At a meeting today, a fine story was told that illustrates the problem of Europe very well. The actor Timothy Spall was asked about his acting style, and answered that “nothing matters until it’s personal”. And if that’s true about acting, it is true of the EU, too.
In the single market, there are economies of scale and increased competition arising from replacing 27 sets of national laws with a single set of European laws, and they bring benefits to everyone in the EU but in a rather generalised and imprecise way. Hardly anyone can attribute a particular event or activity to those generalised benefits.
However, many people can find a reason why the creation of European laws in place of national laws has meant a particular problem for them. That then becomes an example of Europe interfering in the way that they live. The challenge for pro-Europeans is to make the benefits of Europe personal in the same way that the costs already have been.
There is a similar experience of inflation in the eurozone. Countries that have adopted the euro have reported lower inflation as a result, but citizens in those countries say that prices seem to have risen faster than before. How can this be, that the official figures and everyday experience do not correspond?
The answer lies in the frequency and size of the transactions. People spend large amounts of money occasionally and small amounts of money quite often. Those large amounts, for cars, perhaps, or washing machines, have gone up more slowly thanks to the euro. It’s a real effect, but not very noticeable. The small amounts of money, on a cup of coffee maybe, might have gone up more, because of the way in which prices are set to suit the coins and notes in circulation. The standard coin used in Greece for a small tip, for example, is now worth twice as much as it was before because the relevant drachma coin has not been replaced exactly by its euro equivalent.
Here again, when personal experience is the dominant factor in forming people’s opinions, it is not surprising that people’s opinions might not be positive. Europe needs not only to create improvements in people’s lives, but also to make them visible and felt.