On Thursday November 9 Michel Barnier, lead Brexit negotiator for the EU, gave a speech at a conference in Rome. He spoke in French so we rely on the translated text, which can be found among the European Commission’s press releases, here.
Much of the speech is bland and unexceptionable (unless you are annoyed, as we are, by the stream of bluster and propaganda). However, some of Barnier’s comments reveal more clearly than ever the fixed position the EU has adopted through its mandate to its negotiating team, and the historical and ideological basis for the mandate.
We find confirmation, again, that what is going on in Brussels is not a negotiation at all but a game – a political game with high stakes for both sides. So far the EU is winning the propaganda game; it has persuaded most commentators that the UK is not putting forward concrete proposals and is delaying resolution. We see things differently. We see a stubborn fixation on its mandate on one side and a poorly presented negotiating position on the other. The content of the discussions so far is less important than the impression the surrounding commentary gives and how it is received. Both sides are playing as hard as they can. We can think of it as a war game; the EU is attacking as the best form of defence against the threat to its stability and the realisation of its Plan. The UK is defending in the hope of escaping but has a secondary war game on the Home Front. The EU is winning the propaganda battle hands-down.
In summary, the EU’s mode of play, having stated what it wants from the UK, is to repeat endlessly that the UK is not negotiating seriously, by which they mean that the UK has not caved in and swallowed the mandate whole. The first part has been accepted uncritically by too many, while the second part, the true objective, is neglected. Meanwhile the UK side is playing a feeble propaganda game, repeating the same vacuous slogans and so, understandably, losing the game of perceptions. Which leaves the rest of us guessing how Brexit will turn out and getting more depressed by the day.
“Europe woke up on 24 June 2016 with a sense of disbelief. We could hardly believe that the British people had decided, in a sovereign vote, to put an end to 44 years of common history.”
The sales-pitch slogan of a “common history” doesn’t unpack well. The British have been a prickly annoyance since we joined, offering a half-hearted commitment at best and as often as not seeking to block or overturn much that is fundamental to EU thinking and planning.
“Very quickly, following the British referendum, Europeans expressed their desire to continue to move forward together. …we saw a display of solidarity between the peoples of Europe…”
“Europeans”, the tiresome shorthand for some EU citizens (perhaps we should call them EUropeans, by which we really mean the EU elites and those carefully selected to express acceptable opinions), were not consulted on moving forward; they certainly were not invited to express their desires, for the good reason that for the most part they don’t desire more union. This is propaganda, too readily swallowed uncritically by too many.
“Paradoxically, Brexit has also united the 27. … Our unity is of vital importance for the success of these negotiations. It is important for the 27. And it is important for the UK.”
I don’t think he wants us to believe that “Europeans” were not united before the referendum (though there may be an unintended hint of that here); he’s just repeating the unity mantra in different words. Certainly the EU needs to continue to demand unity – and to declare that it exists. Does “it is important for the UK” imply that unless we conform to their mandate some ‘rogue’ member may use its veto to quash any potential settlement? Another threat perhaps, wrapped in soft words. They are very good at this.
“Our unity…is what allows us to insist on three key elements for the conclusion of an ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom.”
Both sides play the “ambitious” and “partnership” cards frequently, among others. It’s just that the EU does this better. They are not behaving like potential partners but as adversaries.
“When the moment arrives for the separation that the British have chosen, we must guarantee the rights of European citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU. We must fulfil our duty to our taxpayers. And we must find a way of maintaining stability and dialogue in Ireland. Trust between the British and the Union depends on it. And trust is absolutely essential.”
Another skilful play this one. Simplified like this both sides agreed long ago. By deleting the details of their mandate the EU has succeeded in getting commentators to believe that the UK doesn’t agree. What is true is the UK has not agreed to the specific details in the mandate but has offered alternatives. And failed to counter, or at least to challenge, the insidious propaganda.
“Time is running out. … the time for genuine clarifications is fast approaching.”
The pressure play, or one of them. And if the EU sticks to its mandate then time will run out before an agreement is reached, since the only agreement acceptable to the EU is full conformance to their mandate. He, and others, have repeated this truism so often that “genuine clarifications” is to be taken as a criticism of the British position, without needing to spell this out any longer. The EU ‘genuinely clarified’ its mandate long ago, as it sees it, and since then has persuaded even intelligent people that it is negotiating.
“It is not possible to end the free movement of persons, while retaining the free movement of goods, services or capital … It is not possible to leave the single market and continue to set the rules. … It is not possible to leave the customs union but expect to enjoy frictionless trade with the EU.”
See The Famous Four for our take on the first one. Note the familiar sleight of hand in “continue to set the rules”, as if Britain was ever allowed to set the rules. And the last part tells us that the expectation of a good trade agreement with the EU, in due course, is just wishful thinking. When he says “it is not possible” he really means it is not ‘permissible’ but wishes to pretend the EU has no choice. This is deliberate obfuscation: of course it is possible, they just have to permit it.
“…there will be no future partnership without common rules. There will be no close trade links without a level playing field.”
The EU has lots of partnerships with countries that are not members, they just need to negotiate an appropriate one with the UK. What he means is that we are to be blackballed if we don’t submit. No doubt “a level playing field” hints at the proposed extension of qualified majority voting, through which the EU will extend its power, for example, by seeking to prevent the UK, or any remaining member, using a favourable tax regime competitively. Endlessly repeating such clichés exemplifies the propaganda skills the EU brings to the table. Who could argue with a level playing field, except someone who troubles to understand what the phrase covers.
“And when I hear the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in London, call on the British to move away from Europe in order to move closer towards others – towards less environmental, health and food regulation, and no doubt financial, tax and social regulation too – I have my doubts.”
He wants us to believe – and many will – that moving “closer towards others” means moving down or back. This interpretation has the double virtue of indicting Britain and burnishing EU propaganda. We will need a trade agreement with the USA quickly, if possible. We must be careful to base our own regulations on evidence. So, for example, GM and chlorine-washed chicken scares could ruin a deal; these need to be assessed on the basis of valid and reliable evidence.
“…we will not allow this regulatory framework to be undermined, along with the rights that it brings for citizens, for consumers, for the environment, for business, for communities. We care about it and we will defend it.”
The EU’s regulatory framework brings rights, and we are expected to believe that these rights bring growth, prosperity and jobs. Experience shows us that EU ‘rights’ don’t deliver such benefits.
“Of course, the UK will still be a European country. But it is for the British to tell us if they are going to adhere to the European model. Their reply is important because it will shape the discussion on our future partnership and the conditions for ratification of that partnership.”
Another sleight of hand. By “the European model” (he should say the EU model) he is obliquely referring to the whole edifice of the acquis communautaire, which the UK will free itself from by Brexit. The implication, the threat if you prefer, is that the UK will not get a ‘partnership’ unless it continues to conform, or “adhere”, to the ‘model’. And accepts being overruled by the European Court of Justice whenever the EU wishes. If that were to be accepted, in what sense would it be Brexit?
“For each nation and each individual the question is: do we want to discuss these matters together, united, or do we want to tackle them separately, each of us in our own corner, and everyone for themselves?”
A rhetorical question used to bolster ‘unity’, by which they mean subservience to the greater power. He confuses unity with unification, deliberately.
“Why should this ambition, this pride in being together, this willingness to act in the present, this capacity to influence the course of events, why should all this be reserved for Americans? …without the requisite ‘critical mass’, nobody will respect us. This is what Spinelli, De Gasperi, Adenauer, Schuman and Monnet, and many other statesmen understood already 60 years ago. Europe has that ‘critical mass’ to meet the challenges of today and to project its values and its interests into the world of tomorrow.”
The federal agenda was devised, promoted (quietly) and delivered by these and other authors. They “understood” (we may not agree with them) that a competing collection of small nations could not achieve much on the international stage. On this understanding it was, and remains, necessary to override and subdue national instincts with a superior power. Small nations such as Switzerland and Norway have not diminished their world influence by remaining outside the EU but the UK has diminished its role significantly by having to conform to the constraints of EU regulations.
“To continue to strengthen Economic and Monetary Union. By turning the European stability mechanism into a real European monetary fund. And by one day creating the post of European Minister for Economic and Financial Affairs…”
“To build, alongside the Banking Union, a true capital markets union which will prove that the Union has the skills, funds and structures to remain a leading financial centre after the departure of the City.”
“To continue to build a common European defence … In June the European Commission proposed a European defence fund and permanent structured cooperation.”
These are three from a list of eight examples of “what needs to change in Brussels”. Oddly these are not truly changes, except in the sense that what is needed is more of the same. The common defence is relatively new but all three reinforce the Plan for ever closer union. He uses the word ‘reform’ in only one of his bullet points and that is to “reform and to correct certain Directives”; he doesn’t say which, let alone why and what might be achieved. But he has taken care to leave an impression, in impressionable minds, that he is in favour of reform. These three in particular are exactly what the UK doesn’t want to participate in. He shows clearly that as long as we remain in the EU that our goals will be overridden.
“These projects, among others, show that Europe is able to adapt, to reform itself, to move forward as a whole continent where nations have voluntarily chosen to share their destiny and certain policies. But to share is not to merge. We want a united, not a uniform Europe.”
Uniformity across the whole continent is exactly what they want; that remains their ambition. What he means by ‘reform’ is that member states should continue their path to full Union. That isn’t what most of us mean when we ask the EU to reform. We could be amused by the strange contrast between “destiny and certain policies”. It’s almost as if he can’t quite bring himself to maintain a sufficiently high pitch of rhetoric. But any amusement fades when we note that by “share” he means give up to a higher authority. But EU leaders know that if they repeat these fabrications often enough we will all be suckered into believing them. Well, not quite all of us.
“We need to continue on this path without losing sight of the essential thing: the future of the Union, which is much more important than Brexit.”
This is undeniable: the Plan for the future of the Union is “the essential thing”. Nothing matches its importance [to a EUropean].