The Greek MEP, Stelios Kouloglou, insists that the EU’s Brexit negotiators must raise the issue of the return of the “Elgin Marbles” to the Parthenon. This has concerned Greek politicians for many years but regardless of whether the case is justified it is not related to EU membership. Member states should not link irrelevant issues to the negotiations, it is childish to do so.
We have already seen this with Spanish claims to Gibraltar and the EU has taken sides against Britain by giving Spain a veto over any exit agreement. It never took sides before the UK’s betrayal by seeking to leave the Union. The point we make here is not whether the Spanish claim is legitimate but that it is clearly unrelated to membership or Brussels would have been involved before now.
The Irish leader (Taoiseach) has expressed his impatience with Westminster regarding the border with Northern Ireland. This is at least relevant to negotiations and the EU has made it a top priority. Mr Varadkar would like any customs border to be the Irish Sea and we wonder whether this is a stealthy method of furthering the cause of Ireland’s unification (absorbing Northern Ireland into the Republic). He dismisses the practicality of electronic controls at the land border (they seem to work elsewhere, such as between Canada and the USA). He would surely do better to respect our decision to leave and argue with his own side for a solution that does not harm his country’s vital interests. Hold-ups at Britain’s Irish Sea ports would delay transport of its exports to the Continent, most of which travel by UK roads; agricultural exports would be especially harmed. We’re not the ones trying to make things difficult, we just want freedom and democracy. EU punishment is the problem the Taoiseach should try to prevent.
All this reinforces our view that the EU is terminally fragile. Member states will continue to take every opportunity to pursue their own interests, disregarding any ‘community ethos’ when it suits them. Self-interest is a given, the community is nice to talk about in between. Political union is a daydream too far.
The Polish Question
The Polish government has resolved to change the method of appointment of judges. This is seen as a threat to democracy, not only by many Poles but also by the EU. The EU has argued that the proposed new legislation breaches the commitment that Poland gave when it joined the Union. In response it has threatened to invoke Article 7 and its sanction procedures if the government of Poland fails to address the concerns raised by the proposed judicial reforms.
Perhaps predictably, the response of the Polish government is that the EU does not have the right to interfere in the internal matters of a member state, which remain a national ‘competence’, they argue.
As part of its response the Polish government has raised an old issue of its claims for war-reparations from Germany. The Polish defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, said recently that Nazi Germany killed more than 200,000 Polish civilians in the Warsaw uprising, in an act of genocide and that “the only thing the Germans can do in this case is try to … repay their terrible debt to the Polish nation.” The Law and Justice party chief, and ‘power-behind-the-throne’ (or at least behind the prime minister), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said that the “Polish government is preparing itself for a historical counter offensive.”
There also appears to be a personal vendetta by Kaczynski against Donald Tusk, currently President of the European Council and a former prime minister of Poland, whom Kaczynski accuses of colluding with Russia to cause the air crash in 2010 in which his twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, was killed.
After a day answering questions about his role in the crash, Tusk spoke about the direction in which Poland is heading, saying “The fact that a European tribunal decision is rejected so arrogantly is evidence of something very dangerous in my opinion – it is an overt attempt to put Poland in conflict with the European Union … It smells like an introduction to an announcement that Poland does not need the European Union and that Poland is not needed for the EU. I’m afraid that we are closer to that moment.”
The EU could fine Poland for refusing to accept asylum seekers from Greece or Italy despite the binding allocation of refugee quotas imposed by the EU.
Adding these issues to the government’s refusal to obey an ECJ order to stop logging in the primeval Bialowierza forest, which could also be grounds for the EU to implement sanctions, and the row over the proposed NordStream 2 gas pipeline that Russia and Germany are in favour of despite objections from Poland and other east European states, and we can see that much sticking plaster will be needed to cover just these cracks in the Union.
The EU is in a double-bind; if it enforces its proposed sanctions the Polish government will surely refuse to cooperate, and if it fails to take action in response to the affront to Polish democracy then it will weaken still further its poor reputation for creating the circumstances in which ever-closer-union can flourish, with its expectation of conformity to a common standard.
Not Only … But Also
Other East-West and North-South issues remain unresolved, adding to the uncertainty of the Union’s future.
The biggest of these is the dramatic, economic disparity between North and South plus differences about how to resolve them, including bank bail-outs and debt sharing. There is also the problem of the migrant crisis affecting North, South, East and West with fences erected at borders across the free-travel (Shengen) area.
And finally, the relative under-performance of the area’s economies (except for Germany’s and a few other Northern countries’) is creating disillusion and discontent amongst the people.
All these factors will put increasing pressure on the Council’s members (the heads of national governments) to change things so that the Union works better for everyone. If they accept and implement change it may survive and become a union Britain would never have voted to leave (and could perhaps rejoin). If not we expect decay and disintegration.
Most of these fragilities arise from the unresolvable tension between the underlying ideology of the EU, and its irresistible pursuit of ever closer union, and the needs, desires and expectations of member states, which are independent, of and unrelated to, the dominant ideology. Were it made explicit and not shrouded in deceitful veils, the gradual and harmful accumulation of irreversible supra-national powers would meet much greater resistance from citizens and even from otherwise supportive national governments, which after all have to tender to the expectations of their electorates.
We do not expect the EU to undertake a review of its ideology let alone engage in fundamental reforms that might resolve the fragility of the project. So, we expect decay and eventual disintegration.