On 10th November 2010, the first permanent President of the European Council spoke to a packed audience of Germans at his State of Europe speech, held at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. The full comparison to the US equivalent had been avoided - the political connotations of ‘state of the union,’ likening the nations of Europe to federal states of America, would have been too much for Germany’s fragile pro-European climate to bear. But there was no mistaking the federal nature of his speech; there was no mistaking his support for a full union of nation-states into a single federal superstate.
‘We have together to fight the danger of a few Euroscepticism. This is no longer the monopoly of a few countries. In every member state, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in a globalised world. It is more than an illusion: it is a lie.’
Never mind the soaring rhetoric or the naked militarism. This was about as radical a speech as the federalists have ever allowed themselves. Van Rompuy did not hold back on his accusations:
‘The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism. Egoism leads to nationalism.’ And then, with the audience subdued into stunned silence by faint echoes of Germany’s nationalistic past, as well the writer of this speech might have imagined, the crescendo: ‘nationalism,’ said the European president, ‘leads to war.’
At the same time, the streets of Athens were rocked by anarchist bombs. Radicals had armed themselves with whatever they could get their hands on, and ran through the city streets smashing windows, setting fire to cars, and burning buildings, waving red flags and calling for a European revolution. The police force tried desperately to disperse them, using every means available, including tear gas. But the numbers of protestors was overwhelming, and they were forced into a retreat as the revolutionary movement stormed into the Parthenon, that ancient building famous the world over as a symbol of democracy, and raised the flag. This is where Herman van Rompuy’s analysis falls apart. The flag they raised was not that of Greece. It was that of international revolution. These men were Communists, not nationalists. They were not asking for freedom from Europe. They wanted Europe to join them. It was not the concept of the European Union they despised; it was its conduct.
The same holds true for most Eurosceptics. Fifty-five per cent of people want withdrawal from the EU. More than seventy-five per cent wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. If Herman van Rompuy honestly believes that every single one of those people is a nationalist or wants another European war, then he, and the others like him, fall for their own rhetoric. For that is not just an illusion: it is a lie. And the longer we go without addressing that lie, the further the EU gets from the people, the further the EU gets from democracy, and the further the EU gets from reality. And allowing unelected individuals to become completely separate from reality is a dangerous thing indeed. Somehow, we must put a stop to this madness. We must each tell them that enough is enough.
The right has been on the defensive for forty years. We’ve laboured under accusations of misogynism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and even factophobia. We’ve been shouted down, spat on, and scorned, shunned into silence by the squealing of public officials with their mock outrage. We can now be sacked or imprisoned if we publically declare our views. Well, I can think of no better reason to speak ‘incorrect’ views than someone telling you that you can’t. Let the cries of indignations rise up. They always have. But, at the end of the day, we have a right to speak. There is nothing evil about calling for lower taxes. There is nothing racist about opposing mass-immigration. You can’t be racist against an economic group. There is nothing Islamophobic about questioning the beliefs of a religion - a religion is an ideology, and, in a democracy, no ideology can be above criticism. And, of course, there is nothing nationalistic about opposing the EU, as the revolutionaries had occupied the Parthenon proved.
It is perfectly right to be opposed to an organisation that has power over you where you have none over it. The fact that it is taking place on a national scale should be an irrelevance. It is perfectly right to oppose handing ten billion pounds net to any organisation when hundreds of thousands of people are being made unemployed and state-funded projects that benefited you are being scaled back. It is perfectly right to oppose your elected representatives being overruled by people you have never voted for; for your democratic rights to be denied by an anonymous official whose name has never been on a ballot sheet. These are perfectly reasonable positions to hold. Some might even say they are common sense. Or necessary, even, for democracy to flourish. We are the people who want to make those who take decisions accountable, who want to reclaim your money, who want to restore the powers of elected officials. We must make that clear to the people.
First and foremost, remember that they already agree with us and we haven’t lifted a finger. According to Eurobarometer, only 27% of Britons support continued membership of the European Union. Com Res: 84% of people think that voters should decide whether any further powers should be transferred to the EU. ICM: 69% say that the government should ignore EU rules. ICM, You Gov, Populus, the BBC, etc. have each returned polls that say not just a majority - but a landslide - of British voters oppose EU membership. But we can’t do that unless people actually know who we are, and what we stand for. Preaching to the converted on the Telegraph will not work. Those who are truly committed to withdrawal need to broaden their horizons if they are ever to achieve success in their endeavours. I will boldly go where no man has gone before and sign up for an account on the Guardian; I ask the Eurosceptics here to do something similar. Set up blogs, join up to pro-EU newspapers and websites, and do whatever you can to get the message across to the people that the EU costs far more than it benefits us, in terms of democracy, in terms of sovereignty, in terms of economy, and in terms of personal finance. Stop being on the defensive. Take the initiative, and seize the day, and we may yet make an impact.