Daniel Hannan MEP looks for an alternative realtionship for Britain with the European Union and discovers Switzerland.
One European country has survived the downturn pretty comfortably. Switzerland grew at 3.1 per cent last year, and is expected to grow again this year. Not bad when you bear in mind how dependent it is on banks. You’d have thought that the Swiss would be more exposed to financial crises than anyone else. So why are they doing so well?
A convincing explanation comes from Jean-Pierre Roth, the chairman of the Swiss National Bank. Switzerland’s chief advantage, he argues, is that it is outside the EU, and its economy is therefore more globally balanced. Yes, the Swiss trade with their EU neighbours: it can never be repeated too often that Switzerland sells more than twice as much per capita to the EU from outside as Britain does from inside. But, being outside the Common External Tariff, they are also free to exploit the market opportunities of Asia and the Americas.
Switzerland has a unique system of government, based on the maximum dispersal of power and on regular referendums. This system serves to keep the state small, the economy prosperous and the people free. Switzers keep voting against a closer association with the EU precisely because they realise that their model of direct democracy would be the first casualty of membership.
And here, it seems to me, British Eurosceptics are missing a trick. For the truth is that the issue that matters to readers of this journal (and to me) doesn’t seem to matter nearly so much to our countrymen – at least, not in the terms in which it is habitually presented to them. A full 36 years after we joined, most British people still think of “Europe” as something that takes place in Brussels: corrupt, no doubt, undemocratic, and altogether disagreeable, but none the less remote. Certainly not as important as healthcare, taxation, immigration or education.
Our objective should be to show that what we are talking about is not Europe but Britain. We must demonstrate that we are not obsessed with the manoeuvres of Eurocrats, so much as with the restoration of democracy in this country. We need to prove, in short, that national independence is not an end in itself, but a means to an end – that end being a freer and more democratic polity. The Swiss naturally make that connection. The British do not.
There is no purpose in bringing powers back from Brussels only to leave them festering in Whitehall. If we object to being governed by unaccountable Commissioners, we should equally object to being governed by unaccountable quangos.
In The Plan: Twelve months to renew Britain, Douglas Carswell MP and I set out a programme for the wholesale decentralisation of power in Britain. The EU cannot be tackled in isolation. Rather, it is the supreme cause, beneficiary and exemplar of a phenomenon that has vitiated democracy within nation-states, namely the shift in power from elected representatives to unelected functionaries. Elections no longer change anything. Even if we left the EU tomorrow, that problem would remain.
Douglas and I therefore propose a series of linked policies intended to unbundle the quango state: placing the police and the criminal justice system under locally elected Sheriffs; ending the government monopolies in healthcare and education; devolving real power to local councils, and making them self-financing by replacing VAT with a Local Sales Tax; transferring the Prime Minister’s patronage powers to the House of Commons; holding local and national referendums; letting Parliament ratify treaties; placing social security under our counties and cities; appointing senior officials through open hearings; and, naturally, repealing the 1972 European Communities Act.
With the help of a well-disposed former parliamentary clerk, we have shown how all these things could be implemented through just 30 legal acts, in a single parliamentary session. We have tried, in other words, to anticipate the reflexive accusation that “it couldn’t be done”. In a sense, though, or specific proposals matter less than the creed that infuses them: the belief that decisions should be made as closely as possible to the people they affect, and that decision-makers should be directly accountable.
I have been an MEP for nearly ten years. When I started, I saw it as my job to staunch the haemorrhage of power from elected politicians inWestminster to unelected apparatchiks in Brussels. I still see that as my job. But, over the past ten years, I have come to appreciate how much wider the problem is. We could leave the EU tomorrow, and still not be a fully functioning democracy.
Getting power back from Brussels must simply be the first step. Having recovered that power, we should push it outwards and downwards to local councils or, better yet, to individual citizens. We should offer our electorate nothing less than a restoration of representative government and individual liberty.We should hold out the promise of making elections matter again. Phrase it like that, and we will surely carry the country.
Daniel Hannan MEP, The European Journal, December 2008