An Anglo-Saxon defends Europe

Posted on 22 juin 2013 par


As euroscepticism is gaining ground, David Cameron has promised the British a referendum on the question “the European Union: in or out?”, if he was re-elected. John McCormick, a Jean Monnet professor of European Union politics at the University of Indiana, in the United States, picked up his pen to write the book “Why Europe matters?” An interview by Géraldine Vessière, L’Echo, 22nd June 2013.

John McCormick

John McCormick

Your work, “Why Europe matters” sounds like a defence for Europe. Why this book and why now?

Those who are against Europe, often with their wealth of false prejudices and ideas, are numerous. However, on the side of the Pro-Europeans, things are much calmer. Very few of them defend their point of view; very few explain, in a clear and accessible manner, the advantages of Europe. There is almost nothing on the subject. Many famous eurosceptics can be named, such as Nigel Farage from Great Britain or Geert Wilders from The Netherlands, however the pro-Europeans have no representatives! Besides the obvious few such as Barosso, who are part of the system, who are their leaders?

Why are the people in favour of Europe so shy?

I don’t know, maybe because to be pro-European is seen as a default choice, whereas to be anti-European is considered as making an active decision.

What are the main prejudices?

There are many misunderstandings over the powers that Europe and the European institutions, most prominently the Commission, would hold, and the power the national states would lose. In fact, the European Commission does not hold the power to make decisions. It cannot vote in laws. It can propose them, but it is the European parliament and the Council, also known as The Council of the European Union, who decide whether to adopt them or not. The former is directly elected by the citizens of the member states, while the latter are composed of representatives of these states and are democratically responsible before their national parliaments. The power of decision therefore remains in the hands of the states and the citizens.

In your book, you regularly mention that yes, the EU has deficits in one domain or another, but the national states are not any better off…

We expect the European Union to be better off than the member states. It must meet the highest requirements. Yes, there are flaws in the functioning of the Union. There are also flaws in that of the states. Yes, the Union has occasionally adopted absurd laws, but in France it is still forbidden to name a pig Napoléon, and in Great Britain it is an act of treason to place stamp with the monarch’s effigy upside down on an envelope. I find this disproportion of expectations between the one and the other paradoxical. However, that does not mean that we must accept the weaknesses of the European Union. We must try to eliminate them, but there is an unequal balance in expectations.

It is also interesting to note that while the most recent surveys showed a decline in the faith and confidence that citizens have in the European Union, we observe the same trend, but in larger proportions, concerning the national governments.

The European Union is a particularly useful scapegoat…

Of course. What is Europe? It cannot really answer back. It is a convenient scapegoat for citizens, governments and politicians. I really enjoyed a recent declaration that the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, made in favour of the referendum: “We can leave Europe, but this will just serve to make us realise that we ourselves have built the problems that we blame them for.”

So, in a few words, what does the European Union bring?

It is difficult to summarise 180 pages in a few lines. I would say that it’s role lies in peace keeping. This contrasts with NATO which finds its power in military action and thus, in general, assesses the power of a state in terms of the strength of its armed forces. The European Union has managed to maintain peace, not by using threats, but by developing commercial agreements, by opening borders or furthermore by establishing political stability. It derives its power from and bases its role on the opportunities that it creates, notably civil, political and professional. The single market is obviously another one of its big achievements. Even the eurosceptics recognise this. They do not criticize the existence of the single market, but the fact that it has not expanded far enough.

What do you think of the referendum, “in or out of the European Union?” which could take place in Great Britain? Could it set a precedent?

I confess that I am sceptical when it comes to referendums. They often present the chance, for citizens, to come down on the current government rather than the object of discussion. If such a referendum were to take place in Great Britain, the problem is that it would be taking place in the most eurosceptic country where the population have the least understanding and knowledge of the European Union.

As for the audit on the impact of the European Union at a national level, it is more a political process designed to reassure the British Conservatives. If David Cameron succeeds in establishing the advantages of Europe, in a measured way, that will interest me. It is, for example, impossible to estimate the number of European regulations that dictate those of the member states. Some disappear, others appear, others are only partially applicable. The figures we have found go from 6% to 85%. 6% to 85% of national laws will be imposed by Europe. Obviously the eurosceptics lean towards 85%, but they have no way of proving this figure.

Also, supposing the referendum should take place, it could set a precedent if the British citizens opt to leave the union. However we are still a long way from this situation. First of all David Cameron would have to be re-elected, and then it depends on whether there is a referendum and whether the British vote in great numbers against the Union.

You think that one solution is for the European Union to assert itself as a confederation.

In the current state of affairs, there are five possibilities.

  1. Stop everything and dismantle Europe. I don’t think anyone really wants to do this and it’s too late.
  2. Focus on the single market. The difficulty here would be defining the borders.
  3. Continue to struggle along and to solve problems when they arise. This is what we have been doing for some time; however this runs the risk of further aggravating the situation.
  4. Create a federal state, to work alongside a state delegating some of it’s powers to local authorities. This idea isn’t popular and could further divide the opinion and the member states.
  5. Finally take a middle path and qualify the European Union as a confederation, meaning an association of many states each contributing certain forces.

In my opinion, and in that of many of my colleagues, the EU is already a confederation but it does not accept it. This has caused widespread confusion. Giving it a seal of approval, a label, will allow it to be more easily understood so that discussions can have a concrete basis


Bio Express Holder of a Jean Monnet chair on European Union politics, John McCormick teaches this subject at the University of Indiana, in the United States.He was also a visiting lecturer at the universities of Exeter and Sussex, in Great Britain and at Collège d’Europe in Bruges.

Author of many books, notably on the question of Europe and the environment, graduate of the university of Rhodes (South Africa), the University College London and the university of Indiana, he worked for 8 year for environmental protection agencies before taking up his career as a teacher.

He was also a consultant for many international organisations such as the FAO and the United Nation’s environmental programme.

John McCormick, “Why Europe matters”, Palgrave Macmillan edition, 198 pages, expected release 28th June 2013.