EU: all the trappings of a state except labour mobility
The free movement of labour only exists for a few members of the EU elite – like Lord Mandelson
In 1981, in the aftermath of the Brixton riots, Norman Tebbit made perhaps the most widely misquoted remark in modern British history. Talking to a Young Conservative, he remarked: "I grew up in the Thirties with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking 'til he found it."
This exchange was almost immediately reported as, "Tebbit tells unemployed: 'Get on yer bike'," which is what 90 per cent of people still think he said.
How the wheel turns. Now, responding to the 'British jobs for British workers' strikers, the Industry Secretary, Lord Mandelson, reminds us that freedom of movement is a two-way street: "It is important to remember that open European labour markets also allow British firms and workers to take advantage of contracts and opportunities elsewhere in the EU."
Got that? Instead of bellyaching on picket-lines in Lincolnshire, British workers should flock to the huge numbers of jobs opening up in refineries in, er, I don't know, Bulgaria or Finland or somewhere.
It is easy to mock the out-of-touch peer, cut off by four years in Brussels and a £78,000-a-year Euro-payoff on top of his ministerial salary. But I'd rather take him seriously, because what he says neatly encapsulates what's wrong with the EU.
When the European single market got going in 1992, its supporters were fond of drawing analogies with the United States. Just as the Americans had a large home market, with commensurate economies of scale, so the EU would now gain equivalent advantages.
Eurocrats chose not to see the obvious difference between the two continents. The US is a single nation, with a common language, a common legal system, common commercial practices, common accountancy standards.
Moving from Springfield, California to Springfield, Massachusetts is easy: you know how the estate agent works, the shops are familiar, your children will be following pretty much the same curriculum, and will virtually be on the same page of their textbooks.
The same is not true of the EU. Indeed, 17 years after the completion of the single market, there is less labour mobility within - let alone between - most EU states than within the USA. Why did Euro-officials fail to grasp this? Perhaps because they are part of that tiny elite that genuinely can cross borders with ease. Most of them have studied in several countries, and can get by in several languages. (Mandy is an exception: like the vast majority of British Europhiles, he is stubbornly monoglot.)
The EU has awarded itself the attributes of single statehood - a currency, a parliament, a supreme court, external borders and so on - while its constituent members remain distinct nations. Euro-enthusiasts, aware of the problem, would like to solve it by dissolving the national differences.
A far easier solution, of course, would be to dissolve the EU's statist accoutrements and instead let its nations collaborate within the loose nexus of a free trade area. Somehow, though, I can't see that happening - what need would there then be for EU officials? Suddenly, it would be the Mandies of the world left bellowing on the picket lines. ·
Comments are now closed on this article