I apologise for my style of writing in advance. I have been writing many an essay recently.
One is generally told not to engage in semantic discussions unless any prospective listeners require some sort of aid to help them sleep. The use of terms and words though can carry much meaning and allow us to have more insight into what someone’s motive or viewpoint actually is. For example; if I had a friend who suggested that we should bake a cake out of sand then I might regard this as an ‘interesting’ idea. ‘Interesting’ on the face of it would show that the idea is one which provokes some thoughts but hides the fact that these thoughts are of the variety which makes me want to abandon my friend. In the context of the language surrounding a party’s stance on Europe there are lots of labels which parties fix to themselves such as; Euroskeptic, Pro-Europe and more recently ‘Euro Realist’. In this short article I want to make the point that these labels are actually pretty devoid of meaning and instead are a reflection of the underlying viewpoints towards Europe.
Let us begin with the terms ‘Euroskeptic’ and ‘Pro-Europe’. The general assumption is that Euroskeptics want to withdraw from Europe and Pro-Europeans want to stay in. These terms suggest little of great substance as they merely reflect whether we should be in or out rather than what type of Europe or what relationship with Europe one wants beyond simply the question of membership. Indeed, everyone could be considered a ‘skeptic’ as it is the duty of any good citizen to be naturally skeptical about anything which happens before we are supportive of it. Naturally the term Pro-Europe is a bit empty too as all the person wants to convey is their support of the continuation of our membership rather than any precise viewpoint of what that should look like. When parties discuss domestic politics they will assign themselves to an ideology be that ‘Social Democratic’ or whatever. The point here is that these reflect visions for what the country should be like and suggest that the debate surrounds a genuine vision whereas the terms Pro-Europe and Euroskeptic suggest that the debate has failed to move beyond membership.
A new term has arisen even more devoid of meaning than its predecessors. The term ‘Euro-Realist’ is of laughably poor quality as it suggests that those wearing the label are simply being ‘realistic’. The obvious question is; what does an opponent of this view think? Are they ‘Euro-unrealistic’? It reminds me of the view that in the debate surrounding abortion one is ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ but nobody is ‘anti-choice’ or ‘anti-life’ as they are either pro or anti abortion.
At least these views suggest that the wearer of this label has an actual stance on the issue that one could disagree with. The term ‘Euro-Realist’, however, reeks of a fear of being called out for being mildly controversial. It suggests that one is neither ‘Europhile’ or ‘Europhobes’ yet nobody really wears those labels without a hint of irony as they are terms assigned to people by their antagonists. What the term ‘Euro-Realist’ suggests is a desire not to seem idealistic on the matter when really anyone with a view on Europe will think that their view is at least anchored to a modicum of reality.
Really what this suggests is that people are trying to get away from the old pro or anti EU stances and instead try and talk about having some sort of vision for it. Those who have decided to take this view however are those who are generally more inclined to be fierce critics of things. For example; it is political judgement whether Britain will be realistically able to negotiate a different form of membership of the European Union and thus detractors of the Conservative stance would rightly label it unrealistic.
The general fear of standing up for anything fairly controversial shows that parties are still cautious to genuinely discuss some general vision of what they want to see Europe looking like because it is so hard to move beyond the discussion of whether we should be in it or not. What is noticeable as well as these are labels which are apparent when people discuss the EU with the general public. No serious politician identifies themselves as ‘Neo-Functionalist’ or ‘Intergovernmentalist’ but at least these carry a stance which could be criticised and contribute to some sort of debate. An alternative realistic term could be people who aspire to a ‘Social Europe’ suggesting they desire Europe to be more focussed on the people of Europe. Ultimately these terms carry their own issues and points, but it is important to keep in mind that the language one uses to describe oneself can say a lot more than simply the face value.