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The Conservative’s Case for the European Union

Those of us who believe in freedom and free markets must defend Brussels from the Euroskeptic onslaught.

If the number of tasteless analogies is any indication, few things make for targets of conservatives’ disdain like the European Union. In a speech to the European Parliament in 2009, Vaclav Klaus, then the climate-change-denying president of the Czech Republic, celebrated in free market circles for the radical economic reforms he put in place in the early 1990s, comparedthe EU to the Soviet empire. Nigel Lawson, Britain’s former chancellor of the Exchequer, in turn, called the EU a “bureaucratic monstrosity.”
The conservative historian Andrew Roberts sees a parallel between Napoleon’s hubris and the “Brussels empire,” which “over-reached, and became more concerned about its own expansion and glory, its own ambitions for hegemony, than about the daily economic wellbeing of its citizens.” And then there’s James Delingpole, the English columnist and author of How to Be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History. He wrote this year that “the EU isn’t quite Nazi Germany but it does employ some of the same techniques to advance its power, such as the way it takes care not to erode our freedoms all in one go but slowly, drip by drip, like Chinese water torture.”

When I started my own career in the conservative think-tank industry five years ago, I spent much of my time criticizing the EU’s overregulation, itsmoral hazard, the damage created by the common European currencyEU structural funds, or the Common Agricultural Policy. I still harbor very few illusions. The critics of the EU are making many valid points. From the introduction of the euro to agricultural protectionism, the EU has often stood in the way of free enterprise and prosperity. And today, faced with the inflow of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, the EU’s dysfunctional asylum and border protection system risks destroying the freedom of movement within the Schengen Area.

But being critical of various elements of the European project should not stop conservatives from appreciating its successes. For almost 70 years, Europe’s great powers have been at peace. By historical standards, the era of European integration is the closest that European nations have come to a limited, constitutional, democratic government. For all its “socialist” excesses, the degree of economic openness in the EU is without precedent. The EU has helped post-communist countries establish democratic institutions, liberalize their markets, and offer a safeguard against Russian expansionism.

Euroskepticism is on the rise today across Europe. The EU’s centrifugal forces are now being amplified, aside from the continent’s chronic economic malaise, by the nationalist backlash against the mass influx of asylum-seekers from the Middle East and North Africa. With the exception of its leftist incarnations, such as Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain, most Euroskeptic parties and politicians occupy positions on the political right. Some of them — for example France’s National Front — see themselves as defenders of traditional European values against the onslaught of multiculturalism and immigration from culturally distant societies.
Others, such as the Czech Party of Free Citizens and German politician Bernd Lucke, are vocal advocates of free markets. And some, most prominently Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party, have tried to combine libertarian rhetoric with an opposition to immigration, whether it comes from Eastern Europe or from outside the EU. Although Euroskeptics can be found in several parliamentary groups in the European Parliament — including Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, European Conservatives and Reformists, and Europe of Nations and Freedom — many of them have voted consistently together on various issues, including sanctions against Russia.

The rejection of the EU has placed some sincere conservative defenders of free markets and democracy into the company of the most unsavory undercurrents of European politics. Lest conservatives are to become “useful idiots” of enemies of free society, they have to rethink their opposition to the EU — and, in fact, come to its defense.

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Courtesy of Foreign Policy Magazine – a member of  EACCNY