Why No American Would Ever Vote to Stay in the European Union

It was amusing, in a car crash sort of way, to hear President Obama solemnly advise our British friends that, really, they must put aside their childish temper tantrum about the European Union (EU), see sense, and vote to uphold the status quo. Amusing, because no American political leader of either party would ever consent to surrender so much American sovereignty to such a dubious institution.

On the European continent, particularly amongst the unelected Brussels elite who drive the EU project, it has always been axiomatic that the entire point of European integration was ultimately political, to create a United States of Europe, with specific policies (such as greater economic integration) merely serving as steps along the way.

And don’t think for a minute that cataclysmic economic failure deters Euro-cheerleaders in the least. Look for an increased push for greater banking and economic integration, spearheaded by the usual Franco-German suspects, just after Britain’s June 23 referendum. For these unelected Eurocrats, whatever the policy state of play the answer is always the same: more centralisation. Policy success means there should obviously be further political integration as the EU is working (irrespective of the fact that European public opinion is increasingly cold to it).

However, colossal failure – such as economically occurred with the collapse of Greece and the euro-crisis – means precisely the same thing; if only there were more overly centralised undemocratic control, all would be well. For the fanatic, history moves in only one direction, and flying in the face of all economic evidence Euro-cheerleaders are nothing if not fanatics. For anyone with the least respect for self-government, freedom and democracy this choice should be obvious.

Think of it this way. President Obama, who is so keen to urge the British to continue to cede their proud history and sovereignty to an undemocratic set of institutions, would never allow the same thing to happen at home. He is unlikely to advocate turning NAFTA into a protean political body, tasked with the dominant role in determining the American regulatory structure, all in the closest political cahoots with the Mexican and Canadian governments, who in many cases could jointly wield a veto over American actions. The President does not advocate this, both because if he did he would be impeached imminently, and because he is not mad. But that is just the advice he gave to Britain, quite possibly America’s closest ally.

Finally, the UK has always had a cool, transactional approach to the EU. Whereas for the Germans the EU was a ticket back to being accepted as a civilised nation again following 1945, and for France it has been a ticket to remain at the great power table, for London, the EU has never been about emotions and dreams, but simply, is it a good deal for Britain?

This explains why in the 1970s, in a similar referendum, Britain voted decisively to stay in. Back then, Europe was most definitely the economic future, with Germany particularly having one of the highest rates of productivity in the world. By contrast, pre-Thatcherite Britain was an economic basket case, with its governments serving at the mercy of over-mighty trade unions and with IMF bailouts on the cards. At such a time, joining up with the economic future of the world made good, cold sense.

But that was then, and this is now. Now the EU is the sick man of the world, with growth numbers limping along at the lowest rates globally, youth unemployment at depression-era levels and the euro crisis in Greece, Portugal, Italy and even France far from solved. Given the present refugee crisis, to put it kindly, this is an entity not in control of its borders. And the EU (thank heaven) has no real defence capacity as NATO continues to safeguard the vital transatlantic link.

So, the EU has no economic present or future, no control of its borders and no military institutions to buttress its often comically grandiose pronouncements. Under these circumstances, why would anyone want to stay a member of such an ineffectual, and at the same time so undemocratic, organisation? If in the 1970s the EU was the future, it is now very much the past. The U.S. should not mindlessly be in the position of giving the other half of the “Special Relationship” advice we ourselves would never accept.


Dr. John C. Hulsman is the President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a successful global political risk consulting firm, specializing in in-depth analysis for blue-chip corporate clients regarding the possible game-changing issues of the new era, especially relating to the rise of Asia, the US and Europe, Frontier and Emerging Markets, and the politics of the Middle East. An eminent foreign policy expert, John is the Senior Columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the city of London; he also writes the lead ‘Animal Spirits’ column for City AM Money, the paper’s monthly magazine, where he makes the case for specific investment opportunities in Asia, as well as Frontier and Emerging Markets.

A long-time Washington insider, and veteran of think tanks in Europe and America, Hulsman is a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of all or part of 12 books, Hulsman has also given over 1500 interviews, written over 510 articles, prepared over 1280 briefings, and delivered more than 470 speeches on foreign policy around the world.

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