Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Britain outside the EU - an Andorran aside

The lovely town of Encamp, Andorra
This last weekend, the Centre Left took time out on a team-building weekend in Andorra (it was quite a wrench moving all the editorial staff and the IT infrastructure, but all for you, dear reader, all for you…)

Tucked away between France and Spain in the Pyrenees, it’s a little mountain retreat with cheap shopping and no VAT. And I really rather enjoyed it. It’s beautiful, well-kept and has a fascinating, idiosyncratic history. Politically, it is a slightly bonkers, constitutional diarchy (you heard correctly), with two official heads of state, the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia.

And it got me to thinking.

Y’see, I found out a fact of which I was previously unaware: I had previously thought that Andorra, following the Second World War and the Franco years, had in the end become a semi-detached outpost of Spain, or France, or both, self-governing but not really a country per se. Well, I was wrong.

It came to full democracy rather late but, in 1993, Andorra became the 178th member of the United Nations. Yes, with a population of 85,000, it now has a seat at the General Assembly, with as much voting power as the US and China (which obviously, er, makes sense).

And, perhaps more interestingly, it decided not to join the EU. It is now one of a handful of tiny pinpricks of non-EU land in the millions of square miles of contiguous EU landmass, the only other significant hole being Switzerland.*

In short, it’s like being in a real-life version of that exquisite Ealing comedy, Passport to Pimlico, where a small piece of London suddenly becomes a foreign enclave because of the discovery of a centuries-old treaty. Andorra remains valiantly, if perhaps a little pointlessly, independent: a tiny Switzerland: a decision, made a long time ago, largely to check out of world affairs and concentrate on business. The visible preoccupations of the Andorran press are therefore not so much the machinations of politicians on the world stage, so much as how much the new tunnel through the Pyrenees is costing them, or how the Spanish economic crisis is affecting tourism. Reasonable preoccupations, of course, but something feels missing, somehow.

Those who would take us out of the EU altogether – and we’re not just talking about UKIP, but nowadays significant sections of the Conservative Party – are wrong. They are not wrong because the EU is a great, well-functioning institution – it’s not. It’s a seriously flawed one which needs a huge amount of work to bring it to a point where it is fit for purpose. And the palpable failure of the euro project is hardly a clarion call around which euro-waverers can rally.

And yet: the antis are wrong, and the argument is not complex. They are wrong because, in a global economy, there is no real other choice: because, in a world full of emerging economies which will in our lifetimes dwarf our little island’s, we either form part of a supra-national bloc or we are damned. It will be Berlin, or a future European President, which is called by the US President when he needs to “talk to Europe”. Our global clout is intimately tied up with our European partners, whether we like it or not. Even Cameron understands this, which is why he only fudges the issue between the country and his backbenchers, talking laughably about “renegotiation” of our relationship with the EU (as if, by some hidden miracle, we had any hand to renegotiate with).

Further, there is another thing, more specific to Labour: that there is surely likely to remain only one option for such a Britain, over the long term, to differentiate itself from its EU neighbours: it is to become a low-tax, low welfare-state economy. One, in fact, which goes against everything which Labour stands for (and even a large number of Tory supporters would think twice about the implicit downsizing for services such as the NHS). That is not to say that we should go round raising taxes: this is not the “international tax-and-spend socialist paradise” argument. But to commit Britain in the long term to being a low tax economy is to opt for an entirely different future from that which most Labourites would envisage.

Britain is a medium-sized country, yes. But a Britain outside the EU, ultimately, is just Andorra writ large. We should not decry the Andorrans, or the Swiss, for making their democratic choice as isolationist, low-tax economies, checked out of global politics. That is their right. But we have a different history, a different culture, different responsibilities. I don’t know about you, but I want something else for my country.

*Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and the Vatican City being the others. And Norway is on the edge of the EU and therefore its absence does not make a hole in the contiguous landmass, for all you topologists, and pedants, out there.


  1. Huh... how do we become a low-tax state whilst further merging into an EU superstate?

  2. I'm not suggesting we become a low-tax state.

  3. Better off out of the EU! That's my opinion and that of a good number of people in the country and dare I say some in the Labour Party aka Austin Mitchell!

  4. I am glad that the British have more faith in themselves than you do Mr Marchant.

    It is all very well for you to float around on think tank bonding junkets but the working people of Europe are paying for the glass palaces, salaries, and pensions of all in the Brussels bubble.

    It can not have escaped your notice that as the Brussels bubble gets bigger the European people are sinking lower - our pensions have disappeared and our wages have been frozen for a number of years now - and, of course, our foreign owned utilities increase in cost by the day.

    I do not seek to have "clout" in the world and I have every confidence in my fellow countrymen/women to rise to the challenge of building an economy based on such things as trade and tourism.

    Andorra - sounds like heaven to me; a free and independent people, making their own laws, and free of an unnecessary parasitical political elite.

    Who pays for you and your junkets BTW?

  5. @Damien: not many though. British people are grumpy about the EU and always have been. But those who actually want to leave are in a distinct minority.

    @WJ GG: perhaps I should, in future, be more explicit about such things, but the "junket", as you call it, was a joke. The Centre Left, as regular readers know, is one man and a laptop. So, I pay for my junkets, not the European Union.

    By the way, if you think that being outside the EU would result in the raising of wages, I think you're sadly mistaken.

    I am sorry you don't feel that Britain should have "clout" in the world. That for me is part of patriotism, as well as part of the duty of all of us to each other, irrespective of country of birth.

  6. Thank you.

    I don't particularly care if my wages rise as long as the wages of the Brussels parasites are not paid by me.

    I've noticed that austerity hasn't reached the Brussels bubble.

  7. Austerity hasn't reached many European countries to the same level, indeed. Which is why, aside from the Southern Europe, they are mostly not in recession, whereas we still are.

    More here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19252724


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