Articles, English

The Corruption of Cooperation

David Cameron, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, promised to support a referendum deciding on the UK’s future within the European Union if and when he wins the general election in 2015. Politicians across Europe react negatively to Cameron’s speech by citing their support for the Union’s economic, social, and political cooperation. My question to them would be: Why must this cooperation be directed by a centralized power?

The concept of cooperation is misunderstood by many. Cooperation is based on the realization of individual actors that a peaceful and joint venture is beneficial to both parties. Having a leader in this case could arguably be more beneficial but delegating all decision-making powers to one actor hardly seems to be a necessary prerequisite in order to call something cooperative. Yet pro-Europe politicians maintain the opinion that a centralized institution is necessary to foster interdependence. Either this means individuals are too dense to realize the benefits of cooperation or that there is no actual beneficial outcome to be attained. Either way, calling this situation ‘cooperation’ is very troubling.

Supra-national politics is not the only area in life where the meaning of cooperation has been skewed. Apologists for capitalism rightly claim that economies require cooperation between labor and capital. However they continue by saying that owners of capital must receive exclusive decision-making powers to make the cooperation fruitful. The same principle exists in our culture’s view of romantic unions. No matter if you’re gay or straight there is always the question of, “Who wears the pants in this relationship?” We thus arrive at the worrying conclusion that the concept of cooperation has been entirely corrupted by viewing the delegation of authority as a prerequisite for its existence.

Although it is unclear what Cameron’s own opinion on the matter is – whether he would vote to stay in, or get out of, the European Union – it is clear that he dislikes the direction in which the EU is heading. He says, “Put simply, many ask, “Why can’t we simply have what we voted to join; a common market?”” After all, the European Union is based on the European Economic Community, often known as the Common Market by the English-speaking world. If there are benefits to cooperation between governments and individuals across national borders than the only acceptable function of the European Union would be to help governments and individuals realize these benefits.

Of course this whole issue would be irrelevant if there weren’t national economic- and migratory-borders to start with. However, this idea is conveniently left out of the discussion for obvious reasons.

It also brings up another issue of supra-national organizations: whether they eliminate borders or rather expand them? On a related note: Are the anti-EU sentiments of many Europeans a sign of a new anti-authoritarian movement or merely symptoms of fervent nationalism? These are the questions we should really be asking. How about a referendum on them, Mr. Cameron?

Translations for this article:
Portuguese, A Corrupção da Cooperação.

Citations to this article:
Christiaan Elderhorst, The Corruption of Cooperation, Centre for a Stateless Society, 01/25/13
Christiaan Elderhorst, The corruption of cooperation, Dhaka, Bangladesh New Nation, 02/13
Christiaan Elderhorst, EU — The Corruption of Cooperation, Baltic Review, 02/08/13


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