Georgia in, Britain out? Ogden on EU Membership


The European Union is a house party being hosted by the father of a teenage girl trying to be cool by letting her awful friends run riot around his house. Dad tried: he ordered pizza and set the Nintendo Wii up on the television; he even provided a few bottles of alcopops and concealed his surprise when the kids produced vodka and bourbon whisky from school backpacks. Yet the pizza was devoured without thanks, the Wii ignored, and as the children go mad and show no respect for his home and possessions, Dad does his best to pretend to his furious wife that it’s alright, really, it’s just kids. Actually, it’s cool…but then he hears the ominous creaking of bedsprings upstairs just before a window is smashed, and then the front door bursts open as more teenagers rush in. Wait, though, these aren’t friends of his daughter, these are the rough kids from down the road who haven’t even brought a cheap bottle of vodka with them…best not admit what a terrible mistake this was, though, and take the wife on a cruise this year…

The only thing that I am sure of about the European Union is that the damn thing is far too big and comes up in conversation and my Facebook feed too damn frequently. The latter is hardly surprising; the United Kingdom will soon vote whether to stay in the Union or not, and every day I read or hear about Georgians pining for membership.

What generally seems to be forgotten (by the British, the Georgians, and almost everyone else) is that the EU began solely as an economic union, branded at the time as the European Economic Community [EEC]. When the UK joined back in the ‘70s, there was no mention of continental laws that would supersede its own legislation; indeed, the possible introduction of European law was flatly denied by then-Prime Minister Edward Heath. Subsequent claims that Heath admitted in later years that he had lied to the public and knew in advance that European legislation would take hold in Britain have never been strongly challenged, and the notion that the founders of the EU had supranational ambitions from the EEC’s inception is difficult to quell; if the EEC was never intended to evolve into some form of a European Federation, then all-encompassing laws would never have been introduced.

We are frequently told by multicultural maniac friends that we are all humans, and differences in nationality and culture no longer matter. This, of course, is tripe. I resent being referred to as ‘European’ by Americans; our islands are on the continent, but historically we have strived to be independent from the mainland, and I would not feel at home in Lisbon, Athens or Warsaw. Not that I wouldn’t like to visit, of course, but were I a politician, I would not think to dictate laws in Portugal, Greece or Poland, since I am not one of their people and understand little and less about the subtleties of their culture and way of life. As things stand, EU institutions can meddle in national legislation, such as the way in which the European Court of Human Rights can block the deportation of terrorists to countries in which they are wanted, as in the case of Abu Qatada. EU will is being similarly imposed in the context of the current refugee crisis.

There are benefits to EU membership, such as visa-free travel throughout the continent, but neither Norway nor Switzerland are members of the European Union, and one never hears of Norwegian or Swiss citizens being stranded at passport control with a crowd of Syrian refugees. Neither are Norway and Switzerland prevented from trading with the EU despite not being members. Interestingly enough, when voting against EU membership in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, Norwegians listed ‘sovereignty’ as the primary reason for voting ‘no’.

On reading this, you might get the impression that I’m anti-EU. Far from it. I am against the creation of a supranational European state and the fact that EU countries are limited as to how much trade they can do outside the Union, as well as the obligatory financial bailout of countries who might be more careful if they knew they didn’t have the economic EU net to save them when they fall. However, I’m all for visa-free travel and easy continental residence; who wouldn’t be?

Some form of the EU could work; the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia are close enough in economic terms to be productive. It is unlikely that one would have to bail out the other, as EU member states have been forced to do with Spain, Greece and Ireland. Yet conflicting ideas over immigration and security would still render the model unworkable.

Though Georgia’s love affair with the EU is waning (due to years of rhetoric and undelivered promises from Brussels), the majority of Georgians still want their country to become a member state. It is not hard to see why when one considers the annoying necessity of visa travel and the ease of working in a country with a more productive economy. However, it is debatable that the EU would protect Georgia from future Russian aggression; Moscow has made it quite clear that it is not afraid to rattle the sabre at Poland and the Baltic states, but it is unlikely that the world would risk a major confrontation with Russia in their defense. Besides which, it isn’t hard to imagine Georgians marching down Rustaveli Avenue protesting that EU laws are nothing to do with Georgia.

The year could prove interesting. Georgia in, Britain out? As the Russians have it, ‘time will show’.

Tim Ogden

26 February 2016 10:07