What is the EU and why should the UK think twice about leaving are two questions to the same answer. So, here goes my first Twitter lesson.
The EU is not a State. Trying to understand the EU by applying nation-state concepts is frustrating because the pieces don’t fit.
This leads to it being criticised because we can’t find the state-like notions we understand make a political system legitimate.
But the EU, I repeat, is not a State. It is a Union of European States — hence the name. In legal terms, it is an international organisation.
Is the European Union an International Organisation? (Academia.edu)
Once the EU is conceived as an international organisation and we understand what that means, the frustrations begin tu subside.
An international organisation is the victory of peaceful relations between sovereign States over conflictive ones based on their self-interest and tendency to engage in power politics.
In a world that is intrinsically competitive, States will naturally take advantage of others. This has brought the most severe consequences humanity has ever witnessed.
In order to avoid such devastation, States cooperate at international level under the principle of equality. This generally means international decisions are adopted by unanimous voting.
One can quickly see the limitations to this system, especially in international organisations of universal membership: naturally self-centred and very culturally different States don’t often agree.
Seen in this light, the European Union is a remarkably successful international organisation (and no, not a State).
Guided by the same principle of subsidiarity as any other international organisation, the EU only legislates when an objective cannot be sufficiently reached by the States but can be better achieved together.
And it has proven especially efficient for two reasons. Firstly, the EU only brings together European States, which generally have similar geopolitical aims and views on how to reach them. This helps consensus-reaching efforts.
Secondly, these EU States have set up a permanent structure for decision-making which mainly works on the basis of qualified majority, avoiding selfish veto paralysis.
Furthermore, to respect democratic principles, the legislative bodies are made up of the Ministers of the elected governments of those States (Council of the EU) and the directly elected MEPs (European Parliament).
We can go a step further. This successful cooperation between the EU28 has not only benefitted them in their joint problem-solving but also in their relations with the rest of the world.
The EU quickly realised that standing together behind a set of common interests and values also gave their preferences a much stronger standing in the world.
Now the more interconnected the planet becomes, the more numerous are the objectives that escape individual State protection — just think of such important issues as trade, the environment, consumer protection or security in a globalised world.
So even when a State may have a singular interest that it feels it has had to forfeit under the common rules of the EU, it is unlikely it could uphold its selfish agenda in a world of superpowers anyway.
The questions that remain are: do the UK’s interests really diverge so much from its European counterparts, as to not benefit from the stronger common interest? And can it really protect its own interests not only outside but against the EU, anyway?
Or is it time to think twice?🔷
(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)