Uncertainties Bedevil the Future of Small Nations — like Wales
Oh dear, the waves are bigger and I feel seasick. I can’t see land on the horizon any more as the boat tumbles into a trough. Up the other side, I still can’t see the land which I thought was there, because I am drenched with spray. Disoriented, the matter of the moment is to avoid being swept overboard.
Here in West Wales the fast-changing behaviours of the sea are part of the daily environment, but the experience of being tossed about on the surface of a vast political ocean is not so familiar to me. We cannot work out where we are headed because there are too many unknowns.
We face a referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union:
- What will the UK ask for as part of pre-referendum re-negotiation?
- How successful will re-negotiation be?
- To what extent would re-negotiation affect the referendum vote?
- Suppose England votes to exit but all or some of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to remain in?
If England wants to leave but Scotland doesn’t, how quickly would another independence referendum be held?
Would the EU insist on an independent Scotland going through the whole process of applying to join the EU?
Would an applicant Scotland be obliged to join the Euro? This was the official view I heard last week in Brussels, on a trip to the (lightly used) European Parliament complex. (Strasbourg is the main base for the Parliament.)
If Scotland should vote for independence next time, how would people in Wales react?
There is an even more fundamental question than whether to stay in/ exit/ apply to join. What sort of organisation is the European Union? At the start, it was about removing trade barriers, and providing a degree of economic certainty for member populations, especially the farmers. Food security was important in the 1950s and 1960s, when memories of wartime hunger were acute. But the EU is not about the populations any longer. That is clear from the brutal treatment of the Greeks, and the emergence of a peripheral zone of hard-up countries – Spain, Portugal, Ireland, even Italy – where it is clear that welfare priorities have been drowned by the economic power of Germany. Germany is, of course, at the centre of the current EU of 28 nations, which compares with six less than 60 years ago — Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
So what is the mission of the EU? It is no longer clear to me. There are uneasy relationships between the elected EU Parliament, the appointed Commission, and the Council of Ministers representing national governments. The Commission is putting all its considerable weight behind TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will privilege banks and corporations above populations and even national governments. Well, we know that democratic decisions no longer count for anything – the Greeks had a referendum on July 5th, and voted decisively to reject the austerity deal upon which their Eurozone paymasters were insisting. Yet a few days later their government accepted even harsher terms.
How to transform the EU into a more democratic body? Make the Parliament paramount? National governments would resent ‘interference’. Yet in a world controlled by multinational organisations, banks and corporations, how much autonomy does any nation have? Small nations, especially, and particularly when they share a currency with more powerful states?
Whatever happened to the ideal of solidarity, and how can it be resurrected?
I think this is an important question for the future of Wales, a small nation near the edge of Europe.