On 13th September Gisela Stuart is hosting a public discussion with Hungarian-born Professor Frank Furedi on the principles of sovereignty and how they can be positively applied in the post-Brexit era.
In the run up to this important discussion, Andy Shaw caught up with Frank Furedi to find out what we can all expect.
Andy Shaw: Many people voted for the EU because they didn’t identify with what they considered as an old-fashioned nationalism. They identified as modern, outward-looking European. What would you say to them?
Frank Furedi: If you see yourself as a genuinely committed European, you should be suspicious of the EU. If you think that the EU embodies the best of European values and represents European culture and civilisation, you’re buying into a myth. The EU has a skewed idea of what Europe is. It is uncomfortable with Europe’s history. In its documents, it ignores anything prior to 1945. It doesn’t take the legacy of European civilisation seriously, the ideas of the renaissance or the enlightenment or of Christianity. The EU doesn’t like these developments. The EU undermines the values of Europe.
For myself, I am wholehearted European. I love being in Paris, Rome and Budapast. The EU is not a natural ally of Europe, it is parasitic on European cultural achievement. There is no contradiction of feeling like a real European and taking national sovereignty seriously at the same time. National sovereignty is not simply about waving the flag, its about understanding that only through the institutions of a nation state can you have a sense of control over your destiny and hold your leaders and politicians to account. It is only in this terrain that democracy has any real meaning. The idea of having a ‘world democracy’ sounds good on paper, but it is an entirely abstract formula, it is a meaningless concept which is detached from peoples real experiences. You cannot hold to account ‘the leaders of the world’. You can just about hold to account leaders of a nation. It is the unit within which a democratic institution can work in a successful way.
Andy Shaw: The bad side of European history was fuelled by nationalism. You say that the EU doesn’t hold up European values, what do you mean?
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Frank Furedi: The Enlightenment believed in progress, it advocated experimentation and risk taking. It advocated an outlook that was open to new possibilities.
The EU is risk averse, it believes that if something moves it should be regulated. It represents risk as a form of danger not an opportunity. For that reason the institutional mechanism it has introduced limits the development of science by applying the precautionary principle.
At the same time, it has created a prescriptive and intolerant bureaucratic culture that is displayed by its media laws and its policing of free speech. Here is an institution that is wholeheartedly committed to the freedom of movement of people, but at the same time it is uptight about allowing people to say what they want. This exposes their selective and limited commitment to freedom.
The EU promoted a cosmopolitanism that is not genuine. European thinkers, like Emmanuel Kant and other Enlightenment thinkers, developed genuine cosmopolitan ideas. The EU makes no attempt to create a set of universal human values which people could embrace and live with. It is a global institution that is run by experts and is not subject to democratic decision making. It’s impulse is to insulate itself from the pressure of the people, rather than a genuine adherence to universal cosmopolitan values.
In many respects the EU is less enlightened or progressive than nationalists. You can have national consciousness whilst seeing democracy and popular sovereignty as important to you national way of life. The EU’s representation of nationalism as being responsible for all the problems of Europe is historically wrong. Some forms of nationalism evolved in positive directions and led to important developments, others ended up in a dreadful space. Their direction was not determined by a national sensibility, they were determined by a number of other factors.
Andy Shaw: You mentioned that the EU insulates itself from the populations in Europe. Do you see hope in the various populist movements that periodically emerge across Europe?
Frank Furedi: Firstly, I don’t call them ‘populist’, this is a term of abuse used against people who question the EU consensus. It is positive that a lot of people, all over Europe, are questioning the old ways and raising questions about the values that the EU stands for. So far this hasn’t led to a stabilisation of a powerful movement that can challenge the EU. But, everywhere you go, there is a sense of ‘this isn’t good enough, we need something very different’
At the moment, I’m not very happy with the politics of these people. They often become a mirror image and a caricature of the EU saying ‘nay’ when the EU says ‘yay. But, on balance, the fact they are coming through and questioning things makes for a more interesting political life.
Andy Shaw: On the 13th September, at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road, London, you are holding a public discussion with Gisela Stuart on the meaning of sovereignty post Brexit, who do you think should go?
Frank Furedi: Anybody who is interested in the future of Britain after Brexit, not just those interested in Brexit itself. We will be discussing the political ideals and institutional options that can make Britain a better place. Brexit isn’t just about leaving Europe, it’s about how do we create political and institutional instruments.
Secondly, we need to make an assessment of what has happened. Take into account that the debate on Europe has been conducted in a negative fashion. We will be putting forward positive, future orientated arguments. This is what we will be discussing.
Andy Shaw: What can people expect at the event on 13th September that they might not have heard before?
Frank Furedi: One thing that people will hear is an explanation of why the EU is the way it is. People take the EU for granted and have an opinion that the EU is either good or bad. However, there has been no real discussion of why the good idea of economic unity in the 1950s has turned into a nightmare institution. I want to explain how the EU betrays the ideas of Europe that it is meant to stand for.
Event ‘After Brexit – Reimagining Sovereignty’ Wednesday 13th September, 7pm, Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA
Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/after-brexit-reimagining-sovereignty-tickets-37088325179
Frank Ferudi is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, United Kingdom. He is known for his work on sociology of fear, education, therapy culture, paranoid parenting and sociology of knowledge.