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Sunday 31 July 2016


EU is no longer the solution - it is the problem

The EU is past its sell-by date and needs to be reformed into something like the Common Market it mutated from, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Angela Merkel is desperate for her country to atone for its terrible past’. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo
Angela Merkel is desperate for her country to atone for its terrible pastí. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

An interesting development since the UK referendum on the EU has been how anger and insults from Remainers have stiffened the backbone of Leavers. Last week a young friend told me he'd just resigned as a member of the Labour Party because he could no longer stand listening to people who showed nothing but contempt for the working class their party had been founded to represent. I empathised, for I was a Leave voter who was nervous rather than triumphant when my side won, but within a few days the dismissal of us for being old, selfish, bigoted, stupid, uneducated and white united us in defiance against, yes, an elite, who are terrified of change but accuse us of being reactionaries.

Pre-referendum Bob Geldof took to the Thames to challenge Nigel Farage's Leave flotilla but the image that stuck in the public mind was of the multi-millionaire flicking V-signs at people desperate about the loss of their livelihood because of decisions made by Brussels bureaucrats. The man known for caring about little people had become yet another symbol of a disdainful elite who understood nothing about their lives. He was one of many Remain celebrities who unwittingly persuaded 'Don't Knows' to vote Leave.

After the result, some Remoaners wailed that had 16-year-olds been allowed to vote all would have been well. Yes, 16-year-olds would probably have supported Remain as strongly as they did Scottish independence, but teenagers are particularly susceptible to romantic rhetoric. Independence for Scotland seemed attractive: independence for the United Kingdom didn't, since to the young the EU is mostly about easy travel. British independence did, however, attract millions who had become increasingly uneasy about a far-away institution that seemed to be making a mess of everything while demanding more and more power.

I had many reasons for deciding to vote Leave. I don't like protectionism, and far from being the outward, open, diverse institution its supporters speak of, the EU is secretive, keeps the world out, prevents members from making bilateral trade deals and tries to impose uniformity on their laws and governments.
The common agricultural and fisheries policies have been a catastrophe for many and have encouraged a welfare mentality among many more. Far from being a beacon of democracy, it is driven by a bloated, unaccountable and unelected commission, headed by whichever candidate was the least objectionable to the European Council. Its priority has been, above all, the enhancement of the "European project", which has included the impoverishment of millions by forcing through a common currency as a stepping stone to political unity. The result has been a disaster that may soon sink the EU.

The ideologue in charge these days, Jean-Claude Juncker, was prime minister for 18 years of the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which is so politically sclerotic and has such tame media that it's no wonder he loses his cool every time he's criticised or people don't vote his way. When the Austrian presidential campaign was in full swing, Junker said that if the Freedom Party's Norbert Hofer was elected, he would be excluded from all EU decision-making: "There will be no debate or dialogue with the far-right." Par for the course. Anyone who criticises the Commission is routinely dismissed as extremist.
The Commission has made it clear that obedience is a requisite for EU members: Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as Ireland, had to vote again when they gave the wrong answers in referendums. Greece and Italy were required to change their governments and their economic policies.

Originally the European Project was driven by France and Germany, two countries with good reason to feel embarrassed by their past, but German reunification in 1990 - as the Soviet Union's collapse freed East Germany - fatally undermined the balance of power. These days Germany is the only country that really counts with Eurocrats. To her credit, the all-powerful Angela Merkel is desperate for her country to atone for its terrible past by being a force for present and future good, but her policies have appalling unintended consequences. She wants every country in the EU to act like good German housekeepers, and thus insisted on one-size-fits-all austerity that has turned Greece into a complete basket case and has youth unemployment at horrifying levels in Portugal and Spain. Publicly declaring that Germany would welcome asylum seekers without doing anything to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants massively exacerbated an already dangerous threat to European stability, and is fuelling the far-right that Junker is trying to will away.

Britain has never been a comfortable member of the EU and probably should never have joined. The EU has suited countries that don't trust themselves because of fascist or communist pasts, or fear (or, in the case of Ireland, want to demonstrate their independence from) a big neighbour. Apart from a little local difficulty in the 17th century, the British have had political stability and innately feel they'd like to govern themselves and make their own decisions on, for instance, immigration levels. The referendum was not about withdrawing from the world: emissaries are zooming around the globe talking of post-Brexit trade agreements.

I believe the EU has ceased to be a solution to the problems of Europe and has instead become a force for instability and poverty. Inefficient though it is and incapable of dealing with big challenges, it continues to be imperialist in its aspirations. It is NATO that keeps the peace, not the EU, which being well past its sell-by date needs to be reformed into something like the Common Market it mutated from.
When I was trying to make up my mind how to vote, I kept asking Remainers if they'd be astounded if the EU imploded as the Soviet Union did in 1989. Most said no, but added hastily that Brexit would hasten the process and the UK would be blamed.

Can it survive? Here are a few problems facing it. Brexit has to be negotiated. Millions of people escaping war and/or poverty are trying to get into the EU, while there is increasing public alarm about the murders committed by immigrants or their children: most of them are Muslim, as are the majority of migrants. Italy is going to need billions of euro to bail out its banks. In the autumn, there's the Hungarian referendum that will almost certainly reject the EU's mandatory quotas for relocating migrants. The Austrian presidential election is to be re-run because of electoral irregularities, with Herr Hofer likely to improve on his 49.65pc vote.

As if that weren't enough, opinion polls show disapproval of the EU is as high in Germany and the Netherlands as in Britain and even higher in France, Greece and Spain. Mostly, it is loved only by prosperous liberals and corporations. Our own top Europhile spoke for them immediately after the referendum. Peter Sutherland, the multi-millionaire who was chairman of Goldman Sachs International when it helped Greece join the euro, is a proponent of austerity who describes Mrs Merkel as a "hero" for her stance on immigration. He responded to news of a Brexit win with a tweet: "The younger generation in UK has been sacrificed all because of distortion of facts & consequences. Somehow this result must be overturned."

It was lucky for the UK that EU hadn't yet set up the army the commission wants.

It's going to be a bumpy ride. Remainers had better get used to it.

Ruth Dudley Edwards' 'The Seven: the life and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic' was published by Oneworld on March 22

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards