Elite perhaps isn’t a very helpful term: are we talking about politicians, about the media or business? Whatever it is, I would say the position on the EU has become more conditional than it was. You don’t find many politicians across Europe who are passionately pro-European and think everything should happen at a European level. It’s more along the functional lines of “Here’s a useful organisation.”
The EU was set up after the Second World War, when politicians felt there needed to be more meaningful cooperation between countries to avoid another war and to defend themselves against the perceived threat of Communism. There was also an argument that removing barriers would help rebuild the European economy. After that, having a mechanism and architecture in place was useful since members could add new things to it rather than start from scratch each time. But what we’ve seen in the past couple of decades, particularly since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, is a realisation that there are costs to this – a lack of freedom of manoeuvre on policies, for example – and also that there’s mileage electorally to be gained in opposing what the EU does and how it works.
“We are where we are because of where we’ve been… you go down the path of least resistance.”
Regarding the second part of the question, the reason they’re trying so hard to keep us in is that there isn’t an obvious alternative. People say, “Well we could just work together on an ad hoc basis or in a way that protects our interests”, which sounds sensible and reasonable but in practice is very difficult. Again, a big part of this is past dependency. We are where we are because of where we’ve been, the future tends to look like the past and you go down the path of least resistance. The alternative – setting up something to replace the EU – is a very difficult subject, as we’re seeing with the situation here in the UK.
Read more of Simon Usherwood’s commentary on Brexit, the EU and all related matters here.