The EU is an island in a sea of troubles of its own making, yet its supporters seem blithely unaware. They continue in the conviction that they know best. As we say in Scotland, they think ‘Everybody’s oot o’ step but oor Jimmy’. At least that is what they assure themselves.
In the real world they appear either tone deaf to what is going on around them, or they are aware of the growing discontent amongst the peoples of Europe and are determined to crush it no matter what the cost.
On the EU’s western flank, instead of attempting to facilitate a harmonious British departure to the benefit of both parties, they are enmeshed in negotiations in which they are determined to squeeze every concession possible from a vacillating British government in order to warn other countries not to consider leaving.
To the north, the EU’s ham-handed intervention in Ukraine helped precipitate turmoil and civil war in 2014. To its shame, Britain supported this debacle. David Cameron’s boast in July 2013 that the EU should stretch from ‘the Atlantic to the Urals’ encapsulated europhile hubris and did little to help allay Russia’s fear of encirclement.
On its eastern flank, the EU is having to cope with the increasingly restless Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland – who resent being treated as trifling junior partners to whom Brussels can dictate social policy. Hungary, in particular, whilst happy to accept European largesse, is beginning to realise that free money can be expensive.
Now the EU finds itself caught up in another and even more serious crisis on its southern flank. In the recent election the Italians had the temerity to reject the europhile parties and empower the ‘populist’ Five Star Movement and the ‘Right-wing’ Lega (everyone opposing the EU has to have a disparaging label). The coalition’s PM-designate Giuseppe Conte proposed eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona as Italy’s new Finance Minister.
This was too much. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella promptly vetoed Savona’s appointment and plunged the nation into a constitutional crisis. Rather than have his cabinet dictated by a committed europhile, PM-designate Conte chose to give up his mandate to form a government. This effectively ended any hope Mattarella had that to please the EU the Five Star Movement-Lega coalition would meekly accept restrictions on how they should govern Italy.
In a poll conducted after President Mattarella’s announcement, 35 per cent of Italian voters thought he was wrong to have refused to accept the nomination. Another 24 per cent believe the president was constitutionally correct, but that he should have accepted the proposal given the political situation. Only 26 per cent thought Mattarella’s action was correct.
Both insurgent party leaders leaped on the electoral opportunity handed to them. They roundly condemned President Mattarella and represented this constitutional conflict as a battle between the will of the people and the machinations of the European banking and political elite.
Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega, stated that ‘if we are in a democracy, there is only one thing to do, give the choice back to the Italians’. Salvini hinted at a conspiracy and made a thinly veiled call for fresh elections which could be held in a few months time.
The other party in the populist coalition, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said its leaders were discussing the possibility of impeaching Mattarella. Under the Italian constitution the president is not responsible for actions carried out as part of his office, except for high treason or for violating the constitution.
In a move typical of the utter conviction of europhiles that they know best, the president has made a bad situation worse. Forgetting that the task of an Italian prime minister should be to reassure Italians, he gave the job to former IMF official Carlo Cottarelli, with the task of assembling a technocratic government to reassure bond markets and Italy’s eurozone partners.
In appointing Cottarelli, Mattarella has succeeded in allaying short-term market concerns. But in rejecting Savona’s candidature and replacing him with an IMF technocrat, he has pretty much ensured that the Italian Parliament and Senate will reject Cottarelli and that there will be fresh elections.
Five Star and Lega should give Mattarella a vote of thanks for providing them with such potent electoral ammunition. Mattarella’s decision to appoint Cottarelli serves only to reinforce the already popular arguments of Lega and Five Star that their vote no longer matters: that bankers and politicians in Paris, Berlin and Brussels now determine Italian political life.
The EU and its supporters do not do politics, they do bureaucracy.
For those in the power centres of Europe, the blame for the EU’s political problems lies in ‘the rise of populism’. Yet populist parties did not gain influence until ordinary Europeans began to be concerned about immigration, Brussels diktats and ever-expanding power grabs. Prior to this the populists were in the political wilderness. Europhiles seem unaware that it was the problems they created which empowered the insurgent parties they now blame.
Our elites seem not to realise that smearing politicians as ‘populists’ and their supporters as ‘racists’ or ‘bigots’ doesn’t absolve them of their failures. Despite the aid of a compliant media, the ‘populist’ parties are growing more popular. They are doing well today because they can stand apart from the ineptitude of the EU.
The EU does not have its troubles to seek. It will not disintegrate, it will survive, but to survive it will have to change and realise that a continent is not a bureaucracy.
Footnote: President Mattarella, having painted himself and Italy into a corner, has now withdrawn Cottarelli’s appointment. The Coalition have reshuffled, keeping the same Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte and other top players, but moving eurosceptic Paolo Savona to the post of minister for European Affairs.