agreements and organizations, but then we would have the same results with a likely greatly increased complexity and overhead. (Possibly, with some degree of eclecticism available for the member states, but this would then reduce the advantages from compatibility improvements.) A particularly interesting example is the use of a common currency: entirely separate countries could use the same currency, but this would lead to great complications (including a risk that some become highly dependent on the monetary policies of others without having any say) and might require the parallel use of a country-internal currency (e.g. Krona in Sweden) with an international (e.g. the Euro as a new creation or D-Mark or Dollar as “imports”).

Excursion on absolutes:
A common problem in political debates, especially from the Left, is the assumption (or deliberate mis-representation) that things are uniformly and absolutely good or bad. The EU is an extremely good example of how things, on the contrary, tend to have positive and negative sides, both strengths and weaknesses, etc.; and of how important it is to have a nuanced understanding. Similarly, if a little of something is good, it does not follow that more of the same thing is even better.

Excursion on the weak-argumentation meta-argument:
Another contributor to my early opinions was the usually weak argumentation of the Swedish anti-EU factions. They might or might not have raised similar concerns that I do above (this was a long time ago and my memory is vague), but the brunt of the argumentation that has remained in my memory was unconvincing and lead me to apply the meta-argument that if someone relies heavily on weak arguments, chances* are that there are no strong arguments. This especially as the main proponents of “no”, e.g. the former Communist party, had a long track record of weak arguments.

*This is not foolproof, e.g. because strong potential arguments might simply be unknown.

One of the most often repeated was roughly “once we are members of the EU, we can never get out again, so we should wait” or “[…] not join at all” (depending on the speaker). A fatal flaw of this argument is, witness the Brexit, that it does appear possible to leave—and the argument was proved largely dishonest by the reactions of the same groups a few years after Sweden had joined, when the trend had turned and the opinion temporarily was against the EU: “We must hold a new referendum to reflect the new will of the people so that we can leave as soon as possible!” If we look at the “wait” version of the original argument, there is some point to it, in that a better decision can made with more information, but (a) this would apply at any given time, implying that one could argue “wait” perpetually, (b) a further wait comes at a cost of missed opportunities, e.g. in that the advantages do no apply during the waiting period, that a longer wait could lead to a worse negotiating position*, and similar. (The “not join at all” version is entirely absurd, because this would preclude any activity with a real or merely claimed permanency.)

*Notably, because the EU grows and the relative size of population, economy, and proportions of import/export of the applicant changes accordingly.

Other weak arguments included “The EU is silly! Look at their banana-shape regulations!”*, “Brussels will decide over our heads and Stockholm will lose power”**, and, in a wider sense, the claim that we should hold the referendum first and negotiate later, which seems more like a delaying tactic or a deterrent tactic than anything else: If someone comes to the negotiating table set to buy, he has little room to negotiate, making the order idiotic. At the same time, those voting will be unable to make an informed choice (again making the order idiotic) and … be more likely to say “no”, just in case. (The ostensible reason was to save the costs of the negotiations, if I recall correctly.)

*As opposed to e.g. “We fear that a membership in the EU will lead to an excess of new regulations with too little tangible benefit.”; an acknowledgment that regulations could have a purpose was usually lacking.

**While this is a possibility, it matters comparatively little to a rational citizen whether politicians decide over his head in Brussels or in Stockholm. The additional layers of politicians (cf. above) is a different matter—there are now more groups of politicians that can decide things over his head.


Written by michaeleriksson

December 15, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] This is a recurring theme both with blogroll entries and in my own writings, as with e.g. [1], [2], […]

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