Inside Remain’s dissonant and dishonest echo-chamber

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Inside Remain’s dissonant and dishonest echo-chamber

Bruce Newsome finds that the latest Remainer polemic inadvertently lifts the lid on why Remainers know the EU’s problems with their heads but cling to the EU’s myths with their hearts.

A book with the title “Collapse: Europe after the European Union” could be a Brexiteer’s manifesto or a Remainer’s warning. Ian Kearns explicitly introduces his book as a “warning” – it’s a subjective, elitist, hysterical warning, but at least the author is honest about it. This honesty inadvertently reveals the mind of Remainers who can see the EU failing but still deny its faults. Strap in: because this ride will be both laughable and infuriating.

Kearns admits that he has “not attempted to write an academic book…I have written an unashamedly personal, and admittedly subjective, account of what I think is going on in Europe today” (pages xxi-xxii).

Don’t have we have enough personal, subjective accounts already? Well, ok, if you must write a personal, subjective account (which is easy, after all), you must either accept a reduced market (telling people what they want to hear) or offer popular insight. Alas, the author immediately admits that his observations on Europe are based on his experiences as founder of the European Leadership Network, for which he could not have chosen a more euro-elitist title.

The book too often reads like a transcript of euro-elitists in an echo-chamber. “Why don’t the people like us? They’ve been misled! What’s the solution? Another personal, subjective book! One of us should write it! Hurrah! Then the rest of us should write endorsements on the back cover” (Malcolm Rifkind, Paddy Ashdown, General Sir David Richards, and George Robertson – Lord Robertson).

Well, ok, sometimes a personal, subjective account can contribute to the discourse, but the last thing a pro-EU book should do in 2018 is to rehash “project fear.”

Alas, the hysteria starts in the introduction, which warns that the end of the EU would result in “an economic, political, and geopolitical nightmare: a nightmare that would make the financial crisis of 2007-08 and its aftermath look like a footnote in Europe’s annual accounts.” (page xviii) Lummy! Why can’t Remainers ever learn?

International political economy

Ian Kearns’ narratives of the EU’s many political economic issues are damning, which is perverse, given his objective. Time and again, the EU is revealed as naïve and dishonest.

Take the single currency – one of the major authorizations in the Maastricht treaty (which also founded the European Union), signed in 1992, implemented in 1999.

“The idea that the single currency could be undermined by profligate spending in one, or more than one, member state, or that disciplined members might one day be forced to bail out the less disciplined had, it was thought, been handled. Except it hadn’t. What states signed up to and what they subsequently did in practice were far from one and the same thing. The stability and growth pact rules were never applied consistently. If they had been then Italy, Greece and Belgium would never have been admitted to the single currency in the first place. Even Germany just flagrantly ignored the strictures of the act in 2004 by running a deficit larger than the rules allowed. And while the Maastricht Treaty gave member states protections against assuming each other’s debt obligations in a legal sense, it gave no such protections politically. The single currency was, after all, supposed to be the ultimate symbol of solidarity among European states and when the crisis broke, the political pressure to help governments in trouble through voluntary interstate financial aid rather than through fulfilment of a treaty obligation was overwhelming.” (36)

This chapter (2) is his best. His story continues in sickening detail as the European Central Bank and national leaders of the Eurozone conspired in 2010 to bail-out corrupt and culpable banks in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, rather than admit cheaper and fairer proposals, as implemented most Phoenix-like in Iceland (outside the eurozone, but pegged to the Euro). Why? Because the EU could not allow national competence to surpass supranational power:

“On the face of it these decisions demonstrated a level of intra-European solidarity in tune with the spirit of the entire European integration project. Behind the scenes, however, was naked national self-interest and a decision to prioritize the interests of Greece’s private sector debtors over those of the Greek and other taxpayers. Much of what Greece owed was to banks in Germany, France and other eurozone countries, and much of the money being lent was not to go to Greece at all but to be recycled directly to those banks to prevent them from suffering losses.” (38-39)

The consequences remain in the eye-watering rates of debt and unemployment in the Mediterranean Eurozone today, and the raw racist blame-game from both north and south, which lays bare the myth of European solidarity.

Kearns warms in this second chapter to his most lucid and cutting writing:

“Defenders of the ECB’s approach will point out that it has a responsibility not to continue lending to insolvent banks. That is true. But the ECB’s condition for maintaining liquidity flows in each case was not that the banks to which it was lending be made solvent. It was that they be made solvent in a very particular way, by massive injections of taxpayer funds rather than through the write-down or restructuring of debts owed to creditors. It totally overstepped the mark in terms of the legitimate role of a central bank and insisted on telling elected European governments what to do with taxpayer funds while implicitly threatening to expel them from the single currency if they did not comply. In doing so, it was supported by pretty much the whole eurozone policymaking elite, which insisted there was no alternative.” (46-47)

Wait, is this written by a Brexiteer?! No, because Kearns is dissonant and in denial.

Kearns had promised in the introduction to address the EU’s “structural” problems. Instead, Kearns blames only the ECB’s then chief (Jean-Claude Trichet, who stepped down in 2011). He goes on to praise the EU’s tinkering after every crisis, as if all is solved.

For anyone else, the Euro-crisis was inevitable, given structural distortions inherent to the EU itself – monetary union without fiscal union, in which national central banks persisted, despite the creation of the ECB.

That distortion has not been fixed. Kearns knows this without admitting it: in a later chapter forecasting scenarios for the EU’s collapse, he hypothesizes a country exiting the eurozone: “Unable to either prop up the exiting country or to do anything to stop its exit, inaction would most likely characterize the European response.” (192)

His solutions come late in a final chapter, and are short and backwards, amounting to decentralization of fiscal policy to the members who betrayed the system in the first place. His only reforms would be “new euro-zone measures on monitoring, transparency and anti-corruption” – which he doesn’t specify (272).

Thus, he is writing in the grand tradition of EU missives: We’ve solved everything! But let’s keep it vague so we can’t be proved wrong!

International security

While Kearns on international political economy is at least historically rewarding, Kearns is unforgivably presumptive on international security.

“Studies by the UN have shown that migration does not make terrorism more likely. Many recent attacks in London and elsewhere have also been unconnected to migration or refugees in any way.” (page 26)

The above quote is unforgivable in any of its errors of fact, sourcing, and framing.

In fact, migrants are over-represented in European terrorism. Migrants are not most European terrorists, because migrants are not most Europeans, but they are hugely over-represented, just like males and youths are over-represented. (For instance, analysis of 253 Jihadi terrorists indicted in Britain from 1998 to 2015 found that at least 34% were born abroad – the proportion is probably closer to 53%, once you include those of disputed birthplace. That we don’t have better data is thanks to the political correctness of the Home Office.)

Then there’s Kearn’s sourcing. The UN has not proved what he claims, and he does not cite anything. (Incidentally, the UN, and the EU, say all sorts of nonsense about migration, such as their claim that Britain is legally obliged to take economic migrants from France.)

To compound his factual and sourcing errors, Kearns engages in childish suggestion. To say that “many” attacks are unconnected to migrants is a framing bias. Many are unconnected, but many are connected! If you say only one of those sides, and don’t quantity “many,” you indulge in a framing effect. Kearns had admitted a personal, subjective account, but then he shouldn’t frame subjective bias as objective fact.

The book is plagued with dishonest frames about migration. Take his criticism of Italy’s opposition to migrants being helped across the Mediterranean by NGOs (and BBC journalists). “This latter set of measures has been hugely controversial, not least because many who study the underlying causes and motivations of irregular migration don’t believe it can be stopped simply by making the journey riskier.” (128) Again, no citations, no sources, no admission of the “many” who know otherwise, no admission of the basic socio-economic theories that explain these pull factors.

Kearns’ solution to migration comes late and is unadmittedly plagiarized from George Soros: increase aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Why not the Middle East, or South Asia, from whence most migrants come? Soros didn’t answer that, so Kearns doesn’t; Kearns’ version is even less specified. Soros suggested spending on “education and employment,” given the progressive myth that all problems are due to poverty. Soros’ minimum estimate of the cost was $35 billion; Kearns gives no estimate.

For Kearns, the EU is doing great at migration and counterterrorism, if only its critics weren’t pointing out otherwise. Perversely, he tells a detailed story about the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, and admits that the terrorist leaders returned to Europe from the Islamic State by posing as refugees, and benefited from free movement while plotting in Belgium for attacks in France. Yet he follows this upsetting story by praising the EU’s tinkering since 2015, such as the European Counter Terrorism Centre – a mere information sharing site, established in 2016, years after other international institutions had done better. That single paragraph is the end of Kearns’ consideration of EU counterterrorism.

Kearns then offers a page in praise of EU defence cooperation, but gets this unforgivably wrong. He describes “permanent structured cooperation” (PESCO) and the European Defence Action Plan (for a European Defence Fund and single market for defence) as “moves afoot.” In fact, they were implemented since 2017, and the British government is still furtively engaged in most of its programs. Thus, Kearns ends up urging what Theresa May has already committed: “So every effort should also be made to ensure Brexit does not undermine Europe’s defence capability and one of the main goals of Brexit negotiations should be to make sure close cooperation between the two sides continues after the UK has left.” (275)

I cannot take Kearns seriously as an expert on Europe when he has read so poorly.

Irrespective of Britain, Kearns urges the EU to more security integration:

“Although the announced measures on improvements to counter-terrorism strategy are to be welcomed, there are still too many cases where information is not shared adequately or quickly enough, and this in a field where it is just about impossible to prevent every planned attack anyway. Defence cooperation should also be far more advanced than it is. The rationale for pursuing it is, after all, compelling. Many supporters of European integration believe that as Europe has deepened its economic and political ties, binding the interests and futures of individual European countries more closely together, it makes absolute sense for them to cooperate more on defence. They are right. (121)

This passage is typical of the integrationist’s incrementalism: integration justifies more integration!

This incrementalism fallacy is necessary because the EU can’t justify future integration based on past competence. Think of its touted but short-lived intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and its frequent attempts since then at more capable forces that are never available when needed. Kearns’ only evidence for EU success at defence integration is the Eurofighter Typhoon, without admitting that most pan-European attempts at defence acquisitions have ended in failure, and that the Eurofighter nearly went the normal way for the normal reasons.

Kearns’ escalations into the higher levels of the international system become ever more ridiculous. The book starts with a section complaining about Trump (unoriginally), followed by a section on Putin, as threats to the EU (incidentally, with no admission of the EU’s indulgence of Russia in return for energy). His solutions are belated, short, and under-specified: “More also can and should be done to tackle Russian activity aimed at destabilizing the EU. This will require a major expansion of the current effort to counter Russian disinformation campaigns. Even more important perhaps is to understand and counter the underlying Russian strategy.” (276)

The book ends by warning that the collapse of the EU would trigger the collapse of NATO, on the grounds that NATO’s “European membership is almost identical to that of the EU.” (235) That’s like saying a supermarket’s bankruptcy increases competitor bankruptcies because their markets overlap (the opposite is true).

The book does not admit that the EU is undermining NATO by duplication and redundancy, which wouldn’t be so bad if the EU was doing better what NATO has already done so well for decades. Would we rather that the EU took from NATO the responsibility for deterring Putin? Of course not.

Kearns’ ridiculous forecasts go further, to suggest that even in the presence of NATO, the collapse of the EU would result in world war: “We may see wars in eastern Europe that trigger refugee flows to the west on a similar scape to those recently experience from the south. We may see smaller wars into which larger European powers are pulled or miscalculations of interest that trigger conflict between them.” (256-257)

Liberal democracy

Having dealt with the international political economy at length, the international security a little, Kearns ignores the politics of the EU entirely, except to blame certain national politicians for causing the EU to fail. “Some of what the illiberal authoritarians are doing in Europe today is already eroding the ability of EU governments to work together.” (229)

The book contains no admission of the EU’s tolerance of anti-democratic and illiberal national regimes, as long as they support integration. (Thus, Turkey’s authoritarianism coincides with acceleration of membership, while Hungary is threatened with Article 7 suspension.)

The book contains no discussion of the EU’s democratic deficit or transparency deficit. Instead, the book peddles that progressive article of faith that international institutions are inherently more liberal and democratic than national institutions. “In a Europe after the European Union, it is my contention that these values will be attacked more aggressively and systematically that at any time since the 1930s.” (207-208)

But wait, the book’s reversal of reality gets worse – such that this remote supranational institution, with an appointed executive, over-representing certain national interests over others, with more opacity than any of its members, is good for “freedom” at the individual level! “The collapse of the EU would therefore be a historic defeat not only for the idea of European integration and cooperation but for a Europe of pluralistic governing institutions, serving a society built on the primacy of individual freedom.” (208)

Populism

Ian Kearns fairly describes a litany of failings by the EU, but unfairly blames its critics – “populists”, “nationalists”, and “Eurosceptics”, leading to many tiresome circular arguments, to the effect that scepticism of the EU can be blamed on eurosceptics!

Populism is the bogeyman that is never defined, is dismissed as stupid and uneducated, but blamed for everything bad. The only thing creditworthy in Kearns’ treatment is that he admits that populism can be both left-wing and right-wing, although he never specifies the difference, and practically conflates them. He cites studies of populism from his own European Leadership Network, but these studies are just subjective judgments of subjective judgments – the echo-chamber again.

Like most Remainers, he gets the causal direction the wrong way around. He complains that the EU’s critics create the EU’s problems. Why don’t Remainers entertain the theory that the EU’s failings spark opposition?

His historically-satisfying chapter on the EU’s monetary scandals ultimately contradicts itself by characterized the scandals as maliciously exaggerated: “Populists of both left and right have been explicit in using the economic crisis and its effects to fuel their case.” (71)

Kearns similarly dismisses the socio-economic consequences of uncontrolled migration as myths:

“Not only do the right-wing populists believe in the power of the state [Doesn’t that make them left-wing?] but they believe in the power of ‘their’ state. They have sought to mobilize support around both what they say are the negative economic effects of immigration, especially for those at the lower end of the pay scale, and what they describe as a developing threat to national culture and identity. The evidence for their economic claims is dubious at best and in made case, just plain wrong.” (77)

Kearns dismisses the consequences of uncontrolled migration too as myths:

“Both separately and in combination, the terrorist threat and the migration and refugee challenge emanating from Europe’s south have been seized on my populist and eurosceptic parties inside the EU, which have used them to stoke fear and fan the flames of intolerance. This is changing the character of public discourse, fuelling ‘culture wars’ and leading to an increased incidence of hate crime.” (page 25)

Oh dear, oh dear! The above is another passage without citations or honesty, framed to make stupid anybody pointing out the bleeding obvious – that unprecedented immigration over the last years has made property unaffordable to most, driven down wages (at least in the low-skilled sectors), and undermined social cohesion (even Tony Blair admitted this).

Time and again, Kearns’ “warning” is not about the deeds of the EU, but about the words of its critics: “Another target for scapegoating will be the domestic elites who led their countries into the EU and claimed they could make it work.” (220) Just re-read that ridiculous sentence again, just for a reality check: the politicians who made the wrong choices and forecasts about the EU would be “scapegoated” for their own choices and forecasts? No, they would be legitimately blamed!

Predictably, Kearns blames the referendum of 2016 too on words: “The Brexit referendum in the UK also illustrated not only the particularities of this country’s relationship with Europe but the ways in which the EU’s own weaknesses could be used against it by the political forces wishing to do it harm.” (262)

Perversely, Kearns describes in detail David Cameron’s failure to win any memorable concessions from the EU before the referendum. Yet Kearns treats Cameron’s failure as a personal rather than structural failing, then blames eurosceptics for exploiting Cameron’s failure (what he terms a mere “optic” (94)).

Kearns blames Cameron and shadowy eurosceptics for scheduling a referendum at all (there’s that selective support for democracy again): “Cameron certainly did put Conservative Party interests first, not only in calling the referendum in the first place, which was done to placate hard-line Brexit supporters in his party, but at points during the campaign too.” (86)

Then Kearns goes through tired explanations for why Remainers lost: Cameron’s failures to attack Conservative Remainers, Jeremy Corbyn’s laziness, the wording of the referendum, UKIP’s “lies,” etc.

Kearns ignores popular desires to restore national democracy and sovereignty, or to reject supranational incompetence and authoritarianism, or to re-balance the distorted socio-economy.

Ironically, the lesson of Brexit, for Kearns, is not how divorced from reality Europhiles like him have become, but to show other eurosceptics “what playbook to use” (106).

Kearns is stuck in the dissonance of knowing the EU’s problems with his head, while clinging to the EU’s myths with his heart. Thus, his history of the EU’s collapse is at once both historically satisfying and theoretically dishonest.

Book reviewed: “Collapse: Europe after the European Union” authored by Ian Kearns, published by Biteback, paperback, 320 pp. £12.99, ISBN 9781785902154

4.79 avg. rating (95% score) - 29 votes
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    Bruce Newsome
    Bruce Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of California Berkeley
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