In this week’s edition of The Economist their Europe correspondent, Charlemagne, points up some of the objections to the EU and puts a rosy spin on changes that he says are taking place. He remains within the corporate fold (Remain) but seeks to offer comfort instead of the fear that pervades most recent articles on the subject. In this post we pick up the discussion and offer a less rosy interpretation of the issues he raises.
As we write, opinion polls have swung a little towards Brexit. Bookmakers are still odds-on for Remain.
“The prospect of Brexit, which to the panjandrums of the EU was always such a patent absurdity that it could never come to pass, has suddenly roared into plain view. “We’re reaching the point of no return,” says one diplomat.”
The ‘panjandrums’ are so focused on their ideology, and detached from the views of ordinary people – otherwise disdained as ‘voters’ – that they cannot see why anyone should object to their plans; or, if anyone does object, why they should take any notice. If British voters favour Brexit next week then senior eurocrats will have to think a bit.
“Even Jean-Claude Juncker … a dyed-in-the-wool federalist, admits that the EU has become a meddlesome presence in the lives of its citizens.”
“Britain’s is not the only European ruling class to have been shocked by a jolt of populist rage. Governments in Denmark and the Netherlands have lately lost referendums on EU matters … recent polls show anti-EU sentiment growing all over Europe.”
The reference to “ruling class” here is interesting. Why do these classes in so many member countries support the EU and want Britain to remain? There may be sound reasons but here are three unsound ones: the EU relieves the ruling classes of some burdens, it gives them a reliable target for blame, and on retirement – or being dumped by voters – they can pitch for lucrative second careers as eurocrats.
“A Brexit might not lead to a cascade of membership referendums, but it would be a huge fillip to anti-EU forces elsewhere, not least by demonstrating that membership is reversible. (This is one reason why other EU countries would offer Britain a lousy trade deal if it votes to leave.)“
This raises two issues. First, membership of the EU may be the only term of the Lisbon Treaty that is reversible. Recall that when the Danes, the French and the Irish voted the wrong way they were instructed to do it again until they got it right. ‘Progress’ was not to be reversed by mere voters.
Second, it is of course possible that the ‘panjandrums’ will wish to soothe their bruises by sticking the Brits with “a lousy trade deal”. This would be consistent with their high-handed but poor political skills. Soothing their bruised egos in this way would bruise many businesses and many more voting citizens, thus hastening the end of the EU, a feat most likely to be achieved by those in charge.
“… the federalists’ strength has always been exaggerated, especially in Britain. The history of the EU is not, as supporters and detractors sometimes suggest, a Whiggish march towards ever-closer union, marked by a steady accretion of powers and a withering of the nation-state.”
Well, that’s a relief then. Except that he seems to deny his comforting conclusion. “… the EU’s integration has proceeded in fits and starts … The great push came in the 1980s … ” But then he flips back: “in recent years, as the EU has become largely a crisis-management forum, power has flowed back from Brussels institutions to national governments“
The author doesn’t say where he gets this notion of a reverse flow of power from; he certainly provides no evidence and the EU is designed, through its treaties, to prevent such reversals. More realistically, he avoids claiming that the machine is reformable, though he wants us to believe that it is; indeed he surely wants to believe it himself.
“The EU’s legislative machinery has largely been halted during the referendum campaign, lest it rouse Britain’s fearsome tabloids to anger over kettle regulation or another matter of vital national interest. It will soon kick back into gear, but at nothing like the pace of previous eras. Sometimes lost in the Brexit debate is the fact that the EU simply does a lot less these days.”
The legislative machinery has not been reformed then, just paused for political expediency. The sarcastic link between kettle regulation and vital national interest misses the point that even Jean-Claude seems to get: “… the EU has become a meddlesome presence in the lives of its citizens.” While minor regulations do not much effect any national interest, the irredeemable urge to meddle does just that. What pervades the whole edifice and is, perhaps, only recently being rattled, is the arrogant assumption that the eurocrats are needed to meddle in such trivia because national governments and their citizens are unable to manage these issues for themselves.
“Britain is not in the euro, and has little to do with EU migration policy. But the rest of Europe faces a conundrum: to prevent crises, it needs more of the centralisation that Eurosceptics hate.”
The author has swallowed uncritically the whole poisonous ideology. It’s worth repeating: “… to prevent crises, it needs more … centralisation“
However, “The layers of dust grow thicker on last year’s Five Presidents’ Report, a stalled road map for euro-zone integration.” But the Report remains the road map, which hasn’t been modified let alone abandoned, just “stalled” while there is a pause for some voters to make a tiresome noise.
Crises have been managed in Europe, often not very well, for generations. Crises now are as often created by the EU – and particularly the EMU. And the EU is unable to prevent those it hasn’t caused; witness last year’s migration, youth unemployment, the resurgent right, the antagonism of so many of its citizens who do not experience the benefits they have been told to applaud.
Of course these crises are the faults of the member states, which are not moving fast enough towards a proper union: “On migration, last year’s drama exposed the weakness of a borderless space with wildly varying asylum policies. … in time the EU will have to integrate its asylum policies … To see off the next crisis, the train of integration will have to keep moving. “
This is the real agenda for those, in Britain and elsewhere, who wish the EU to continue as-is.
Crisis management. First create a crisis and then fail to manage it. It remains a challenge to understand why so many people cannot see how and why the EU is failing. Failure results from its founding ideology and reform is prevented by design.