28 May 2005
Is the EU becoming more free market?

Last night, I attended an excellent talk by Antoine Clarke on the French EU referendum at one of Brian Micklethwait’s regular “Last Friday of the month” evenings.  (By the way, if you would like to come along to one of these please drop me an e-mail and I will forward it to Brian).

These events are at their best when you get to hear big, new ideas.  Yesterday, was no exception.  Antoine’s big idea was that EU is becoming more free market.  His evidence was that the French left has turned heavily against the EU because (to them) it is too “liberal”.  As Antoine pointed out they can’t all be wrong.

This is quite surprising.  It certainly doesn’t feel like that from over here.  Fed on a diet of the Booker column for the last decade, the EU has seemed anything but liberal.  I have also lost count of the number of times that our politicians have claimed that “the arguments are going our way” when they patently haven’t.  But maybe, finally, they are.  Stephen Pollard seems to think so and I even heard a rumour last night that the Constitution may lead to the abolition of the NHS.

Someone else chipped in (I think it was Brian) that this is not entirely incredible.  The EU’s purpose is to abolish the nation.  So far it has employed socialist and social democratic methods but should liberal, free market methods prove more effective (and there’s every reason to think they might) then they will be the ones to be adopted.

So, should free marketeers start to embrace the EU?  Not so fast.  First, the EU might turn into a liberal despotism but it would still be a despotism.  Second, while EU-wide liberalism might be better than EU-wide socialism, competing jurisdictions with their ability to make mistakes and to learn from them would (as David Carr pointed out) be better still.  Third, my great worry about the EU is its ability to create war-inducing disputes.  A liberal, free market EU is just as likely to create those sorts of disputes as a socialist one - just think about the row the abolition of the NHS might cause.

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