I want to talk about something brought up in Louis’ article last week that while he recognises he fails to draw out – the contradiction between Europe and devolution.

The traditional view for the left is that European integration is a good thing. It is good because it has helped make Europe economically successful, increased interdependence and helped Europe achieve an unprecedented period of peace. There is also generally a view that devolution is good. It is good because it moves power away from the traditional Westminster elite to individual people, thus making democracy more accountable and by proxy fairer.

There is a rather obvious but often forgotten contradiction between these two positions. You cannot simultaneously advocate greater power to the people and greater power to Europe without being hypocritical. Or at least you shouldn’t be able to!

James Purnell expressed this brilliantly in a recent Demos speech where he said of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg “his overwhelming message is we need to devolve power as low as possible. He starts at the bottom, talks about how you need to devolve power to communities and to councils, and then he gets power to the national level and he says we should devolve power away from the national. And then he gets to Europe and he says Europe is great, we should give it more power. And this doesn’t quite fit.” In the last article Louis tried to straddle this same line.

What we are really talking about here is two separate and contradictory desires. The first is the desire for localism and local community to be the primary decision makers in society. The second desire is for an over-arching framework of peace and prosperity in which these communities exist. The former leads to devolution, the latter leads to European integration. But, these two desires need not be mutually exclusive: what is needed is a reassessment of the role of Europe.

The EU (or the EEC) was conceived as an economic agreement between partners based at least partly on the idea that economic interdependence would lead to the end of conflicts in Europe. And in this aim it has been incredibly successful. Since 1957 EU nations have managed to buck the trend of hundreds of years of intra-European wars and have lived in peace with one another. This has led to economic prosperity in Europe to a degree never know before

This success has allowed the EU to grow into many areas which were well beyond the original remit. Foreign policy, social policy, infrastructure and development are all now to some extent shaped by a small number of EU politicians. This cannot sit right with the notion that individuals should, as far as possible, be able to control their own lives.

I fully agree that we should extend Europe to include Kiev, and for that matter Ankara and even Moscow, but the role which Europe plays should be scaled back. If we are serious about meaningful local communities and societies then the devolution of power upwards to the EU needs to stop.

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