The Trouble with Europe – book review

Ben Crowley2 Blogs Leave a Comment

‘The Trouble with Europe’ by Roger Bootle, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing

As I read through this book and considered the author’s increasingly convincing arguments against the European Union, I began asking myself if this could possibly be an unbiased opinion.  Surely Roger Bootle must have been commissioned by UKIP to justify their policy of withdrawal.  But then I looked again at the author’s credentials as one of the UK’s leading economic commentators. 
Admittedly he has right wing credentials as a columnist for the Telegraph and an adviser to George Osborne but this is someone who has received prizes for his writing and surely would not knowingly produce biased arguments.  This view is reinforced by the approach of the book, which is to present logical and fact-based arguments, rather than the rabid rhetoric of UKIP and other tribal Eurosceptics.

The book adopts a logical and easily readable structure, starting with the EU’s formation and original intentions.  He accepts that the political objective of stopping France and Germany from destroying each other every now and again was a valid one but points out that as a political – rather than economic – institution, the EU is a mess.  He argues that it emasculates nation states without replacing them and has become undemocratic, resulting in the widespread hostility to the Brussels establishment.

It is however his economic arguments that are the most powerful.  He reports a convincing record of economic underachievement after the early success which helped to entice UK politicians to apply for entry.  But even before the Eurozone was created, there were problems of slow growth compared to the rest of the world and, following the introduction of the single currency, a downward slide that was an inevitable disaster.  Countries with such widely different levels of economic performance could never operate together with one currency unless the good performers were willing and able to subsidise the poor or the poor were prepared to suffer economic hardship.  Both scenarios are now taking place.

Bootle also points out that freedom of movement between countries with such widely varying levels of income was never likely to be practical and was made worse by the late entrants to the Euro from the former Soviet bloc; his comparison of the GDP per capita of these new entrants with the larger countries brings this home in a convincing, fact-based way. 

His last three chapters move from history and diagnosis to the practical issues involved if or when the UK leaves the EU or the institution is broken up.  Perhaps there is an element of wishful thinking here because Bootle clearly believes that one of these outcomes should take place.  He puts down the fact that it has not happened already to the incompetence and ‘head in the sand’ attitude of the bureaucrats.

My overall assessment is that this is a surprisingly easy read for a book on such a complex and potentially boring subject.  It is not too long – just over 200 pages – but it still covers the topic comprehensively and convincingly.  It certainly convinced me – a likely floating voter in a referendum – that the UK would be better outside the EU. If everyone was made to read it before the 2017 referendum – assuming it happens – it would likely lead to a landslide in favour of exit.  My only reservation is that it is almost too convincing and led me to think – surely so many politicians couldn’t be so stupid, but then again ……  

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