C Shannon


It can be argued that the European Union is a triumph of liberalism. To say this is somewhat odd in the current political climate in Europe. To many Europeans, when one talks about “liberal” policies, one talks about hard-nosed classical liberalism or neo-liberal globalisation schemes. This isn’t completely unfair. The EU has a lot of neo-liberal tendencies, especially how it conducts itself in the wider world. However, I think this ignores how broad the liberal ideology is presently.

Relatively, we have a narrow political spectrum. Truthfully, if one isn’t a liberal, one is termed an extremist; one simply can’t expect to be widely accepted if one styles oneself as a fascist. Mostly every political party (and almost exclusively those with electoral success) in our countries are some form of liberalism: mostly free-market economic, strong constitutional constraints on government to ensure necessary freedoms, open and free elections. The word “liberal”, as no-one needs to be told, is derived from the Latin for freedom.

When I say “the European Union is a triumph of liberalism”, I directly mean that it is responsible for the abolition of limitations of personal freedom. Schengen is a classic example of this liberal regime tearing down (literal) borders between Europeans, but it hasn’t ended there: neither in scope of actors nor with said action.

In the EU’s, and specifically the ECJ’s, safeguarding of consumer rights, I often find reason to wave the flag. Now, said aforementioned hard-nosed classical liberals (or their neo-liberal cousins) might scoff as an embrace of government intervention in market affairs as an “increase” in liberalism. Well, short-sighted classical liberals might; others would recognise that by standardising goods between countries, that producers become freed of their national spaces, allowing them to more effectively compete abroad.

I find it more difficult to apply this logic to the projected 2017 abolition of roaming charges in the EU (which is being championed by the EP, not the ECJ — to avoid confusion.) However, only an idiot would let dogmatic adherence to ideology determine their decisions on specific issues. To borrow from the Economist, roaming charges are predatory. In the context of the EU, as those advocating a single telecoms market have pointed out, these charges are simply absurd.

Governments need to protect their citizenry. Preferably erring on the side of non-interference, governments cannot allow individuals or corporations to antagonise or impede the public’s development simply because it is profitable and outside of the prohibition of established law.

At its heart, this is the spirit of liberalism. It is a resistance to barriers. Sometimes this means opposing corporations in favour of the citizens, other times it can mean the reverse (as seen in some controversial trade agreements.) This is the sort of liberalism the EU has championed. This is why the EU is a champion of practical liberalism, rather than a dogmatic liberalism. It has made the world freer generally, even when it pruned one tree of liberty to allow another to grow.

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