220.127.116.11 Member Hostility Towards the EU
There is some member hostility towards the EU, most notably in Britain before it left; this was largely fed by nationalist sentiments.
People feel that decisions which affect them are taken elsewhere – ‘in Brussels’ – where they don’t understand how their countries’ interests have been represented. An individual person’s vote clearly has less sway in a large grouping like the EU than it has in local or national elections, but that does not mean that large groupings cannot be democratic. It means that it is harder to change their direction – but this can be a benefit in preventing politicians from trying to win short-term popularity at the expense of the wider collective interest, for example by advocating economic protectionism (18.104.22.168).
Nigel Farage formed a new political party in Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), on a nationalist platform – to regain British autonomy by leaving the EU; its 2010 manifesto stated that:
“UKIP wants Britain to regain three essential freedoms by leaving the EU: Freedom of Action… Freedom of Resources… Freedom of the People…”.
UKIP never did well in general elections, which were conducted on a first-past-the-post system of voting, but it gained a lot of support in EU parliament elections that were held under proportional representation. The British Conservative Party was concerned about losing that support, and it modified its own policies to include a guarantee of holding a referendum if it were elected – which is a promise that it kept when it won the election.
Much of the EU’s unpopularity can be ascribed to a communication problem:
● Some national politicians try to increase their power by feeding nationalist sentiments, as was the case with both UKIP and the British National Party (BNP). The BNP Election Communication for South-East England for the European Parliamentary elections on 4 June 2010, was entitled The New Battle for Britain and included such slogans as “No to EU rule and the Euro”, “Yes to putting British people first”; the military flavour was enhanced by mention of “Trafalgar, The Somme, Dunkirk, D-Day, The Falklands”.
● Slightly less stridently, but insistently, many other politicians disliked the EU – ignoring its benefits. Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned partly in protest against Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to Europe, as described in his resignation statement:
“[she] seems sometimes to look out upon a continent that is positively teeming with ill- intentioned people, scheming, in her words, to “extinguish democracy”, to “dissolve our national identities” and to lead us “through the back-door into a federal Europe”.
What kind of vision is that for our business people, who trade there each day, for our financiers, who seek to make London the money capital of Europe or for all the young people of today?”
● There is some member hostility towards the EU in other countries, but there is some evidence that Britain’s unsatisfactory departure has deterred others from wanting to go down the same path. In the Dutch election in November 2023, though, Anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders wins dramatic victory: “Mr Wilders wants to hold a “Nexit” referendum to leave the EU, although he recognises there is no national mood to do so”.
● As seen from the perspective of any individual country, it is not surprising that not all EU decisions are in its favour; that is the nature of any collective bargaining.
● Few national politicians try to explain or defend the multinational decision-making process. For example, some British politicians suggested that Brussels was handing down “crazy” regulations without consultation; this argument was refuted by The Guardian in an article headed Is the EU really dictating the shape of your bananas?
● The British government also interpreted some EU regulations in an unnecessarily restrictive fashion, and blamed Brussels for the result – as in the example, quoted by The Guardian, of Quote ‘Daft’ insurance rules cloud UK’s sunny staycation trend.
Clearly, improvement is always possible, and any system will suffer from human failings. The most difficult problem remains the need to explain that the collective benefits are worth having, that national autonomy has been pooled not lost, that national politicians are responsible for the implementation of regulations – and that not all aspects of governance are affected. And it is worth remembering that member hostility towards the EU is a small proportion of the population.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6654a.htm.
 The BNP Election Communication for South-East England for the European Parliamentary elections on 4 June 2010, was available in September 2022 at https://electionleaflets.org/leaflets/full/48616/.