About John McCormick

John McCormick

John McCormick is Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Politics at the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University in the United States.

About This Site

This is a site designed to encourage discussion about the benefits and advantages of the European Union, and to help students using my textbooks on the EU.

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Why is the EU debate so angry?

Not long ago, I was searching for a used copy of a particular book on eBay and happened across a seller who had one available. Clicking on the site for more details, I found that the seller – who lived on the English-Welsh border – was using eBay to share some deeply eurosceptic views.

Setting aside the tactical mistake he was making of losing buyers who might have differed with his views, I thought I would take him up on some of his wilder assertions about the EU. I was polite and reasonable, and asked him only for his sources and his evidence. The exchange quickly turned nasty (on his part), and before I knew it he was calling me a ‘traitor’ to Britain. (I opted not to bid on his book.)

Jump ahead to when I created a Facebook designed to encourage a reasoned and sensible debate about the UK and the EU on my small corner of Facebook. Within just a couple of weeks of the page going live, the profanity filter had kicked in several times, and I have seen pro-Europeans labelled as ‘eurofascists’, ‘anti-democratic extremists’, ‘liars’, and ‘hypocrites’, and have been told that people like me suffer from ‘simian-like intellects’.

We all know how civility in public discourse seems to be on the decline, led on by those ubiquitous internet trolls hiding behind the anonymity of the online names they use to post comments at the end of blogs and online news-stories. But it does seem as though the online debate on the EU seems particularly vitriolic, at least on the English-language sites that I follow.

It also seems that the debate about the EU is particularly prone to the exchange of myths, misconceptions, and unjustified assertions. People are buying into the great Euromyths perpetrated by eurosceptic political parties and their leaders, and they are buying these myths without question, sharing them on social media. I have called many of them out on my Facebook page, and what most have in common has been in inability to respond with much real apparent knowledge to my challenges. “This is the way it is,” they seem to say, “and I don’t feel the need to justify myself or to actually think these arguments through for myself”.

There is a line of thinking in academia that the uninformed citizen can make up for their lack of independent understanding by relying on cues from political parties, media, and leaders. This allows them to act “as if” they are knowledgeable. But what if the knowledge they are accumulating from their usually highly partisan sources is deeply flawed to begin with? This mixture of myth and anger does the debate over the EU no good at all.

8 comments to Why is the EU debate so angry?

  • Trevor Bartlett

    Very well put John. I’m trying to do my bit and challenge the misinformed at every opportunity. I too am on the receiving end of their ‘idiot’ comments (and a lot lot worse). If I use some of your blog above on my Facebook posts do I have to credit it to you? What is the protocol for that?

    • jmccormi

      Thanks Trevor. You’re welcome to use any of the information here. Keep up the good work – this is a cause worth fighting for. I don’t notice the abuse any more. The key thing is to focus on the Undecideds.

  • Gordon Hulbert

    hi John, informative website.

    firstly I have to admit that I’m a deep Euro-sceptic.I have many niggly issues that I attribute to ‘regulation by the EU’ but still want to be as educated as possible. but being the sceptic I am, I hope you’ll not be offended by my question.

    to my understanding, Monnet was one of the architects of the fledgeling EU & I notice your professorship is named after him. (you know what’s coming don’t you :-)). so what exactly does that name denote when linked to your position and how can I be sure that you’re giving impartial information and not promulgating propaganda from the heart of Brussels?

    please excuse the impertinence if you consider it such, I’m genuinely asking with the wish to know and not to cast aspersions.

    Gordon

  • jmccormi

    Thanks Gordon – understandable question, and you’re not the first to ask (although most other questions like this have been criticisms rather than questions). Yes, I receive funding under the EU’s Jean Monnet programme, but it comes with no strings attached in terms of my position on the EU. (I have also received a Fulbright grant from the US government – also no strings attached.) Academics have been known to produce research supporting the positions of the organizations that provide their grant support, but this is very unusual. Having said that, while my books are impartial, my posts here are not.

  • Tim

    Hello John
    Having discovered your site very recently during a burst of google searching, it is with a heavy heart, and much sighing that I read, and agree with your sentiments above.

    Whilst, I have nods of agreement with a general tone that EU reforms are necessary, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water.

    As a remain voter, I am deeply saddened by the Xenophobic rhetoric employed by the leave campaign both in public forum, and through the Murdoch run tabloid press.

    The rise of the right, as we have witnessed both in a political forum, and on our streets through a spike in racially motivated hate crime is of deep, deep concern.

    Many of us are very bruised from this, and will challenge and lobby as hard as we can (it is only advisory at this stage, of course).

    My question to you, with much greater insight than myself is where do you believe the UK heads now ?

    • jmccormi

      Thanks Tim. I am afraid that it is anyone’s guess where the UK heads now. These are uncharted waters, and we are literally witnessing events of a kind we have never seen before. The referendum should never have been held, but it was, and now the UK has a constitutional crisis and is witnessing levels of division and hostility that it has never seen before in its entire history. I believe that we should wait until the party leadership squabbles have settled, then have a general election on the basis of the issue of EU membership, and then have MPs vote in accordance with the outcome of the election. But even this would be fraught with problems. A second referendum is also fraught with problems, and so is respecting the outcome of last week’s referendum, the campaign for which was clearly deeply flawed.

    • I thought I’d have to read a book for a dioscvery like this!

  • Gruff Evans

    Hi John,
    It is nice to see some reasoned debate about these issues. This is my take for what its worth.
    You seem to be suggesting that the decision about whether to remain in the EU or to leave is too important to put in the hands of the ‘uninformed citizen’ (to use your words), and that the referendum should never have been held. Whichever way you look at it, there is a large proportion of the general public who have lost faith in the EU, and who have not had a chance to vote on that specific issue before. The 1975 Referendum was asking people to vote on a very different organisation to the one we see today.
    Implicit in the widely publicised view that the referendum should not have been held, and that EU leaders ‘blame’ David Cameron for allowing it to be held, is that those leaders knew of the level of discontent, and understood that there was a chance that the vote would be to leave. To suggest that the way to deal with that perceived risk should have been to deny voters a say seems undemocratic to say the least.
    I appreciate that it could be argued that the matter could have been put to a public vote during a General Election, but there are so many other domestic issues that impact upon voting patterns during a General Election that it would not have been a fair test of the publics opinion on the specific issue of EU membership.
    Furthermore, even though EU leaders appear to have been aware of the level of discontent, they seemed entirely unprepared to allow any significant reform of the EU, preferring rather to avoid the issue by not asking the question in the first place. Their unseemly haste to try to get the UK to trigger Article 50 for fear of ‘contagion’ would suggest that the views of EU leaders hasn’t changed much as a result of the Referendum and that they are now desperate to avoid further Referendums in other member states. Treating the electorate in this high handed manner is bound to breed discontent and lead to an angrier debate.
    Since the vote to leave, the ‘Remain’ camp appear to have mobilised their forces, (something that they failed to do adequately before the Referendum), and now appear intent on characterising all those that voted ‘Leave’ as uninformed and xenophobic. These tactics, aimed at over 50% of voters, are again bound to lead to an angrier debate, and are very much at odds with the repeated statements made by ‘Remain’ politicians that we should now all be working together for the good of the country. It seems to me that since the Referendum, it is almost entirely supporters of the Remain campaign who appear intent on deepening the rifts in an already divided society. I accept that following the Referendum there have been a few unhelpful comments made by the Leave side – most notably by Nigel Farrage – but these do not represent the views of the vast majority of the 17+ million people that voted to leave, and in general terms the tone of the comments made by those on the Leave side of the argument have been much more measured.
    For those people that voted to leave, it is difficult to have faith in politicians/campaigners who say that we should all now be working together, whilst at the same time they are looking at every possible means of overturning the democratic will of the people. Again this is bound to lead to increased tensions and an angrier debate.

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