Monday, 25 January 2016

Time to stand up to the EU bully

There will be large number of people who approach the whole question of the EU with a sense of apathy.  There will also be a large number who while not really caring for the EU would rather hope we can agree a "reformed" relationship with the EU - the idea of a break-up sounds messy.

David Cameron knows all about these groups - he is relying on them to win the referendum, save his premiership and (he hopes) save the Tory party from self-immolation.  The long-term interests of the UK do not figure in these calculations - Dave's a "here today, gone tomorrow" PR man, not a strategic thinker.

In truth, a year ago I was in the "reform" group.  Sure, I'd never cared for the EU and had long considered it a ridiculous organisation - and I had always expected the Euro to be a disaster (memory of the ERM debacle and an understanding of basic economics and what forms an optimum currency area). But, I thought, we're all friends and allies after all, surely with a bit of give and take we can find a way of rubbing along and working together that suits all parties ?

Since then, everything I have seen, heard, read and investigated has led me to the firm conclusion that it is a fallacy to believe the EU can reform in any meaningful way.  Or that it can accomodate a looser "trade and co-operation" relationship for the UK. Even if I hadn't already come to that conclusion, I suspect an article in The Guardian by Joris Luyendijk would have been sufficient to convince me.

The problem with the UK according to EU federalists

The author lists what he sees as the problems with the UK's approach to the EU :
- "transactional" not  "transformational"
- "economic" not "cultural and political project"
- "country’s national interest"  not "appealing to the European ideal"

But the most telling comment is when the author refers to the UK's "nationalism" - the original sin for federalist true believers.  The EU offers "the promise of freedom from the threat of nationalism", whereas the author complains that the UK public see no need for "a post-national political entity".

Herein we see the fundamental truth of the EU federalist position.  Membership of the EU is not for economic benefit, rather it is to take part in a political project. There can be no thought of national interest, as by definition there can be no national interest in a post-national political entity. The European ideal requires rejection of the idea of the UK as a nation state in favour of the supra-national EU.

UK asking for the wrong concessions apparently

The author demands that the EU do not grant concessions to Cameron's act of "cynical extortion" and laments the missed opportunity for "fundamental reform" to the EU which would benefit all europeans.  He lists 3 examples:

1) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  According to Joris, Cameron should have insisted on a comprehensive overhaul of this disastrous policy - as if the UK has not sought reform of this policy in the last 40+ years. In 2005, Tony Blair sacrificed a good portion of the UK's rebate for a vague promise of future CAP reform.  The CAP has now become even more bureaucratic, with the result that the UK is now paying more fines to the EU because of incorrect paperwork associated with CAP.

2) Salaries, Expenses & Corruption. UK eurosceptics have regularly criticised the EU's scandalous record in this area (the EU's accounts have not been signed off for over 20 years). The EU's treatment of whistle-blowers (Bernard Connolly, Paul Van Buitenen, Marta AndreasenHans Martin Tillack) hardly inspires confidence that the EU is willing to embrace reform in this area.

3) The expensive and wasteful practice of Moving the EU parliament back and forth between Strasbourg and Brussels.  In 1992, France lobbied to maintain a two-centre operation and succeeded in securing a new (no expense spared) building at Strasbourg. In 2013, the EU parliament voted to scrap its second HQ in Strasbourg, but the French Government retain a veto on this action. In August 2015, an MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists group (AECR) proposed using the European Parliament’s rarely used Strasbourg building as a temporary refugee center.

Joris writes that "a child can see that the EU needs fundamental reform" and then demonstrates his own lack of vision. His suggestions are all examples of an EU that is bloated and unaccountable, but are of peripheral concern. The big concerns are democratic consent and the role of nation states, for example as discussed in the AECR groups Reykjavik Declaration.  Regrettably, even Joris's peripheral reforms appear un-achievable, let alone anything more meaningful.

Intimidation & Threats

Nevertheless, Joris admits Brexit would be a disaster for the failing EU empire. To avoid this scenario, he argues that the EU should use their size "we would strangle or crush the English ... the way any group of nations comprising 450 million people would to an opponent eight times smaller"  and threats "the best way forward for Europe is to threaten to hit the English as hard as we can". He proposes a number of ways Brussels can talk up fear ahead of the Referendum, all of which prove to be idle threats on examination:

Foreign & Defence: The UK should be isolated and its influence with the US (as its "poodle") diminished.  Joris concedes that an independent UK will continued NATO membership. Moreover, he fails to mention Article 34 of the Lisbon Treaty, which means that currently the UK is subordinate to the EU's position in the UN Security Council and all international forums. In practice, the UK is a Brussels mouthpiece rather than a US poodle.

Scotland: The EU should aim to break-up a post-Brexit UK by making a tempting offer to post-Brexit Holyrood.  A non-starter given that the EU will not offer terms that are an improvement on any current members terms. And an insult to suggest UK/Scottish democratic consent can be bought so cheaply.

Industry & Finance: The EU should "repatriate" finance, multi-national HQ's from London and the UK-based Japanese car industry should be relocated to Greece (seriously !).  Except that we had the same "sky will fall" tales of woe sold to us in 2002 during the campaign for the UK to join the Euro.  In hindsight, the UK's decision not to join the Euro looks like one of the UK's best decisions of the last 70 years.

Lack of Democratic Consent

Of course, this dismissive and intimidatory attitude to democratic consent is nothing new for the EU or its supporters. The installation of unelected technocrats in Italy & Greece during the Euro crisis in 2011. The disregard for the No votes in French & Dutch Referenda on the EU constitution subsequently re-branded as the Lisbon treaty and implemented without referenda.  The numerous occasions where No votes in referenda were rejected until the voters produced the right result. 

An illuminating story is told by the journalist Christopher Booker. In 2008, the Lisbon treaty was undergoing ratification and then Czech President Vaclav Klaus was subjected to a verbal onslaught by a visiting delegate of EU MEP's headed by Daniel Cohn-Bendit (a student agitator in the 1968 Paris riots). The normally genial Klaus, a distinguished academic economist and noted cold war dissident, remarked "I must say that no one has talked to me in such a style and tone in the past six years. You are not on the barricades in Paris here. I thought that such manners ended for us 19 years ago" (i.e. when Communism fell).

The most recent example is the EU's treatment of Greece. Following the election victory of the Syrizia party in 2015, unelected EU officials displayed a worrying disregard for the Greek peoples democratic choice. Jean-Claude Juncker remarked "There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties", the latest in a long list of Juncker quotes that undermine democracy.  The crisis came to a head with the Referendum rejection of the proposed austerity measures, subsequent "water-boarding" of Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and imposition of even harsher terms.

Some will argue that the EU had no choice over the Greek euro crisis.  It is undeniable that the Greek economy is in desperate need of reforms, not least its ramshackle and corrupt tax collection and public services. But the EU chose not to allow Greece to default on its Euro debt in 2010, in order to transfer the liability from private (mostly french & german) banks to the Greek tax-payer.  Prior to that, the EU had chosen to approve Euro entry for the unreformed Greek economy, based on some extremely dodgy accounting undertaken by Goldman-Sachs.  The very same Goldman Sachs who recently donated funds to the BSE (Britain Stronger in Europe) campaign - these bankers know which side their bread is buttered.

The Greek euro crisis is better understood as a power-play by the EU.  The European Central Bank actually shut down the money supply to Greece around the time of the Referendum crisis, an action that is incompatible with its role as Europe's "lender of last resort".  (Parallels can be drawn with the Euro crisis in 2010-11 when the ECB threatened Ireland). The 2015 crisis achieved the desired result of neutering the Syrizia government who had challenged the EU. As if to confirm Greece's status as vassal state, the EU may seal Greece's border with non-EU Macedonia trapping tens of thousands of migrants inside Greece.

Across the continent, global corporations and mainstream political parties form an establishment elite in support of a faceless EU semi-superstate. Filling the democratic vacuum is a more extreme and nationalist politics supposed to have been made redundant by the EU. The explicitly neo-Nazi and fascist "Golden Dawn" took 3rd place in the Greek elections of September 2015.  Such is the cost of the EU's democratic deficit.

The Bullying EU empire 

Nor is the EU's bullying limited to Europe, as Africa can attest.  Having brought catastrophe to the UK's fishing waters, the EU's predatory fishing practices are also devastating the African fishing economy, causing mass economic migration from West Africa to Europe.  Similarly, the EU's trade policy is severely impacting Africa's agriculture and their ability to develop their economies.  In Oct 2014 the EU imposed a tariffs on Kenyan cut flowers to "persuade" a reluctant Kenyan government to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) trade deal, which means underdeveloped East African economies have to try to compete directly with Germany.

It's a similar story at WTO level, where negotiations on the Doha round continue to falter on the EU's (and US's) protectionist approach to agriculture.  I guess this is what meant by the EU's negotiating "clout" - in practice it means a big bloc bullying smaller, less developed states.  An independent UK would be free to strike its own trade deals and would also regain its voice and vote at the WTO and other international bodies governing trade - providing the potential to develop a trade policy that is fair and allows African economies to develop.  This should particularly apply to commonwealth countries and former colonies like Kenya.  As an additional bonus, this would help mitigate some of the African economic emigration issues we have seen.

Time to stand up to the EU bully

Joris's article provides insight into the mindset of the EU and its supporters. It is clear that since the aim is to create a "post-national entity",  there can be no UK national interest in EU membership. Entirely the reverse in fact, the EU needs the UK (the worlds 5th largest economy, 4th largest military power, global leader in "soft-power") to add to its own strength.  Whenever you hear pro-EU campaigners talking about "UK's voice magnified" and "greater heft, clout" they are really talking about the EU becoming powerful by absorbing the power and strength of nation states. As the EU empire grows, the member states must by definition diminish and ultimately be dissolved.

The EU empire has grown without democratic consent and governs in the same fashion.  Political disillusion and disengagement are widespread, and a more disturbing form of politics is on the rise. Rather than bringing prosperity, it has devastated the economies of much of Europe, leaving a terrible legacy of unemployment and despair for the next generation.  Rather than providing security, the continent has not felt a less secure place in my lifetime.

Yet still "the project" continues on the same path. Whatever the problem, the answer must always be "more Europe".  There is no prospect of meaningful reform or concessions.

But there is hope.  The public are forcing referenda and debate across the EU.  The Danes recently rejected an "opt-in" to certain European Union police and justice policies.  The Netherlands will hold a referendum on the EU association agreement with Ukraine. The Finnish public raised a petition to force parliament to discuss ending Euro membership (which has tipped Finland into recession). Dutch voters raised a petition to force the lower house to debate Euro membership. Over 260,000 Austrians signed a petition forcing their parliament to debate a referendum to leave the EU.  But of course the main event will be the UK Referendum.

It is noteworthy that all the mainstream political parties and the establishment elite (CBI, BBC etc) are firmly in the Remain camp. If you are entirely happy with the current political establishment in the UK and across Europe and have no concern as to whether the UK is a self-governing state, then by all means vote Remain. By contrast, Brexit would break the current cosy establishment consensus and is the one event that can turn the tide decisively against the failing EU empire- to provide hope for a new Europe based on trade, co-operation, self-government and democratic consent. Beyond Europe, the opportunity to play a liberating role beckons : break the logjam provided by the current big trade blocs and revitalise world trade;  pursue a joined up foreign, trade and development aid policies; provide fair trade and development to developing nations.

The EU empire is a bully, using its size and strength to bully states in Europe and beyond.  We can be sure that threats, intimidation and fear will be the order of the day during the Referendum campaign.

It is time to stand up to the EU bully.  Liberty, democracy and self-government are at stake.

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