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.

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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.

1 comment:

  1. Even if we had been given a vote it would make no difference, as a "No" would be ignored, or we would be asked to re-sit the "exam".

    Generally though, the age of functioning large nations, or a collective of nations such as the EU, is coming to an end. The reason is simple. Nations are most stable when founded on common linguistic and cultural traditions. Even a nation that was homogenuous, but has now become multicultural, such as the UK, faces first economic difficulty, followed by civil strife. It is patently clear, that a group of like-minded people are more likely to work for the commonweal, and even sacrifice their own well-being for the common good, then a nation populated by diverse competing people. We are going to find this out in spades in virtually all Europe in the next decade or so.

    Let us hope that we do not go the way of Yugoslavia.