This article first appeared in Brexit Central on July 12, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.
DESPITE the millions of words that have been bandied around since the referendum, there has been little or nothing said about one of the most important points in the debate: the fundamentals of the EU.
We know – don’t we? – that it was set up to foster peace and understanding in Europe so that the tragedies of two devastating World Wars would not be repeated. And, of course, over the past 60 years, the EU and its predecessor, the EEC, have maintained that peace.
That is the rhetoric. The reality is somewhat different.
As the 1940s shaded into the 1950s, the threat of the Western European nations going head to head again diminished as a new threat emerged: the Russian Bear growling on the doorstep. And it was not the EU that contained the threat, but NATO. For 40 years the Allied Forces in NATO provided a protective shield on Europe’s Eastern border to keep Russia at bay. Even today NATO has the responsibility of maintaining a watching presence.
A further reality is that the underlying agenda behind the 1958 launch of the EEC was fashioned around support for French agriculture and German industry.
For me the French angle was highlighted in a lecture I heard in Arnhem as long ago as 1983. The speaker, a Dutch MEP, stressed that we had to support the Common Agricultural Policy because it was a ‘socio-economic policy’. That was at a time of vast mountains of butter and beef alongside wine and milk lakes. Britain paid £4.3billion into European agricultural coffers whilst receiving £2.8billion back. France paid in £5.2billion, receiving £7.1billion back.
Given that Britain had a relatively small agricultural sector, the imbalance rankled until Margaret Thatcher went into battle with her handbag and negotiated a rebate. Then along came Tony Blair, who agreed to give up part of that in rebate in return for reform of the CAP. We lost a great deal of money but, unsurprisingly, France dug in her heels, and the CAP reform never happened.
We then come to support for German industry, which has been well served by the introduction of the euro. A few years ago an article in Der Spiegel detailed a meeting that took place in a German government residence on one of Berlin’s lakes. Present were Chancellor Helmut Kohl, François Mitterrand of France, Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands and the EU’s Jacques Delors. The meeting was presented with a warning from the then President of the Bundesbank of the dangers of allowing Greece to join the single currency. Unfortunately for him, the minutes of the meeting had already been written with no mention of the warning.
So Greece was allowed to join the euro, and it has been a disaster for them. However, is it too cynical to believe that Greece’s membership has meant that the euro has traded at a lower level than the D-Mark would have done? And that, of course, has been a huge benefit to German exporters. Indeed, Der Spiegel put that benefit at more than €50billion.
Look at the financial situation in the EU today. Italy has a massive debt burden whilst the banks there are in dire straits. Two of Germany’s leading banks, Commerz and Deutsche, are not particularly healthy. Alongside that, the overall EU economy is reliant on quantitative easing.
Even the once-mighty German economy is showing signs of stress. It seems they are paying the price for putting so many of their eggs into the car-manufacturing basket. Now the diesel debacle appears to be smashing those eggs – big time.
Across the continent, particularly in the southern countries, the high unemployment levels, notably those for youth, are ruining many lives. And all the while the gilets jaunes have been rioting in the streets of Paris for months.
Even more fundamental than all of that is the democratic deficit built into the structure of the EU. Let’s start at the top with those ‘Presidents’ who form the de facto governing body. In Britain, in the unlikely event of any such people perching at the top of our democratic hierarchy, each of them would most probably been given the title of ‘Chairman’ with a totally different connotation of authority and power.
In the EU, though, there are currently no fewer than five ‘Presidents’, three of whom, Juncker, Tusk and Verhofstadt, swagger around wielding immense power without seemingly being accountable to anyone. The European Parliament, although its members are elected, has very little power. Its role seems to be to comment on proposals from the Council rather than to initiate or amend, let alone reject them.
Moreover, the plenary chamber in which the MEPs meet is the size of a football pitch and is thus not conducive to anything approaching a robust debate. That is compounded by the fact that each of those MEPs is allowed to speak for only a short time. The result is that debates in the European Parliament are worse than watching paint dry. They are like watching paint when it is not drying.
Is it any wonder then that there is very little challenge of the power base and the prevailing ethos is one of ‘group-think’? That has the potential to be very dangerous.
Taking all this into account, if we weren’t already members of the EU, would anyone be able to present a valid case for us to join? Unfortunately, we are members, but having voted to leave, could anyone in their right mind now present a valid case for us to remain there?