July 24, 2014 | by Christoph Heuermann Print

Freedom for the unconditional Eurosceptics of the far right is merely freedom from Europe. They lack a universal application of liberty since their notion is based on nationality alone. “Freedom for the UK,” Nigel Farage, a prominent Eurosceptic of the UK Independence Party, proclaims, but he means freedom for the British only. For immigrants there is no space on his island.

Secessionist and independence-seeking parties are perfectly legitimate if they seek escape from the concentration of power. However, mostly they only want to shift powers from the supranational level back to the national level. They don’t oppose power per se. Their agenda is nationalist, and their sense of superiority will finally lead to misery. They do not understand the essence of liberty. Thus they oppose supranational institutions like the European Union.

The European Union should be understood in its totality. Of course, heaps of regulations, more and more bureaucracy, and the complexity of EU procedures seriously damage liberty. But we should not forget its achievement on behalf of liberty. Ensuring the four pillars of freedom -- the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people -- was a historic step towards more liberty. Now the European Union has to continue climbing the ladder towards even more freedom.

Everyone who loves liberty knows about the evils of centralized power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton wisely observed. The EU still lacks a lot of powers – like the power to tax. But because of support by European elites, tax integration and harmonization among member states will continue, widening the power of EU institutions even more. Their European federalism is essentially European nationalism without a common cultural identity. Liberty-minded people should be happy there is no common identity, because it would be used to play off individuals choosing to live in Europe against people of other continents.

The two kinds of nationalism -- European nationalism and traditional nationalism -- unite the far-right unconditional Eurosceptics with the majority of pro-integrationist Europeans. They both share similar attitudes, but at different levels. Both want to exclude individuals from their their relevant territories. The EU acknowledges the importance of open borders within its territory, but why are Europe’s borders closed like those of an impregnable fortress? Why do so many Africans still have to drown in the Mediterranean Sea?

Like their nation-state nationalist counterparts, European nationalists seem to fear the loss of power that accompanies free migration. Open borders -- the free movement of not only of persons but also of goods, capital, and services -- certainly limits power. If individuals can freely choose where to live, work, and hold their money, the power to coerce them through taxation, social security, and other interventions is severely reduced. In this regard, so-called free-trade contracts like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships) with the United States in the end promote not liberty at all, because they provide too many exceptions and privileges. Real free trade does not need any government-sponsored contracts, but only the removal of tariffs and other restrictions on movement of goods, capital, services, and people.

For classical liberals, power is mostly about the size and scope of government institutions. They promote subsidiarity -- solving social and economic problems at the most local level possible -- to avoid the concentration of power. But subsidiarity is not in demand in the EU member states. The rarely articulated hope of some, especially southern Europe member states,seems to be a shift in power over certain issues to one centralized organ, because their respective governments are not able or willing to resolve those issues themselves. This is understandable, but it fails to take into account insurmountable problems arising from centralization, mainly the central authority’s lack of access to crucial and often local knowledge.

How can a central institution know the right means and ends to pursue when dozens of national governments don’t know? Like their national counterparts, the bureaucrats in centralized institutions also lack the right intentions. As Public Choice theory suggests, these bureaucrats may see problems not as matters to be solved, but as justifications for government expansion.

The Euroscepticism of classical liberalism, unlike that of the nation-state nationalists, is not a total rejection of the EU as an institution. It is scepticism about growing power and its likely misuse. Classical liberals advocate that issues be dealt with at the lowest level possible – mostly by individuals freely cooperating among themselves. The EU, however, has perverted this concept of subsidiarity, denying not only individuals but even larger units like states the right and ability to decide for themselves. The EU concentrates more and more power and refuses to give it back to smaller units. Finally, the EU is not accountable for its powers. Democracies can replace bad leaders and policies, but with the EU this opportunity is greatly restricted.

Classical liberals say that the first purpose of governance is protection of individual rights and property. The European Union should focus on exactly this, recognizing human dignity in everyone and not just those lucky enough to be born on its soil. It should protect citizens from their national governments if the people cannot do so themselves and facilitate liberty through the universal application of free movement. Liberty is universal -- so why not repeat Europe's success of free movement and free trade by applying it on global scale?