A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

Anything to say? Contact me at europeandisunion@yahoo.co.uk

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Emerald Isle

Kilkee. Soon to be the most exciting place in Ireland.

Ireland's Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has emphatically denied that the country will need a second bailout. The markets should have figured out how this works by now; first, rumours are circulated that a country will soon come back to ask for another loan from EU and IMF. Second, the national leader or head of government of that country, as well as a host of senior ministers and top economists, line up to denounce the rumours as incorrect, and explain, in detail, why they will not need to be bailed out. Third, they are bailed out.

It's a pattern that the EU has repeated time and time again, and now they're presumably trying the same trick with Ireland's second bailout. For all the talk of why Greece is not Ireland is not Portugal is not Spain is not Italy is not Belgium, when it comes down to it there is one simple truth: nothing the EU or European finance ministers say on the matter is correct.

From Brian Lenihan saying in 2010 that 'Ireland is not Greece' to the Greek finance minister saying that 'Greece is not Ireland,' everything they have said has been proven wrong. So, Ireland will need a second bailout, and then Portugal might do, as well. In fact, going by their past record, they're already negotiating one.

The reasons given for Enda Kenny's confidence were particularly shaky: the fact that the government is currently in a deal with the EU and IMF doesn't necessarily preclude another deal being written. Greece was, and still is, in a deal with the EU and IMF, and they received a second bailout. He was speaking after Ireland's Transport Minister expressed doubts over Ireland's ability to return to the markets, and so his remarks are probably more to do with political expediency and calming the markets than they are economic reality.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The European Spring

'We don't want to be a member of the EU if we must pay our children's food as the price'
Too right. 

It's amazing how far someone can move from their ideology and principles when a six-figure salary and one million euros of expenses are on the table. Barroso, now easily the most powerful man in Europe, presiding as he does over the European Union's executive body and the source of all its laws and legislation, is a prime example of this. The man who now lives in a luxury district of the Belgian capital and jokes to world leaders that being driven into the underground bunker of his several hundred million euro head office, by his own personal driver, does not allow him to marvel at the glass structure that towers high above the city's historic skyline, was once a Maoist revolutionary on the historic cobbles of Portugal.

The man who is now the chief architect of the European Union's response to the crisis, drawing up and imposing bailouts and austerity, who has never faced a public vote, was once on the streets of Lisbon protesting against unelected and unaccountable elites making decisions on behalf of the people. He once spoke of removing imperialists from government and the 'anti-popular' ruling classes; now he compares the 'European Union to the organisation of empires,' and attacks people who call for votes and referendums as 'populists.' As said, it's amazing how far someone will go from their original principles when a more lucrative alternative - i.e. the Portuguese government - is on the table.

But Portugal's revolution was one of the most important moments, if not the moment, in his political career. He, unlike most European officials, has first-hand experience of revolutionary fervour and the winds of change. He must look upon the scenes on Greece - men and women waving Maoist flags being hauled off by riot police, and far-left urban guerrillas rallying in city centres - and wonder where this revolution will go.

Although British media has not reported the violence, a poll by the respected Greek polling company Public Issue found that one third of people now favour 'revolution,' and the rest merely want 'major change.' And this is not merely ideal talk in Internet cafes: there are tens of groups with the means and the motive to carry out their revolutionary threats. The far-left has always been vocal in Greece, but there are now literally tens of small urban guerrilla factions with guns, grenades, and bomb-making equipment. The far-right, too, under the leadership of Golden Dawn, has launched a campaign of violence against immigrants in Athens, with the police refusing to respond; there have already been several murders and countless assaults, and even six-year-old children are reported to have been beaten up.

Previously, these groups, although more popular in Greece than in other parts of Europe - especially in the case of the far-left - now have public appeal. The peaceful Greek protestors - which are still the majority - are becoming concerned that one year of protesting, violence, and general strikes has led only to a second bailout, and many of them turn to more violent groups in desperation. Greece is now on the edge of revolution, but what does this mean for a European spring?

Let's make one thing clear: there is a misconception amongst Eurosceptic circles that these protests are against the EU. They are not. They are against the effects of the EU, the bailouts, which most Spaniards and most Greeks still blame on big EU countries rather than the EU itself. The overwhelming majority of Greeks blame their government and the speculators, whereas the Spanish blame the bipartisan political system for not allowing them to vote for a party that would block the bailouts. The EU still maintains a high level of public approval in both of these countries - far higher than in Britain, in fact.

These protestors are also not right-wing. With the exception of Greek neo-Nazis, the right-wing has no real presence in these protests: the Spanish camps are democrats and populists from across the political spectrum, and there seem to be flickers of a loosely-affiliated right-wing talking shop in a few of the larger camps, but there is no organised right-wing faction as yet. However, it would be wrong to think that they are 'left-wing,' either. The voices that call for an overthrow of the government are still a minority, especially in Spain, but they are gaining ground. Most of them want it to be completed peacefully, through peaceful sit-ins in squares and public places.

To quote the manifesto of the Spanish protestors:

'We need a moral revolution. Rather than put money above people, let's bring in the service of people. We are people, not products. I am not a product you buy, the reason why I buy it, nor that in which the purchase.'

And a blogger on tumblr:

'Angry at bad politicians who are stealing their money, angry at bankers asking them to pay off their loans, angry at journalists for being corrupted, angry at “foreign powers” for wanting to destroy Greece, angry at their neighbor for being their neighbor. At some point the reason for all the anger stops having importance and what’s left is the process of setting it free.'

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Greece Stands on the Edge of Civil War

Greece stands on the brink. The Eurosceptics who have been derided for their dismal predictions of war and revolution in the benighted country now have somewhat reliable figures to back up their claims, courtesy of Greek news and blogging site Keep Talking Greece, which translated the figures provided by notable polling company Public Issue into English. If you're a European banker or Greek government official, you might not want to click the link.

One third of people in Greece now want a revolution, and 98% and 89%, respectively, hold the government and speculators responsible for the crisis. Almost none of them have confidence in their leader's ability to solve the financial crisis, and most of them have negative opinions of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the big EU nations, such as Germany. And this not mere talk: Greek revolutionary groups - and there are tens of them - are already well-armed with basic weapons and bomb-making equipment, as attempts to assassinate various world leaders showed. They have also committed at least one terrorist atrocity - a bombing of a bank in which three people were killed - and have carried out a series of bomb attacks across Greece. They have also carried out gun and grenade attacks on police stations.

It's no surprise that things in Greece have got to the point where revolution is the preffered option for a higher proportion of people there than voted Labour in our general election. Take-home salaries have effectively been halved, pensions have been slashed, hundreds of thousands of people are on minimum wage, and they're the ones who actually have jobs. Taxes have risen, prices have gone up, and the electorate has effectively been disenfranchised by the IMF and EU always getting their way. The country can be stripped of its voting rights when it is expedient for the EU to do so, and is now being asked by some to hand over islands and national monuments as security on loans that it could never afford to pay back.

Barroso knows all too well the power that far-left rhetoric can have in times of financial crisis and disenfranchisement. The revolution that he was a part of, in 1974, was successful, and ended in the overthrow of a fascist dictator. So far, the EU avoids the anger of the Greek people: 60% have a favourable opinion of it, holding countries like Germany and France responsible for the bailouts. But if a Greek Revolution does materialise, it will follow the bailout money: Spain, presumably, will be next. There are already tens of thousands of people camped out in more than fifty cities, and some of them will be watching events unfold in Greece with interest.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The EU Has a Lot to Learn from Libya

Charlemagne, hero of European integrationists. His own empire collapsed into three separate states.
Picture by FoekkeNoppert on Wikimedia.

One of the fundamental problems with politicians is their ability to conceive ideas above their station, to take on vague challenges and ill-considered objectives that, humans being what they are and the world being what it is, are simply impossible to achieve. Modern political discourse is filled with such ideas: the abolition of poverty, the ending of racism, complete egalitarianism in race, colour, and creed. The only thing these goals have in common is that they are all equally unattainable, from a purely realistic standpoint. To achieve them you'd have to do nothing less than completely subvert human nature; and not even the Soviet Union could do that.

The attempts to complete these noble objectives often do more harm than good. Rather than eradicating poverty, all that's been achieved is a lot more money going to warlords and corrupt officials in the Third World, and a lot higher taxes on the poor at home. Rather than ending racism, what we've actually done is enforce quotas and discrimination that increase distrust and suspicion, and in an attempt to celebrate other cultures whilst denying our own have laid the groundwork for major civil unrest and ethnic conflict. But there is one idea that could do far more damage than diversity laws; the idea of the 'non-imperial empire.' The idea that the worst consequences of competing nations can be mitigated by integration into a supra-national authority.

No sooner had news broke from Serbia about the arrest of alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic, than Barroso held an extraordinary press conference to say that a major obstacle to Serbian integration had been swept away, and that, in his own words, it was 'essential on Serbia's path to EU membership.' The former general was actually arrested whilst the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton, was en route to Belgrade to warn of the consequences of not delivering Europe's most-wanted man to international authorities. The executive body of the European Union has long maintained that European integration was essential to curbing the worst excesses of Balkan nationalism - only by integration into a multi-national body, they claim, can ethnic nationalism be curtailed.

What, exactly, do they think the former Yugoslavia was before its collapse? Or the USSR, for that matter? They were both artificial political constructs that stretched over national boundaries - nation as in an ethnic, linguistic, or cultural community. Ideology or intention is irrelevant: it is an undisputable historical fact that political constructions, created for temporary political, social, or economic advantage, collapse long before their naturally-evolved counterparts. The latter, the typical nation-state, were created by a community of people with shared speech and customs for the purposes of the divison of labour, the pooling of resources, and mutual defence. The former was created by a political and economic elite, with or without (usually without) the consent of the people, to allow their nations or peoples to work together for an objective: political unity, stability, and economic supremacy. The latter has a strong, stable base, firmly entrenched by mutual consent and a sense of community and society. The former has only temporary political or economic conditions to hold it together, and, when these are no longer relevant, or when the union is no longer in the perceived best interests of the people, they will always collapse.

Take the UK, for example: as it has existed for three hundred years, it is one of the most successful artificial states out there (although even it is facing problems). We often don't regard it as artificial at all, as we don't see our fellow British citizens as foreigners - even Gaelic-speakers and Welsh-speakers are seen by everyone as British. However, Europeans still regard each other as foreign: we don't place the French and Icelanders in the same mental group as we place the Scots, for example, and I'm sure they don't regard us as their fellow countrymen, either. This lack of a sense of community may be outdated, according to some ideologues who subscribe to Utopian ideals, but it is there, and it ultimately means that the disparate groups within any such union will work to their own interests and their own agenda. That's hardly a good foundation for a 'state under construction,' as Elmar Brok once described the European Union.

Other European nations are less fortunate; not united by a common language or a conveniently-placed island, they have to contend with frequent separatist disputes and political paralysis. Yes, I am talking about Belgium, which now holds the world record for the longest time a country has gone without a government in peacetime, beating even Iraq (that's another example of artificial states going up the Khyber, by the way, and my not-so-subtle reference to Afghanistan there was another one) and faces the prospect of being divided between France and the Netherlands. Belgium is not authoritarian, either, it is federal and had a functioning democracy.

The Ivory Coast, a nation divided neatly along ethnic and religious lines between north and south, recently had a civil war. Libya, at the moment, was formerly two countries, and is now split along its previous borders, largely due to tribal affiliations and economic disparities. And what about South Sudan, created as part of a peace deal after a civil war killed millions of people? Even the UK, although less awash with arms and ammunition, with a shared language and culture, could be dissolved if the Scottish electorate vote for independence. There's no way that the European leaders are unaware of these events; they probably know far more about the collapse of these artificial, multi-national governments than we do, yet still they think that the creation of one massive one is the way forward for Europe?

Most of the countries they see collapsing on their television screens have one or two major divisions, with one or two tribes or nations, often speaking the same language. The EU has twenty-seven major divisions, with thirty-five or so major nations, and hundreds of small ones. Most of the countries that are breaking down across Africa and the Middle East have no economic divisions. Europe has several major economic divisions; east and west, north and south, Germany and France and everyone else. What makes Europe or Europeans so special that they won't go the same way as everyone else who's ever tried this - including their own ancestors? The highest honour for a federalist is to be awared the Charlemagne Prize, a reward named for a great Frankish emperor who united most of western Europe. But Charlemagne's empire collapsed into many smaller competing kingdoms, no more than fifty years after Charlemagne himself was dead.

The European Union, in its rush to award itself governmental powers, and in its blind insistence that integration is the way to prevent nationalism, is ignoring events in its doorstep; it is ignoring thousands of years of human experience, and it its ignoring conflicts that are happening now. There is no logic whatsoever behind replacing one collapsed artificial country with another one, on a much bigger scale with many more divisions, and expecting it to work. Ultimately, the European Union will do as every other empire or political union in history has done, and collapse: but it will be the peoples of Europe who will pay the price.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Eastern Front

Barroso doesn't use the front entrance. Picture by JLogan.

Imagine the scene. On the upper-floors of an antiquated Belgian pile in the heart of Brussels, the most powerful man in Europe glances across the low skyline of the city to a towering pillar of windows and metal that rises like a shard of glass out of the brown mass of traditional townhouses and Art Deco office buildings. He remarks that he rarely gets an opportunity to see this palace; usually, he is whisked away into its underground car-park by his personal chauffeur, and then escorted up into the Commission meeting room by his security guards. Welcome to the world of Jose Manual Barroso, President of the European Commission, and chief executive of the 'non-imperial empire' that is the European Union.

His speech at the inauguration of Poland's new Permanent Representation in Brussels gives us an insight into the mind of the man whose predecessor once said has 'powers that can only be described as government.' Apparently, this was some kind of joke. I doubt that it would have gone down too well in Spain, Greece, or Ireland, or even Belgium and Italy, the two other countries that started to fall under the glare of the ratings agency spotlight as Barroso was jollying it up in Brussels. Not that the electorates of any country matter to Barroso, whose only election to an EU position was guaranteed: not only was it held in secret, but he was also the only candidate on the ballot paper.

This was not just the official opening of Poland's new Permanent Representation, however: it was the official announcement to the world of the man who will succeed to another of the EU's presidencies, the Polish Prime Minister. He will soon take over from Hungary's Viktor Orban as the six-month rotating president, and, although he was elected by the people of Poland, he has no mandate to make decisions that affect the other twenty-seven countries and their five hundred million citizens: however, he will do so on a daily basis. He promises one of the most radical European presidencies in recent years, with eastward expansionism and southen consolidation firmly on the agenda, taking precedence even over the financial affairs that threaten to tear the eurozone apart. Barroso describes it as a 'strong and ambitious European agenda.'

Strong? Yes. Ambitious? Yes. European agenda? Well, if you, like Barroso, think that the European Union and Europe are one and the same thing, then, yes, I suppose, you could call it a 'European agenda.' But is it a sensible policy? No. Faced with the biggest economic and political crisis since its foundation, and with more powers over us and our elected governments than ever before, you'd expect a second wave of expansionism to be the last thing on the agenda of the European beaurocrats. But, no, apparently not. Having seen the chaos and division caused by the last wave of expansionism, where France and Germany clashed with the Commission over admission to the Schengen Treaty and the European budget hike prompted national leaders to go against the will of the executive for the first time in recent years, prompting a constitutional crisis on a continental scale, they now want to do it again.

In fact, they want to go one step further than last time: they want this presidency's expansionist plans to be even bigger and even better - i.e. worse - than the one in 2004, under Romano Prodi. The list of countries that they want to incorporate into the EU includes Croatia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, and Moldova. Ukraine and Turkey have also been suggested to be in the pipeline. That's ten countries and well over a hundred million people. All of these countries will likely be recipients of funds from the European Union budget, which we are net contributors to. We paid a net loss of £9.4 billion into this budget last year, rising by 74% in 2009. It will only rise even further when these countries join - probably to more than £15 billion. They will also be required under the Lisbon Treaty to join the euro. We've already given over £25 billion to bailout three countries - a move that has done no good for us or them - and now Spain (more than the other three combined), Italy, and Belgium are under scrutiny. We simply cannot take the prospect of another nine countries potentially needing to be bailed out with money that, as the Greek restructuring shows, we will never see again. I do not relish the prospect of seeing everyone in the country forking out hundreds of pounds from their family budgets to waste on a bailout package that has been shown to have no effect. And, make no mistake, our family budgets is ultimately where this money comes from.

These decisions will have an enormous effect on the economy of the UK: all of the money saved by domestic spending cuts - to jobs, to education, to housing, to benefits, and to the armed services - will be, and are being, swallowed up by the costs of belonging to the European Union. The Treasury's spending cuts have saved £6.2 billion. We've spent £12 billion on bailouts this year alone. Imagine that, after the EU has added ten more countries to its ranks, each of them recipients of EU funding, and each of them forced by treaty to join the euro regardless of the economic reality on the ground.

And there's another reason to oppose this that many voters will not want to hear: it will be the start of another wave of mass-immigration of 2001 levels. One hundred million people will suddenly be given the automatic right to live, work, and claim state assistance in the UK; at least several hundred thousand of them are going to take advantage of that opportunity, and probably quite a few more than that will actually end up resident here for a number of years. Our over-burdened, under-financed, and antiquated public services have had enough as it is, as have the people that use them. There are barely enough places in schools and social housing to cover everyone and public infrastructure is being incessantly worn down by the sheer volume of people using them, and by a chronic lack of investment that is now, due to the current financial climate, prohibitively expensive to attempt to rectify. We do not need more people, and we cannot take more people, whatever their nationality, creed, or colour. Anything more than a few hundred thousand people will be impossible to handle. We simply do not have the resources or finances to accomodate them.

But there is another, far more serious reason to oppose these EU expansion plans: namely, that opposition won't have any impact whatsoever, for the people behind it are entirely unaccountable to us. Most of them are anonymous to us; Stefan Fule, Commissioner for Enlargement? Ever heard of him? Does anyone here ever remember voting for Barroso - or, at least, voting for him when there was another candidate on the ballot sheet? Or even the Polish Prime Minister - he may have been elected at home, but there are four hundred and seventy million people in Europe outside of Poland who will be affected by his plans who had never had a chance to refuse them. For people who have 'powers that can only be described as government,' they have never been exposed to democratic oversight, or ever had to take the views of the electorate into account at any point in their EU careers. Why should they make decisions of such fundamental consequences on our behalf?

I'm sorry, but I don't remember being given a vote on any level of this charade; from the Commissioners who make the arrangements to the people at the very top, who can I vote in or out of office? None of them. Absolutely none of them. There is not a trace of popular control or consent in the system - and a good thing for the EU, too, for, were they subject to the people's approval, these proposals would surely lose.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ashton Speaks For Europe: Arabs Actually Listen

Libyan rebels. Rewarded for their efforts by a visit from Baroness Ashcloud.

Funny how you have to go outside the EU to get the best news these days. Al-Jazeera has just reported that the European Union has opened a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the headquarters of the Libyan opposition. High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Catherine Ashton visited in person, and toured the square where the uprising began back in February. She declared that the European Union would be there 'for the long term,' i.e. until the rebellion was crushed or Gaddafi overthrown, and said that she was 'really interested' in some of the people and groups she met - notably women's groups.

This is presumably part of the EU's plans to put down 'deep democracy' in the free state, 'the ability to be able to build the institutions that don't exist, having a political process that's going to last by having [a] political parties system, whatever they decide.' The EU will play an active role in building the institutions of a democratic and free Libya from scratch, as well as assist with security and border management. Ashton and the chairman of the rebel government also discussed health and education, but there is little detail, as yet, on what the EU's role in these two fields will be. It will probably involve financing the rebel's projects and providing experts to do the ground work.

The European Union, of course, is an incredibly pragmatic organisation, unlike our national governments. If something does not benefit the European Union in some way, then it will not do it. However, due to the secrecy of the Commission and the Council, it is not always easy to determine what these benefits are. I can see three, as far as Libyan intervention is concerned:

1) It helps the EU to make its grand appearance on the world stage. As it recently applied for speaking rights at the United Nations and now wants to be able to vote, being one of the first major powers to back up their words over Libya with solid action will work greatly in their favour. Especially if this support is non-military and is actually constructive. It will be a clear arrival in world politics, but it does not succumb to aggrandisement or interventionist policies.

2) It helps stem the tide of sub-Saharan refugees who use Libya as a staging post to get to Europe. This was presumably what the 'security and border controls' thing was about. The EU has already had to temporarily disband the Schengen Zone because of the influx of economic migration and a genuine refugee crisis; it knows the pressure that such large numbers can place on its authority over national governments, and wants to do whatever it can to limit their numbers.

3) It places the EU diplomats above the national diplomats of EU nations in the heirarchy. There is a revealing statement at the end of this article that would never be made in a British paper: 'Before Ashton, the highest-ranking foreign diplomat to visit Benghazi was Radoslaw Sikorski, Polish foreign minister.' Europeans still see their national diplomats as the representatives of their country. Arabs know otherwise.

A Tale of Two Presidents

Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso in happier times. Picture from http://kremlin.ru/visits

The feuding over the successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the IMF has had repurcussions for European politics. You'd probably expect the European Union to present a united front to the question of who should take over from the former French Finance Minister; it is, of course, vital for them that it is someone who properly understands the bailouts and the people behind them. A European, in other words.

There are already a number of well-placed Europeans poised to take the job. Christine Lagarde, the current French Finance Minister, is one of the favourites. Axel Weber, the former President of the German Central Bank, and a member of the governing council of the European Central Bank. Gordon Brown, whose list of achievements includes over nine hundred PFI schemes, selling national reserves of gold at rock-bottom prices, and a botched rethink of the tax brackets is also a possible contender. It is of vital interest to the EU that they appear to have had some say in the matter, and also that the next head is familiar with the names and faces of EU politics.

On that note, the European Union was playing a near-perfect hand. Jean-Claude Juncker, eurozone president, absolutely refused to comment on the succession dispute, condeming countries - Germany and Belgium - which have already done so, and telling reporters that it would be 'indecent.' Barroso then followed up on this by telling an audience that the next IMF chief should come from the EU. 'It is only natural that EU countries would feel a responsibility to put forward a good candidate.' However, he was vague and made no references to any particular candidate. He also urged a quick resolution of the crisis. Careful diplomacy all round.

Then, President of the European Council, the chairman of meetings between our twenty-seven elected heads of state, has to come in and spoil it. Not only did he say that whoever succeeded to the post did not have to be European, he also made a joke. He said that traditions were not eternal, and 'even the Pope was no longer Italian.' It's slightly more entertaining for the European Business Summit than one of his haikus, but only slightly. It's also a lot more worrying. The second-most powerful man in Europe and the most-powerful man in Europe disputing the importance of a European successor at a time of great political upheaval?

Van Rompuy appeared to backtrack, saying that it was a 'tradition that could be changed, but not now.' It was one of those clanger moments when a politician says something so inextricably daft and ill-advised that the audience takes on a look of shock. Barroso's reaction to it is unknown, but I sincerely hope that he wasn't drinking anything hot at the time.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

People vs. Elites: Round 132

Populism. Picture by Khalid.

From the way the newspapers are banging on about it, you'd think populism was some term of abuse. I suppose it is, if you're a some kind of media luvvie from Islington, or one of those posh pro-multiculturalist types from Primrose Hill, whose only experience of immigration is an occasional influx of foreign spices at their favourite up-market shops. These are people who think they should dictate to others what they should think about things. They tell us that mass-immigration is good for us, even though seventy per cent of us want tighter regulation and a tough border controls policy. They tell us what and what is not 'in our best interests.' So, to them, populism is an insult: the extolling of the knowledge and good sense of the people over that of the 'elites' is a direct challenge to their power.

But, for those Britons who claim no moral right to make decisions on behalf of others, who simply want their opinions to be listened to and respected, populism is about exactly that - the people. It is defined as 'political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people's needs and wishes.' In other words, if a vast majority of people want stricter immigration controls and a redefinition of our relationship with Europe to a trading zone only, who are the 'elites' to argue? The elites, in bygone ages, were the nobles, the aristocracy, who had a monopoly on the decision-making process. Now, however, they are the collection of parties gathered in Westminster, that have more in common with the honourable gentlemen on the opposite benches than they do with the man or woman on the street.

Whatever you think of 'populist issues,' it is impossible to deny that Parliament is out of step with the people's wishes. The electorate are not stupid. They know about things that government thinks above them; they see the impact of laws, and they see the effects of policies. The things that the narrow strand of opinion in Westminster debates upon have a very real impact on the lives of millions; yet, on everything from defence cuts to EU treaties they have consistently refused to act. It's far easier to call disaffected voters 'bigots' than it is to adequately address their concerns.

Populists seek to change that. It is not a strict ideology; it is not much of an ideology at all. It is the struggle between the people's wishes and what their rulers - elected or not - do. It is the belief that the electorate may be inconsistent. It may be over-opinionated. It may be misinformed. But it is never wrong. It is the belief that people are routinely wiser than their rulers: there is often more logic and rationality in the words of a man on the street than you can find in the Houses of Parliament. It is the belief that the people - and the people alone - should be the source of all public authority - executive and legislative - in a country, with their consent and approval the dual pillars of government.

It is not based on the instincts of the people. It is based on the experience of the people. Experience that, more often than not, those who make decisions on our behalf do not have. It is not far-right.It is not nationalist. It is not socialist. It is not anything. It is merely the collective response of people who have had enough.

As Nigel Farage says, people who want referendums are populists. People who want their elected governments to make law and policy are populists. People who support 'popular' issues - i.e. things that matter to the people - are populists. What, may I ask, makes listening to the people whose lives are affected by government policies - be they on immigration, Europe, or practically any other issue you can think of - automatically wrong?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The EU Will Go The Same Way as Yugoslavia

Nigel Farage, UKIP MEP.

Sometimes I wonder whose idea it was to put Nigel Farage MEP so close to the President of the Commission. Himself and Barroso have frequent disagreements in the chamber. Although they never really speak to each other, the body language says it all. The two can't agree on anything, and Barroso holds the former in contempt, clearly, with his pithy replies and sarcastic applause. But Nigel Farage rarely goes a speech without making a valid point that, given the increasing numbers of people who watch the television station of the European Parliament (the number is almost into the thousands), the federalists would do well to answer.

Here is one such occasion. He starts off laudably, exposing the EU's hypocrisy over the Libyan situation and their attempts to put down 'deep democracy,' and, then, as is typical, goes onto a different topic entirely. After a brief swipe at Belgium, he goes onto the debt crisis in the eurozone, making the point that buying our own debt is economic illiteracy, when Martin Schulz takes the floor (for those of you wondering, as many of the people who commented on the YouTube video are, who that lady is, she is Silvana Koch-Mehrin, former Vice-President of the European Parliament, who resigned on the 11th May 2011 after accusations of plagiarism regarding her 2001 thesis 'Historical Currency Unions between the Economy and Politics.' And her surname is pronounced 'coke,' as in Koch brothers). It's usually when Martin Schulz takes the floor that something interesting happens.

He appears to make the somewhat irrelevant point that Belgium was founded on the basis of a British treaty, to which Nigel responds with a line that's usually used against multiculturalists and mass-immigration advocates. 'When you form an artificial state which has within it more than one language group...and you may for a period of time be able to hold it together. But whether it's Belgium, whether it's Yugoslavia, or whether it's the European Union, if you have entirely different languages and cultures it will not hold together.'

The historical precedent shows that he is entirely correct. There is not a single example of an artificial state - be it an empire or a confederation - that was put together for political or economic advantage holding together for longer than its neighbours, which evolved over a period of time, for the purposes of division of labour, pooling of resources, and mutual defence. Especially not where more than one language or cultural group is concerned. An Irish MEP made the excellent point that the UK itself is such a federation, but, in the UK, English is spoken by almost everyone, even those who do not speak it as a first language, and everyone, bar a few exceptions in the Welsh valleys, Scottish Highlands, or inner-city ghettoes, is exposed to the same mainstream British culture, a binding thread that holds the otherwise fiercely competing and defensive cultures of the UK together.

Belgium, Yugoslavia, and the European Union never had that to quite such an extent; a lot of people may speak a single language, but they do not expose themselves to it on a daily basis. They do not read newspapers or watch television in that language, or talk to their friends in that language, and so they remain largely within their own linguistic and cultural group. And, besides, an Irish MEP should know that there have been Irish rebellions against the distant and English-speaking government in the past, and now, following Alex Salmond's victory in the Scottish elections, there will also be a referendum on whether Scotland leaves the union. The spectre of dissident terrorism has returned to British shores. Simply put, artificial countries do not last as long as natural ones. Libya, formerly two countries, west and east, now may seek to return to such an arrangement. The Ivory Coast, neatly divided along ethnic and religious lines between north and south, has just gone through a civil war. South Sudan will soon be created as the result of a conflict that killed millions of people.

So, why, then, does the European Union insist that the answer to nationalism and xenophobia - i.e. opposition to any aspect of the European Union - can only be countered with more European Union? It's like saying that the solution to the divisions in the Balkans, a collection of states that rebelled against a distant governing authority that was based a few hundred miles away in the name of national independence, is closer integration with a ruling authority thousands of miles away, in Brussels? Most wars and conflicts in Europe, and indeed the world, since the European Union's foundation have came about not through imperialism, but through secessionism, where countries wanted to be independent from a central ruling authority.

When an artificial state loses consent, as Nigel Farage correctly states, there are always calls for referendums, or, if that option is unavailable, popular discontent, violence, subversion, and civil war. Fortunately for the European Union, it cannot lose consent, for it never had it in the first place. No-one has ever voted for its creation, no-one has ever voted for its legislative, executive, and military abilities, no-one has ever been allowed to vote for their country to leave it: is the very thing that countries have fought tooth and nail to leave, only on a much, much larger scale, and with much less democratic oversight. I see no reason for the European Union - an artificial federation created without the consent of the people - to be an exception to a rule that has stood and destroyed nations - some of them far larger than itself - for thousands and thousands of years. Europe's own history is littered with the carcasses of over-ambitious states: the USSR, the Ottoman Empire, and Rome itself have largely been brought down by the same thing. A 'non-imperial empire' will presumably collapse and crumble in the same way.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

David Cameron Is Obsessed With Foreign Aid

India still has aircraft carriers. Why are we sending them so much money?

David Cameron ought to be reminded that charity begins at home. It was revealed today that he has attempted to up the foreign aid budget yet again, and, despite the public disapproval of Defence Secretary Liam Fox, it looks set to go ahead. Two things strike me about this decision: one, why is David Cameron so eager to appease the Liberal Democrats in his Cabinet, even the hotheads like Chris Huhne, yet so contemptuous of the Tory right? Yes, the Liberal Democrats can pull the plug on the coalition, but so can constant internal feuds, if he's not careful. And, besides, they have to stay in the coalition as much as the Tories do, as the prospect of economic recovery is the only way they can boost their dismal poll ratings, and Nick Clegg relies on the coalition for his continued leadership of the party.

Two, why is David Cameron so willing to increase foreign aid spending in the first place? Is there any rational logic behind it, or is it just political grandstanding? I know that some aid is tied up with corporate contracts that sweeten the deal when companies from more than one nation are competing for a multi-billion dollar prize, and that sometimes the money can do towards projects that do genuinely boost our influence in the region and our national security, but the budget as it was under Gordon Brown covered that. Why, exactly, was it increased, and why has it been increased again? Surely, a nation that has aircraft carriers - a valuable, if somewhat outdated, asset that we sorely lack - and a space programme can improve its own infrastructure and the provision of basic services, without needing hundreds of millions of pounds of our money?

And as for sending money to Pakistan, does David Cameron even watch the news? Until the business with rogue elements of the ISI is cleared up, we shouldn't send them a penny of public funds. The justification that aid prevents terrorism by reducing poverty and inequality is flimsy: if there are elements of the security forces sheltering the most wanted terrorist in the world, the few pennies that reach the federal tribal areas aren't going to have any real impact on the threat level from Pakistan. And if it is true that aid does prevent extremism, then why not spend the money on the impoverished Islamic ghettoes in London, Bradford, and Luton, where many of our 'homegrown terrorists' and radical preachers have spawned from?

The budget is set to rise to £11.9 billion over the course of this parliament, up to 0.7% of GDP. That is an enormous figure at a time of such financial crisis and cutbacks, more than what we spend on either the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, and five times what we spend annually on the war in Afghanistan. How many improvements could be made to the lives of London's poorer communities and inner-city slums with that money? I do not disagree with the supporters of this policy when they say that people starving should be more of a priority than guns and tasks; in fact, I agree wholeheartedly with what they say. But there are plenty of people - hundreds of thousands of them -who are below the poverty line in the UK, who will be crippled by rising utility bills, the rising cost of living, rising inflation, and falling wages. Why don't we help them instead?

David Cameron is advocating the wrong policy, at the wrong time, and there seems to be no sense behind it whatsoever. Even if there was, the money could still be better spent closer to home. When Britain returns to a budget surplus, then we can consider giving foreign aid to countries that need it, provided that they are allied to us and reward British companies with lucrative business contracts that go some way to paying us back for our investment. But at the moment, Britain has the largest budget deficit in western Europe and is enforcing harsh budget cutbacks in every area of government, and the attitude of some of the countries that we are sending money to towards us is ambiguous, at best. What, exactly, is the government playing at?

Britain Should Not Intervene in the Commonwealth

Students in Uganda. The Commonwealth should not dictate their laws.

I used to have a lot of respect for Peter Tatchell. He was one of the few left-wing activists that stood out from the crowd. Strange, that someone on the centre-right of politics with an instrinsic dislike of anything that looks like radical left-wing politics should take inspiration from the actions and example of a Green Party member, but it's true. He was willing to make a public stand for his beliefs, at great personal danger; an attempted arrest of an African dictator is a brave feat, and ultimately pointless. But, nonetheless, he carried it out. His article in the Guardian today, however, where he blames the homophobic laws in Commonwealth countries on the 'legacy of British colonialism,' made some of that disappear. Blaming Britain for these country's problems is not doing anything to help the homosexuals of those nations, it is merely resurrecting an old left-wing academic pastime: bashing Britain at every opportunity, no matter the circumstances.

Britain would have been to blame for many of the faults of post-colonial nations - sixty years ago. It was Britain that originally put those laws in place, in a wholly different era, might I add, long before any of us were alive, but those countries have been independent for more than half a century, or longer, and have had more than enough time to get those colonial laws repealed or changed. In that time, Britain has had little or no authority over the vast majority of them. They have had their own democracies and their own dictatorships, and are more than capable of governing themselves, contrary to received 19th century logic, haphazard boundaries and tribal disputes notwithstanding. So why are we held responsible for their problems now? In the case of Uganda, where this sort of legislation was only tabled in 2010, there's no logical way we are responsible for any of this, and other countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been homophobic for as long as time itself. Nothing Britain says or does could ever change that.

It's interest to note how the institutional left-wing, if not Peter Tatchell himself, always the defenders or deniers of extreme cultural practices on these shores, roundly condemn any implementation of the same practices in their original countries. Whilst they emphatically refuse to even speak of the problems of homophobia in the conservative Islamic and Sikh community in the United Kingdom, accusing anyone who speaks up for the rights of immigrant women of racism, they are the first to proclaim that 'something must be done' when it concerns another country's legal system. I don't know Peter Tatchell's opinions on homophobia in immigrant communities here, but he certainly advocates interference in the home affairs of the countries that many homophobic immigrants come from.

He writes that 'if the secretary-general can't robustly defend universal human rights and equality for LGBT people, he is unfit for high office and should resign.' The trouble with universal human rights is that they are not universally cherished. Other countries and other cultures have different ideas about how their countries should be run and what rights should be afforded to individuals. Contrary to popular belief in left-wing academic circles, the majority of the world is not, in fact, western European, nor do they subscribe to the values that western Europeans hold dear. The Commonwealth is an organisation that represents two billion people, the vast majority of them from poor Third World countries that are staunchly Christian or Islamic. The views of those people - conservative, impoverished, and rural - have to be taken into account. The liberalised, westernised elite that run the Commonwealth cannot dictate to them how to run their affairs, or else they risk becoming the colonists that Peter Tatchell seems to despise.

These countries are now democratic and should left to be run their own affairs. We may not like what they do, but it is their choice, and the Commonwealth - which the Queen is still the head of - cannot intervene in what is supposed to be a non-political organisation. It may be the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, but most of the two billion people in the Commonwealth couldn't care less. We should refuse to dictate to them how their lives should be run.

Monday, 16 May 2011

In the rush for equality, some are more equal than others...

The sight of Dominique Strauss-Kahn being hauled by American police into a New York courtroom for an alleged sex crime would have been met with dismay by the countries of the eurozone who rely on his steady hand on the tiller, not least of which Angela Merkel, who he was due to meet with on the day of his arrest. The charges will certainly have a profound effect on the course of the financial crisis that blights the eurozone, and could lead to the election of a nationalist conservative - and Eurosceptic - party in France. They could, depending on the nature of his successor, if Mr. Strauss-Kahn is forced to leave his post, have far-reaching consequences across the world.

It's no surprise that in all the attention devoted to the stories of the alleged incident and how it might alter the course of French politics, the issue of anonymity for those accused of sex offences has been largely ignored. But there can be no better demonstration of the damaging consequences of an allegation than this: the world's most powerful banker and economist, one of the most influential men in the world, now stands staring into the abyss of social disaster. He had a rather controversial history with women, with a number of alleged incidents stretching back almost a decade, from all quarters of French politics and media. But suppose he hadn't - suppose he was your average bloke. His reputation would lie in tatters, as would his family and social life. His job, like that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, would be on the rocks. And he wouldn't have the excuse of having to save the world economy to fall back on, either. In short, an allegation of a sex crime could ruin a man.

Why, then, isn't protection of the names of those accused of sex offences not a top priority of the courts? Now, personally, I think that rapists are the scum of the earth. It's a crime that is worse than murder, in most, not some, instances, in my humble opinion, and should be punishable by chemical castration. But a man or woman accused of sex offenders that has not stood trial is not a rapist in the eyes of the law. They're just a man or woman who may well be innocent. Why should the press be allowed to publish their name and end their career and ruin their relationships when they are still legally innocent?

EU Authoritarianism: Part I

It's hard to study totalitarian regimes and not be slightly alarmed by the direction the European Union is taking. It's suitable that that video starts with a picture of Martin Schulz, the leader of the Socialists in the European Parliament, as he is a fine example of what I'm talking about. He, as one of the most fanatical supporters of European unification, once accused a Dutch MEP of behaving 'like a fascist' for asking for Barroso to publish the details of his £750,000 travel expenses claims, and accused Eurosceptics who called for a public vote on the Lisbon Treaty of behaving like Nazis in the Weimar Republic. His comments on both occasions met with smug, nodded approval by the rows of federalist MEPs arrayed behind him, some of whom have came up with fanatical quotes of their own.

A former French Prime Minister once declared that 'a true Europe cannot want a referendum (on the European Constitution).' Michael Heseltine once likened the prospect of a referendum to 'mob rule.' Jean Monnet, one of the 'fathers of Europe,' once explicitly stated that 'Europe's nations should be guided towards the super-state without their people understanding what is happening.' Jacques Chirac thinks that opposing the EU is 'not well brought-up behaviour...infantile...dangerous,' and that the eastern European countries who took the US line over the invasion of Iraq rather than that of Europe (i.e. France and Germany) were 'very rude.' Margot Wallstrom showed her amazing grasp of PR skills by visiting the former Jewish ghetto of Terezin and would have - had she not had the good sense to omit the drafted line - told Europeans that opposition to the EU would lead to a second Holocaust, and the Commission as a whole said that voting 'Yes' to the Constitution - handing power over national governments to an unelected executive official, such as Wallstrom - was a tribute to the Second World War. The EU also ended the Cold War, apparently.

Who's more dangerous, do you think? Eurosceptics who may be eccentric, but otherwise are normal people - a majority in most European countries, in fact - or dedicated fanatics who think that anyone who opposes them is a Nazi? Or employed by the CIA? The answer, when power is taken into account, is undoubtedly the federalists.

Does anyone else remember the Geoffrey Bloom scandal, that brief interruption of the European Parliament's irrelevant ramblings that caused such a stir in the British media? The one where he repeated 'Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer' at Schulz and was expelled for it? It's available on video here. Pay close attention to how he was evicted from the parliament: a democratic vote of the members. Such a measure is allowed as per the Parliament's rules of conduct. In this instance, its use was not too extreme. Geoffrey Bloom had unintentionally caused a riot, even by Brussels standards. But how else could that measure be applied? If federalists are a majority in the European Parliament - and they are, overwhelmingly so - then what is to stop them from banning Eurosceptic members from attending debates? Nothing. They've even tried it before, in an attempt to prevent a 'fractured parliament, split into many small groups.' That particular attempt only failed because the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, and the far left opposed it. If it had been Eurosceptics on their own, they would now be banned.

The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, is not neutral. There is a video of him nodding when Nigel Farage said that he was 'tempted to sit down' after a sarcastic round of applause, available to watch here. The previous incumbent, as mentioned in the video above, banned an Austrian far-right MEP (an actual one) due to 'disturbances' in the European Parliament, and ordered banners that called for a referendum to be confiscated by the ushers. The Austrian MEP, Andreas Molzer, was actually in Frankfurt on the day.

It's a scary thought, that there exist elements within a supranational parliament that want to ban 'fractures' and 'small groups' - i.e. opposition and other parties. It's even scarier to think that these people are the majority in that parliament, and could easily succeed in doing exactly that if they ever feel the need to do so. Thankfully, the parliament itself is powerless. It is unable to propose or repeal legislation. The real decisions are made by the Commission, who are unelected and so do not have this problem.

An unelected executive is, of course, anathema in any western democracy. But the EU has one. None of the twenty-seven people who propose and repeal legislation make their laws with the support of a popular vote. They cannot be voted into office, and they cannot be voted out of it. They meet in secret, and are powerful enough for a former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, ask them to formally change their name to 'European Government' to reflect what they do. Other than the fact that they are, essentially, dictators (what else would you call a government where no executive officials are elected?), and that they are fanatical believers in the European Union - more Europe at all costs - there's nothing totalitarian about them. So I'm going to completely ignore them, and come onto some of the organisations that they control, which are a lot more sinister.

Europol, the Orwellian name for the European Police Office, is a non-executive police force and a support service for national police, and, on paper, doesn't actually sound that sinister. It cannot arrest suspects or carry out investigations in a member state's jurisidiction. However, there is one aspect of this police force that doesn't seem at all consistent with its stated role: its officers, whilst in any other EU member state except their own, have diplomatic immunity. They can commit any crime whilst on foreign soil and be untouchable by that nation's judicial service. The European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union, also has limited jurisdiction over them, with its powers restricted to some interpretation of the now defunct Europol Convention, now replaced with this. Although Europol has enjoyed extraordinary success against human trafficking and organised crime, in its current role it does not need diplomatic immunity.

And then there's Eurogendfor, the European Union's 'crisis management' force, consisting of nine hundred soldiers and two thousand three hundred reinforcements ready to be deployed to an emergency zone, drawn from the elite forces and paramilitaries of many EU countries, some of them former dictatorships. Based in northern Italy, there were some rumours that it was to be deployed to Greece. It was initially proposed by the former French Defence Minister after riots in France, and sets out its mission here. I should remind you that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the supremacy of which over national law was set out by the Lisbon Treaty, says that:

'Article 2 – Right to life
1. Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.
2. Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:
a. in defence of any person from unlawful violence;
b. in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
c. in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.'

The Job Market is Not Fair to White People

'Britishness is not ideal, but at least it appears acceptable, particularly when suitably qualified - Black British, Indian British, British Muslim and so on.'

Those were the words of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, an independent think tank that claims to be devoted to the cause of racial justice. It aims to make Britain a 'confident and vibrant multicultural society at ease with its rich diversity.' With such awesome powers over the liberal left lexicon, it was soon enlisted by New Labour in its quest to 'rub the right's nose in diversity,' and was asked in 2000 to produce the report quoted above.

The notion that my national identity is perceived as 'not ideal' by Labour is deeply offensive - not that anyone seems to care these days - but it is also sinister. That report came up with one hundred new recommendations that the government was keen on implementing to the letter. One of them was that television franchise holders promote a more inclusive, diverse society by setting strict quotas on the number of black or Asian staff they had to recruit. This will surely be one of the pieces of legislation that historians will look back on in a hundred year's time and weep. If things go the way they are going, it will be hailed as evidence that Britain lost its way in domestic affairs, one of the causes of the inter-ethnic violence that marred much of the 21st century.

As for today, it's one of the pieces of legislation that university graduates and first-time employees can look back on and weep, as they come out fresh from their GCSEs or university courses ready to take their first step on the career ladder, only to find that they're too white to fill the position. They enter the world of work with a full list of qualifications and academic credits, and apply for a number of positions at whatever company they want, writing their full CVs and academic achievements in a job application, filling the box that says 'ethnicity.' And that's where many perfectly good and employable people are let down: by their colour.

The BBC reported in 2010 that 52% of the two million jobs created since Labour came to power in 1997 have gone to non-British nationals. In other words, ten per cent of the population is taking over half of the new jobs available, leaving the other 90% to compete furiously for less than half of the jobs. The net result is hundreds of thousands of qualified white people unemployed and disillusioned because their skin colour makes it harder for them to get a job.

Those who would seek to defend such a blatantly unfair practice should be brought around to see it from the point of view of those affected. Think about it. You've just worked hard to complete a university course to gain an advantage in the jobs market. It has cost you tens of thousands of pounds; you now owe over fifty grand in debt and there are only a small number of jobs available. Most of which you're over-qualified for; you're a graduate, you don't want to be cleaning toilets or sweeping the streets. But you want to start paying off your debt and build a successful career, so, you send off about fifty applications to various companies asking to be a shop-floor worker or some sort of low-level administrator. You fill out your application form with all the necessary information: age, gender, qualifications, academic achievements, and experience.

And then it comes to a box labelled 'ethnicity.' Not wanting to lie, you tick that you are 'white British.' And that's where it all goes wrong. Unless you made the mistake of putting 'male' under gender, you're now checked against the other candidates not on the basis of your academic ability, but on the colour of your skin. If you come up against one - just one - BME candidate, then you - and every other white British-born citizen that applied for that post - are screwed. Back to the dole office for you.

Positive action - or racism, as it used to be called - is not just an ideological warzone. It has a very real effect on the lives of heavily-indebted job-seekers across the country. Take that sentence at the top of this post - it's that notion, that Britishness is not ideal, that is the inspiration for much of the discriminatory legislation that infests our statute books. Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Diversity Commissar, but I can't help it. Does my being white, male, straight, and, wait for it, proud of it, offend you in any way? Perhaps that's an imprisonable offence now? If not, why is it such a crime when entering the jobs market? The government has scrapped the aspects of Harman's Law that apply to class - why doesn't it do the same for those that apply to race, gender, or sexuality?

'A distinction needs also to be drawn between overt racism and institutional racism.' Does it really?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Another Eurosceptic Victory

Denmark-Schengen Border. Picture by Pit.

Okay, so it's more of a draw. On the one hand, our attempts to delay or halt the bailout deal through Finnish non-participation has been scuppered. This isn't too bad a defeat; the Finns would never have actually managed to stop the bailout. They'd only have made it more expensive for other countries, who'd have had to foot the bill. And, seeing how the government - which has but one, but two anti-bailout parties in it - cave in to the European Commission, they'll be more likely to vote Eurosceptic next time, missing that one billion euros that, in terms of Finland, is actually a massive amount of money.

On the other hand, the Danish Volkspartei has secured a massive victory over the European Commission by doing what the True Finns should have done - namely, using their position as senior coalition partners to force the country's centre-right government to reinstate border checks. It's a smack in the eye for Schengen, one of the dual pillars of European integration, and the Commission is not amused. 'It should be clear that the European Commission cannot and will not accept any attempt to roll back the EU treaty, either for free movement of goods or persons at internal borders.' So, there you go, an unelected beaurocrat telling the elected governments of Europe what they can and cannot do. Again.

But they're standing in front of the stable door after the horse has bolted. No European leader is delighted at the prospect of hundreds of thousands of economic migrants arriving on their doorstep; not at a time when they're challenged by populists, conservatives, and the genuine far-right, and not when another period of European expansionism is planned. Sarkozy and Berlusconi, both centre-right leaders who are either in coalition with populist parties or face being obliterated by them at the polls, have begged the European Commission for the right to reclaim control over their own borders, and were both refused. Denmark has shown them how to do it properly: rather than ask the Commission for something that it will never give, do whatever you want to without consideration of Barroso or his imperial ambitions.

It's a revolutionary concept: let the people that the people elect make the decisions. It's one that might prove popular. Denmark's action will have repercussions across Europe. People will realise what, exactly, has transpired, and start demanding that their countries - which are larger, richer, and more populous than Denmark - do the same.

As Juan Fernando López Aguilar, leader of the Spanish delgation in the European Parliament's Socialists & Democrats group, says: 'it is unacceptable that populist anti-European pressures have led to this situation because this sends a a message that is discouraging, profoundly negative and against the Europe that we need.' The 'Europe' that they need is not the Europe that people want. And this is a cause for celebration.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The EU's Increasing Militarism

The EU's Ring of Steel

The EU, goes the narrative, has prevented war and conflict in this fading old continent for over sixty years. It is often held by federalists that nothing - not even NATO and nuclear weapons - were more important than the European Union in ensuring stability, and that only the pen-pushing beaurocrats of Brussels kept the armoured might of the Soviet Union at bay. Their army of lawmakers and legislators defended the plains of northern Germany from the columns of tanks and ballistic missile launchers that could, at any moment, have spilled across the border, and nothing has done more to enshrine European peace and prosperity, and prevent a second Holocaust.

Why, then, is the EU the most blatantly militaristic government in Europe today? Its army may be small and largely ceremonial, but the pomp and circumstance with which its symbolic relevance is celebrated is highly unusual. One day before Europe Day, the headquarters of Eurocorps opened its doors to some twenty-thousand visitors. Based in Strasbourg, near the European Parliament, this is the European Union's multinational standing army. It consists of sixty thousand troops from several different countries in western Europe, and, for the day, it was very much on public display.

This was, of course, largely for propaganda purposes. Eurocorps has served on active deployment, but its combat role was limited. There were no major historic achievements on display; no relics of past wars. This was purely a PR exercise, as its brief description on the official website makes clear. The insignia of the elite unit, claims the report, was immensely popular with visitors. The sinister boast in the last line doesn't bear repeating here. Funnily enough, the story that they are selling there does not correspond to the reality, briefly glimpsed in a single picture of the event here. One solitary stand, surrounded by no more than ten visitors, none of whom are remotely interested in the soldiers who stand chatting behind the table.

But, not dismayed by what was actually a washout, the EU continued the celebrations of its military might into the next day - Europe Day - where the European Parliament was attended by the Commanding General of Eurocorps, who was presented with the 'European flag' by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament. 'Under the applause of the public' (the same people who attended the day before, no doubt) the flag was hoisted above the parliament by soldiers from various areas of the EU. 'Speeches were held in the presence of a crowd of some one thousand young Europeans from the Euroscola programme, representing the twenty-seven EU nations A multinational Eurocorps detachment with soldiers from the five framework nations were the actors of the flag hoisting, while a military band played the European anthem.'

I'm trying to resist drawing parallels with the Russian VE Day Parade, partly because that would be disrespectful to the Russians, who could actually draw crowds without paying them to attend, and partly so I don't sound like I'm exaggerating. But the difference between the reality and the reported version speaks volumes about where the EU's interests lie. How does a handful of people gathered around an empty stand turn into 'twenty thousand people?' How do 'one thousand students' of Euroscola - which involves five hundred students, the EU doubled the numbers - represent five hundred million? Why are 'Europe' and the 'European Union' interchangeable? And since when was Strasbourg the 'European' capital? Brussels, maybe. But Strasbourg? The whole thing reeks of propaganda, and, if there had been no photographs of the event, I'd have believed it, and reported it as accurate.

It is part of an increasingly martial European Union, with a burning desire to show itself on the world stage. I have blogged before about how the EU appears to be the hidden power behind the scenes when it comes to recent European national deployments in Libya, and Christopher Booker, on the Telegraph, has wrote about the pride of our navy being handed over to the European Rapid Reaction Force. The EU's Baroness Catherine Ashton has recently applied to the UN to be able to field soldiers under direct EU control in Libya on 'humanitarian grounds.' It has the European Gendarmerie Force, a 'tool able to perform all police tasks within the scope of crisis management operations.' And, of course, it says in the Lisbon Treaty that 'the common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy.'

'If you don’t want to call it a European army, don’t call it a European army. You can call it ‘Margaret,’ you can call it ‘Mary-Anne,' you can find any name,' Romano Prodi blustered in 2000, evidently proud of his new military wing.

'Transforming the European Union into a single State with one army, one constitution and one foreign policy is the critical challenge of the age,' as Joschka Fisher, German Foreign Minister, famously remarked.

'We must finally bury the erroneous ideas of nations having sovereignty over foreign and defence policies. National sovereignty will soon prove itself to be a product of the imagination' - Gerhard Schröder, former Chancellor of Germany.


Note the Roman gladius on the beret badge and how the UK has been artificially connected to the mainland of Europe. In fact, the badge does not show the European Union, but an extended version of it, with the countries currently regarded by the Commission as 'potential future members' already coloured in. 'Non-imperial empire,' or good old-fashioned conquest?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Europhobia: An Assessment

The European flag flies above the streets of Strasbourg. Picture by francois, on Wikimedia.

The federalist camp is awfully fond of rebranding. Like most ideologues, if the facts change, their name does. It's far easier than adapting their argument to suit, or, even worse, changing their opinions. But one thing that the few fanatical federalists do that other ideologues do not is brand their opponents not merely as part of their rhetoric, but as part of their ideology. Any criticism, no matter how slight or valid, of the European Union is taken as absolute proof of the offending person's hatred and vilification of that noble institution; it is an irrational fear that many swivel-eyed nationalists are afflicted by, mentally disfigured by their opposition to what is clearly a worthy and just cause. It is Europhobia; where an individual despises with every fibre of their being the actions and initiatives of the European Union, whatever their origin, and whatever their goal, for no good reason other than its conception within the shadowy confines of Berlaymont.

It is a charge to which I, and, I assume, many other Eurosceptics would actually plead guilty - if it was illegal. I do not hate Europe or Europeans; I am European, by virtue of geography rather than the will of unelected commissars, and you can generally find me on the 'European' side of debates, where such a thing exists. Especially when it comes to good old-fashioned transatlantic feuding. But that does not mean that I should - as Kirsty Wark says - feel any pleasure when I see the EU flag being hoisted. Rather, for me, it means the opposite. I accept the charge of Europhobia, although I deny that there is anything irrational about it.

Do I oppose everything the EU does, whether I agree with it or not, and no matter its merits? Yes. Why? Because it has no democratic mandate to do so. It has never been voted for; it has never been voted against. Indeed, it has never actually held a popular ballot on its existence, and any national referendums have been heavily discouraged and, when completed, ignored, or repeated until the EU got the answer it wanted. Armed with the knowledge that 51% of 'EU citizens' and at least 60% of Britons do not want it, I ask: what legitimacy does this organisation actually have? It is a treaty organisation, and treaties usually do not require the approval of a democratic vote to be ratified. But it now has the ability to make law; indeed, it now makes at least one third of new laws on the UK statute books. Surely any organisation that can control people's lives should be subject to the ballot box? Why should anyone have power over us when we have no power over them?

Secondly, why should I obey the laws that the unelected executive of an unaccountable institution makes when it itself consistently refuses to do so? This is an organisation that has constantly changed its laws, retrospectively, to suit its own ends. They did so over the the national debt. They did it to make bailouts legal - after pulling off an £80,000,000,000 bailout. They now want to do it over the Schengen Treaty. Retrospective legislation from unelected executives does not seem the ideal way to run a continent; I prefer a government that stays within a legal framework which we have a say over, rather than one that makes its actions legal after they have been committed.

Thirdly, since when was it ever irrational to be fearful of the power of unelected institutions? Think of the people in this country who debate the powers of the House of Lords, or the monarchy. Are they irrational? Are they to be laughed at because they oppose an individual with no mandate having a role in government? No. So why are we? We have less power over a European commissioner than we do over the Queen. The EU is, as said, the source of at least one third of our laws, and we have no say over any of them, or the Commission that has sole right to propose and repeal them. As a citizen who is affected by these laws, I demand at least some say over what they are, and who passes them. The EU does not give me that right. Only a sovereign elected British parliament can give me that right.

That is why I campaign for one. Not out of an irrational fear of Europe, Europeans, or the European Union, but out of a deep-seated conviction that people should make the laws they live by. If it is wrong to stand for representative democracy in a sovereign parliament, then I - and 60-70% of the British electorate - am guilty.

The Union Shall Not Be Liable

Schengen, Luxemburg. Picture by Cayambe.

Anyone who seriously thought that we'd make a profit on our bailout contribution has now been emphatically silenced. Or, at least, they should be. Greece, the first country to receive a bailout and the first to come back for more, has openly threatened to default on its debt. It was always a ludicrous idea, of course, to hand more loans to a country heavily in debt, especially if the underlying problems that caused the crisis in the first place haven't even been discussed. But now we see just how ludicrous it was.

This is brilliant news for Eurosceptics - another economic prediction proved right, after the one about the euro that was made over twenty years ago, where were first warned of its collapse and were pilloried for the trouble. But it's bad news for Britain as a whole. We have poured almost ten billions of pounds into this 'loan,' and we will never get a penny of that money back. Even if, by some sort of shady backroom deal, Greece is somehow persuaded, amidst the prospect of renewed violence and civil insurrection, to turn back from the edge, and to pay its debts, it will still not be commercially viable. If it was, they'd have gone to a commercial bank, rather than relying on a bailout fund that is explicitly banned. In short, that money has been wasted. That's £10,000,000,000 of public funds. That's the kind of money that wars are fought over.

Those who said that it would be in Britain's national interest to hand over such an obscene sum have been proven wrong - if Greece defaults, we won't even break even, let alone make a profit, and as it's now back at the negotiating table asking for more money, with George Osborne once again denying Britian's involvement, it's a safe bet that it hasn't succeeded in stabilising the eurozone, either. But that's still one hundred and fifty pounds of public funding for every man, woman, and child in the country that's been spent. Ten billion pounds that could have been invested in our over-burdened, under-funded transport network, or our over-worked armed services has been spent on absolutely nothing. Illegally, according to Article 125 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, and as Angela Merkel says.

Since then, two more countries have asked for bailouts, and Britain has contributed another eleven billion pounds to the cause. Greece itself has came back to the negotiating table, asking for more. The costs of bailing out Spain will be larger than the costs of bailing out the other three put together. In total, over twenty-five billion pounds has been handed over, for no benefit.