Posts Tagged ‘Brussels’

Oh hear us

June 23, 2016

There is something rotten in Europe. As Brits go to the polls today, it is worth bearing that in mind.

With Remain having taken the lead (by between 2 and 8 percentage points, depending on which poll you look at), and an estimated 10% still in the undecided camp, it looks exceeding unlikely that Brits are now going to vote to leave the EU. Most of those who have not yet made up their mind will probably be swayed by the status-quo.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is such a vociferously strong anti-EU voice in Europe. We’ve always had this, ever since we signed up to the single market. It’s in our ethnic make-up. Like Belgians have their strikes. Or Germans have their sauerkraut.

But it is so surprising that Leave came so close to pulling us out of the EU with such a lousy campaign. This isn’t a crazy lunatic movement that doesn’t like the black fella, as some in the Remain camp constantly insinuate. This is a disparate movement of people that have some very real grievances with how the EU is run.

I think that few who have written about the EU would think that everything is hunkydory in the glitzy corridors of Brussels bureaucracy. Over the past months, I have spoken to many people with first-hand experience of the Brussels apparatus who think it is an utter shambles.

So which way are they voting?

In, of course – because they just can’t think of a good enough reason for voting the other way. Because one hasn’t been presented to them.

But, faced with such moderate thinking and a rather shambolic campaign, it says a lot that Leave seem to have come so close.

So if, as I strongly suspect, we vote to remain within the EU, some really tough action is required in Brussels to convince the British that what they voted for was the right thing. And we are not talking about another hastily put-together David Cameron whistle-stop tour of the European capitals. We need real change.

And that real change needs to start with a scaling back of Brussels intervention, a better reliance on the free market economy and an acknowledgement that there are certain powers Brussels does not have to sink its claws in for the single market to work.

And perhaps above all the EU needs to start engaging better with its citizens. Not this half-hearted campaign of misinformation and propaganda, but a real engagement to explain exactly what the EU is. Because what has emerged during this campaign – talking to people about it, reading comments on my Facebook feed and Twitter, tuning into the occasional debates – is that people still don’t seem to get the EU.

And for this to take hold, the EU needs to drop its veil of arrogance and deceit. The EU did not end wars in Europe. The EU is not irreplaceable. And the EU is most certainly not infallible.

Of course, I don’t think any of these changes are actually going to take hold – and indeed we may find ourselves in a situation where the political elite want to bind European nations into an even more tightly-knit bloc, so those pesky Brits can’t hold an entire continent to ransom again.

But if the EU don’t listen to what the British are trying to say – and I mean really listen – then this problem is never going to go away.


The case for out

December 17, 2013

You’d have thought that bashing the EU these days was a pretty easy thing to do and yet eurosceptics still manage to cock it up.

Over the past 40 years of die-hard eurosceptism, surely those making the case for pulling the UK out of this project would have learnt to say the right things. But it appears sometimes as though really they don’t realise that a) membership of the EU is a rather emotive subject, b) Brits aren’t as daft as the oft-espoused propaganda seems to suggest and c) that it’s a good idea to engage brain before activating voice.

I don’t feel it fair to name drop here. There are some very rational eurosceptics, and there are some pretty daft ones. Unfortunately, I feel that it is the daft ones that get most of the air waves.

Not long ago, I heard a prominent eurosceptic praise the “bravery” of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan for precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was of course using this argument to dispel the nonsensical notion that the EU was in some way responsible for this. But even before his words had stopped ricocheting around the auditorium, the come-back was obvious: Really? It was the bravery of Thatcher and Reagan? How about the bravery and tenacity of the East German people?

Of course, it was the europhile making this point that got all the cheers and the eurosceptic, whilst the logic underpinning his poorly-made comment was sound, looked rather foolish.

If this is the strength of eurosceptic argument, then Brussels has nothing to worry about. Hell, we’re definitely going to be staying in the EU.

There is a conspiracy theory that suggests that the reason the UK Independence Party is enjoying so much air time on the BBC, and so many column inches in pro-European papers, is because if this is all the British people hear, then they’re going to certainly vote with the stay-in-the-EU crowd. Listening to some of the eurosceptic viewpoints at the moment, this theory doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Just for the record, I am of the view that the UK should leave the EU. I used to be of the opinion that we should try and reshape the EU into something more democratic and less autocratic. But having closely followed European politics for the past 13 years, including five years in Brussels, I’ve come to the conclusion that this simply won’t work.

But it’s totally crazy to entertain the notion that nothing comes after Brussels. This is a point that eurosceptics must be making far more loudly than they are, and not allow the pro-European camp to falsely imply that we could be leaping into some sort of void with catastrophic consequences.

Thank God that we never subscribed to the euro, otherwise things could be far messier. (It’s true that many contracts by European companies are now written in euros, but that’s not going to change whether we’re a member of the bloc of not).

It’s crazy to suggest that, should we leave the EU, our European partners, are going to storm off in a hissy fit and not want to speak to us. We have a population of nearly 65 million. That’s a mighty lot of BMWs that the Germans can sell to us.

Nor do I think leaving the EU means that we have to close our doors to immigrants, which, despite what UKIP might tell you, have done us the world of good. It just means that we can let them come on our terms. Which is: come here, work, contribute to our GDP. Don’t live in the woods hunting our swans.

The UK may be a mere shadow of its former self, but it is still a formidable economy and the ridiculous idea that we suddenly couldn’t survive without Brussels, that we would suddenly be ostracised and treated as a leper, is laughable and should be countered, with all the might of the eurosceptic lobby.

Ten years ago, europhiles were insisting quite strongly that we should join the euro, even though some fairly prominent economists, both pro- and anti-EU, were pointing out some of the fundamental flaws in the project, which have still not been overcome (largely because politics and economics do not see eye-to-eye).

Over the past few years, sterling has done remarkably well in a sea of euro turbulence. It has fallen significantly over the 10 years, but that is only because Gordon Brown allowed it to over-inflate in the first place.

The British pound is one of the most-traded currencies in the world, largely thanks incidentally to our global financial services industry, which Brussels actually wants to curtail (as an aside, the socialist in me does still have reservations about how the British financial services industry is regulated, but that’s a separate issue and should be up for us to decide anyway). So, whilst Denmark, who also managed to keep its currency, has had to peg it to the euro to ensure stability, we haven’t had to. Doesn’t that suggest our comparative strength?

These are the kinds of arguments that the eurosceptics should be shouting from the rooftops.

So why am I only hearing them whispered in the shadows? Why are they being crowded out by all the other nonsensical eurosceptic rhetoric that crosses the air waves?

A very British eurosceptic

March 14, 2010

There are very few things as galling as being at a party and being reminded, by way of introduction, about a negative stereotype from your country as though it automatically applies to you.

If you happen to meet a woman from Naples, talk about where pizza comes from, don’t talk about the mafia.

If you meet someone from Germany, talk about sausages and beer, not the Nazis.

If you meet Russians, talk about the finest vodka, not the intricacies of assassinating enemies with rare radioactive substances.

If you meet someone from Belgium, talk about moules frites rather than how the only ever famous person they’ve produced in the last 50 years prefers Hollywood to the Manekin Pis.

If you meet… well, you get the idea.

So, if you meet someone from the UK, try to avoid asking the question: “so how come, in a nation of highly educated people, so many are against the EU?” As though being against the EU is in anyway synonymous with stupidity.

It is particularly frustrating to have such a conversation with someone who refuses to see that there may actually be flaws in the European project, and that being against the EU is an intellectually justifiable position. The problem is that the British press rarely seem to make such intellectual arguments – focusing on the push to prohibit bendy bananas and such like.

So, for all die-hard federalists out there, who I may one day meet at a party, if you have to broach the subject of British eurosceptism, here is a very quick summary of why the thinking men of Britain might be slightly wary of further EU integration.

First of all, it is actually much harder to make an argument against the EU than for it. The moment one starts speaking against the EU, one is branded a nationalist. Or possibly a fascist.

But the point with most sensible eurosceptics – and there are quite a few nutters to – is that they are not arguing against the basic principles of the EU. Free movement of people. Free trade. Free right of residence. It is absolutely incredible to think that now one can drive all the way from the Russian border to the tip of Calais and not once be hassled by border police once. Amazing. That is the freedom that our grandparents never dreamt of.

But it is also a freedom that doesn’t need a centralised Brussels government. I was reminded that it is all to do with schengen, which is part of the EU – and something that the UK has never signed up to. Great. Love schengen. But it doesn’t need to be part of the EU. Why can it not simply be an ad-hoc agreement between countries?

Free trade? Excellent. Great. But it wasn’t the EU that created this. It was EFTA. The EU simply absorbed EFTA and then claimed that free trade could not exist without tighter centralisation. Ever Closer Union, to use the 1950s term.

So, much of what the EU stands for is worthwhile, but this does not mean that these great freedoms could not be realised in other ways.

The main problem with the EU, I think, is its dishonesty. Having spent more than five years covering the Brussels beat for various media, and seeing how the monstrosity operates at close range, I can honestly say that the beast’s propaganda machine is just as disingenuous as the British media.

I find it utterly disgusting, for example, that the Irish were twice called to vote on the Nice Treaty – and again on the Lisbon Treaty – until they secured a “Yes” vote. That’s not democracy.

Then look at Greece. It’s economy is in a shambles. Partly because of fiscal mismanagement, but also because it is denied the opportunity to revalue its currency, which could spare it some pain. In a centralised monetary system, of course, the more economically solvent countries – i.e., Germany – should step in to bail it out. But, unsurprisingly, Chancellor Merkel is worried about alienating her voters. Why should hard-working Germans step into support fast-spending Greeks? It’s a very good question.

But the main problem with all of this is that the architects of the euro knew full well that, at some point, the “Greek problem” (could equally have been the Portuguese problem or the Spanish problem, too) was going to happen. But they push ahead with the single currency anyway, simply because this would give much more political credence to the whole system. It is much harder to back out of the EU once your mint has started churning out euro coins.

I was writing about this in 2002, during the introduction of the single currency. But all the negative arguments against the single currency were lost in amongst a hotchpotch of untruths.

I can’t speak for my countrymen, but that is essentially why I am so hostile towards the EU. It is indeed a worthwhile endeavour, if only one could make intellectually honest arguments for its existence, just as eurosceptics should stop spouting all sorts of nonsence about the EU.

And, if you ever meet me in a party and, without knowing me, start talking about British eurosceptism as though I am an authority on the subject, I’ll probably just give you this link and talk about Russian vodka instead.