So, about a year ago, I was writing about how the last thing Eurosceptics agreed on was what they were against. Now, it’s a commonplace to argue about whether Jeremy Corbyn – or some other politician, but usually him – is “really a Eurosceptic”. I think this question is no longer meaningful in the terms in which it is stated, not least because the meaning of the word “Eurosceptic” has shifted.
It was never really true to say that Eurosceptics were sceptical about the EU, in the sense of being ready to be convinced by evidence. Instead they were agin it. Very often they might prefer the EEA, or “the Common Market” as in the EU before the Maastricht Treaty, or something along those lines. But today, this is nowhere near enough for Eurosceptics to accept you as one of them. If you are in favour of joining the EEA, like Norway, you will be denounced.
The minimum ideological requirement is now that you demand the total end of all institutional links with the EU – out of the Customs Union, out of EURATOM, probably out of the Eurovision Song Contest. Not just that; you also have to prefer referendums to parliamentary democracy, adopt a generally authoritarian and nationalist worldview, and most of all, coarsen your style and tone. There’s a lot of other stuff you can pick from, but I’m trying to identify the minimum you’ll need in order to pass for Eurosceptic without getting too much abuse.
There are, of course, people on the Left who are sceptical about the EU. Typically, they object to its macro-economic policies in the Eurozone and to its enthusiasm for investor-state dispute clauses in trade agreements, such as TTIP and CETA. It is worth pausing here to remember that the broad Left across Europe regularly organizes mass protest campaigns about trade, they are sometimes successful, and they are invariably about investor-state dispute settlement. The existence of this massive campaigning infrastructure is a really important fact that has shaped a lot of activists and politicians.
The important distinction here is that the anti- or altermondialiste Left has objections to specific EU policies and very often to line-by-line changes in specific numbered paragraphs. Not rarely, they successfully get them changed. If they got a majority in the European Parliament, they would expect to name the new commission president and run the show their way.
This is, in a nutshell, how an opposition operates in democracy. They do not aspire to destroying the EU in a second springtime of nations, unlike Michael Gove MP. Nor do they see their relationship with the EU as a means to the nationalist transformation of their home countries. They do not denounce the citizens of nowhere, demand an end to experts, or aspire to banning the burka. Ironically, although they consider themselves revolutionaries they are some of the least fantastical politicians going. There is an enormous difference.
It is true that their votes, if they went as far as to vote for Brexit, counted in the same way. It’s also barely relevant with regard to the future. The radicalization of the Tories has redefined “Eurosceptic” to mean something like “suburban extreme nationalist”, and the key question is now whether you support that or not.