In case you hadn’t noticed, the Euro spin machine is cranking up a notch on Brexit. This time it is the turn of the EPP, one of the EU’s so-called “political parties”, entities more accurately described as EU-inspired groupings of national political parties aimed at downplaying national loyalties and persuading us all to feel and be good Europeans.
This particular “party”, of which few if any Europeans have actually heard and to which almost no voter feels any allegiance whatever, is based in the Rue de Commerce in Brussels, and receives annually something like €8 million by way of direct grant from EU taxpayers’ money (including, of course, yours and mine) – more than any other such grouping.
It is also an organisation responsible for a number of wacky proposals, memorably its 2016 wheeze for European taxpayers to be forced to stump up for a free interrail pass for every European citizen on their eighteenth birthday as a kind of Euro team-building exercise (“We want young Europeans to discover the EU is also about emotions, not just politics. We want to give them a taste of what it feels like, not only to be Slovak, German or Greek, but also European”).
No UK political party is affiliated to the EPP. The Conservatives were attached at one time, but David Cameron rightly withdrew them in 2009 on the basis that the EPP was a thinly-disguised federalist front (which it indubitably is: “we want,” says its website, “to build a healthy society with a new emphasis on solidarity among all Europeans. The European Union must become stronger”).
Not surprisingly, this supposedly grassroots outfit dances to a tune discreetly called by Brussels. Last week it decamped en masse to hold a conference in County Wicklow in Ireland. This jolly was aimed at giving Taoiseach Enda Kenny and EPP president Manfred Weber a chance to grandstand on why Brexit was a mistake and a disaster, why it was necessary to make sure the UK got no special treatment, and so on. Indeed national treasure Tony Blair was also wheeled out to say that the UK’s manifest destiny was to be a part of the EU machine and to welcome the Commission’s White Paper setting out the joys of further integration, and at the same time to put pressure on the UK on the Irish border (non)-issue.
To coincide with all this, the EPP also trumpeted a survey carried out in selected EU states revealing, in its own words, that “78 per cent of EU citizens asked want the primary objective for Brexit negotiations to focus on protecting the good future of the remaining EU27 compared to just 22 per cent who want the focus to be on building a new economic relationship with UK, giving them special privileged conditions post-Brexit”.
Fighting words, at least if you read the Express: the people of Europe have apparently spoken, and will be urging their leaders to shaft the UK, so we’d better look out. But is this true?
For one thing, the EPP survey curiously only took in one third of EU countries, namely France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden. Riff-raff like the Austrians, Czechs, Greeks, Hungarians, Bulgarians and citizens of the Baltic states, some of whose peoples have awkward nationalist tendencies of their own, were not asked what they thought.
For another, note the question: citizens of a bloc about to enter into negotiations with another country, the UK, were asked if they thought the primary objective of those talks should be the interests of the respective countries of which they were citizens, or the granting of special privileges for the UK. As with a question about motherhood and apple pie, it was hardly unpredictable that those who put the question got the answer they wanted: of course it would be the former. Indeed, what is interesting is that despite the phrasing of the question, more than one in five of respondents apparently still thought the UK would be hard done by if it didn’t get special treatment even if that came at the expense of their own countries.
For a third, look at one of the individual questions: as regards the rump of 27 members, should it be an important Brexit negotiation goal to ensure the future well-being of the UK economy? Answer: a clear majority, 56 per cent, thought it somewhat or extremely important that the UK economy’s well-being should be safeguarded. Only 13 per cent regarded it as being of no importance. So much for suggestions of a popular European “couldn’t care less” attitude to the UK.
The conclusion seems clear: if the aim of this exercise was to show that Britain was going to face the combined wrath of the peoples of Europe for having the temerity to reject the benefits of membership of the Euro club, it seems to have fallen flat on its face. Of course the second- and third-biggest Euro parties, the European Socialists and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, can try and do better. But I somewhat doubt whether this prospect will have Theresa May and her team quaking in their shoes.
(Image: Jeremy Segrott)