State of the Disunion as 60th anniversary celebrations approach

No doubt there were huge sighs of relief in Brussels that fewer Dutch voters than expected supported Geert Wilders’ anti-establishment PVV in the country’s recent General Election and that the VVD (Liberal) party, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte gained the most seats.

A few days before the European Union’s 27 remaining members meet to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of  Treaty of Rome, they can breathe more easily – at least for now. However, Mr Wilders was never going to become Prime Minister due to the multiplicity of political parties in the Netherlands, virtually all of which ruled out going into coalition with his party. If the PVV had become the largest party in the Dutch Parliament, it would have nonetheless emboldened anti-EU parties in France and Germany, where elections are also due later this year.

Even so, next weekend’s festivities cannot disguise the harsh fact that the EU is becalmed, with no clear sense of direction. Eurosceptic parties may not yet be on the verge of forming governments in Western Europe, but their support is growing steadily. In response, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has recently published a white paper offering five different future scenarios for the bloc’s future.

In a nutshell, these range from pressing on with ever closer union (Scenario 5) at one extreme to a reduction to nothing more than a Single Market (Scenario 2) at the other. The other three options are a two-speed Europe (Scenario 3), with some countries integrating faster than others, “Doing less more efficiently” (Scenario 4) and “Carrying on” (Scenario 1).

The ever-closer union option is unlikely to gain much favour in Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Hungary. The current Polish government is a supporter of repatriating power from Brussels and the recent reappointment of Donald Tusk, a member of Poland’s biggest opposition party, as President of the European Council against the wishes of Poland’s government, is not going to improve relations between Warsaw and Brussels. Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski said that his country will “play a very rough game” in the European Union.

Hungary has no appetite for interference in its internal affairs by Brussels. The European Commission has criticised the construction of a razor wire fence on the border with Serbia, but Hungary has ignored the criticism and pressed on regardless.

Then there are Greece’s problems. Our friends in EPAM, a Greek Eurosceptic organisation, are organising protests against austerity outside several Greek embassies, including one in London, on Saturday 25th March. The organisation claims that austerity has bitten so deep into Greece’s fabric that lives are being lost as the country’s health service has reached the point of collapse. One article recently brought to our attention claims that “The country is rotting inside the EU and the eurozone. The Greek people have crashed economically. Greek cities, because of massive illegal immigration, look less like cities in Europe and more like cities in Afghanistan. Banks have begun the mass-confiscation of residences. The people are on the verge of revolt.

Of course, it is the Euro, one of the EU’s flagship policies, which has put Greece into its current straitjacket. Until recently, however, support for both the Euro and EU membership was remarkably strong. Almost two years ago, at the height of the last financial crisis, over 69% supported remaining within the Eurozone, with 56% wanting to keep the single currency even if it meant harsh austerity measures being imposed.

Such statistics act as a reality check to those of us in the UK whose dislike of the EU is so intense that we find it hard to figure out why other countries are not preparing to follow us out of the exit door.  We have never been keen on pooled sovereignty and for us, the EU’s “Ring of death” flag is a badge of shame. Across the Channel, things are viewed differently. Member states which suffered years of Soviet rule or military dictatorships view EU membership as a symbol break with a past they are all too keen to forget. While not all the EU’s leading lights are such gushing  federalists as the Belgian MEP and former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt,  there are still plenty of enthusiasts for the project. For instance the Spanish MEP  Esteban González Pons who called Brexit “selfish”, claimed that the EU was the “only alternative” in an increasingly globalised world and expressed the hope that one day, we would one day “come home”  – re-join the EU in other words.

Such sentiment seems almost laughable given that others in the EU clearly view  Brexit as a great opportunity to press on with closer union now the pesky foot-dragging Brits are going their own way.  We will no doubt hear much about how wonderful the EU is during next weekend’s celebrations, but once the festivities are over, the leaders of EU-27 will have to look long and hard at Mr Juncker’s five options for the EU’s future and coming to a consensus isn’t gong to be easy. Geert Wilders may not have achieved the breakthrough for which he hoped, which in turn has made Marine le Pen’s already difficult path to the Elysée Palace even harder, but the EU has only won a short-term reprieve.  A big fireworks display in Rome cannot disguise the fact that it faces a serious identity crisis which it shows little sign of being able to resolve.

Photo by Christopher Lotito

Support the Greek people – demonstration on March 25th

If you are in London on Saturday March 25th, you are welcome to join us as we support our friends in EPAM, a Greek Eurosceptic organisation, who are demonstrating against the austerity imposed on their country. You can find full details of the event here.

You may also wish to download this flyer even if you can’t come. It lists how human rights are being violated as a result of the austerity measures imposed on them.

Greece may have dropped out of the news in the last couple of years, but the situation  in the country remains dire. This article explains in graphic detail just how dismal the country’s prospects are.  The Campaign for an Independent Britain is keen to work with like-minded people in Greece to draw the world’s attention to their country’s plight.

Could the Dutch follow us out of the EU door?

A new poll about attitudes to the EU in Holland, undertaken for the Bruges Group, by Maurice de Hond shortly before the country’s General Election, shows the Dutch prefer alternatives to the EU rather than EU membership. Support for Nexit (i.e., the total of  EFTA and FTA supporters) stood at 56% as opposed to 44% EU supporting continued EU membership. This compares to an IPSOS poll last year showing 64% preferred to remain in the EU. With the Netherlands going to the polls on 15th March, this poll could help pro-sovereignty parties. The poll gave respondents two choices for leaving the EU, the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) option and the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) option, which also included controlling immigration. The results show the Dutch are open to a working alternative, such as EFTA.

The full results were as follows:

39% = EU/Single Market
23% = EFTA/Single market (European Free Trade Association)
27% = FTA (Free Trade Association)
11% = Don’t Know

When Don’t Knows are excluded, this equates to:
56% = Nexit (EFTA+FTA)
44% = EU

The detailed results showed equally men and women supported Nexit options.

The national media on the continent is even more censored than the UK media, so the EFTA option may well be the easiest route to self-government and restoring democracy.

If the Dutch were to have a successful Nexit referendum, it would help our own Brexit negotiations if there was another country looking for a similar simple free trade agreement, with full immigration control. There is also the option of the other EFTA countries looking to renegotiate their terms and joining the UK and other European countries looking for self-government.

Interestingly, a similar poll for the UK, commissioned before last year’s referendum for the Bruges Group and undertaken by Opinium, showed 61% would support an EFTA+FTA option.

In summary, this poll shows that there is a real possibility the Netherlands may hold a Nexit referendum, with good chances of winning if the EFTA option is selected along with, maybe, a more phased approach to immigration control –  e.g. new Eastern Europeans having a 1 year working working visa, with a points system for staying longer. Since European relations have been in flux for hundreds of years, new ideas for trade agreements that benefit the majority of people, including the EFTA option, are showing in this poll.

The Bruges Group press release can be found here, with results tables

The Daily Express has published the poll results:

There are a number of options for EFTA membership:
– Full membership
– Associate membership

There are also a number of ways EFTA countries can trade with the EU
– EFTA/Single Market (Norway, Iceland)
– EFTA/Single Market, with immigration control (Liechtenstein)
– EFTA/bilateral (Switzerland)
– EFTA/FTA (Free Trade Agreement) (e.g. South Korea)
– EFTA/WTO rules (World Trade Organisation) (similar to China, which exports €300bn to the EU a year)

For regular updates about EFTA and the UK and Europe see here
For EFTA seminar powerpoints see here.
For a list of EFTA worldwide free trade agreements, see here

Hugo van Randwyck has been suggesting the EFTA option as a stepping stone for full self-government, starting with a transition to EFTA/Single Market, and using the articles 112 and 113 for phasing restoring self-government from the Single Market, e.g. immigration control . With the a simple FTA as the aim. In addition, looking at the option of northern Europe becoming an EFTA zone, with new members, the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria ,Ireland, joining Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. He has written for the Bruges Group and also CIB.

Why Brexit should be followed by Irexit

By Anthony Coughlan

The Republic of Ireland joined the then European Economic Community in 1973 primarily because Britain and Northern Ireland did so. Now a group of Irish economists and lawyers of which I was rapporteur have produced a report advocating that Brexit should be accompanied by “Irexit” (Ireland Exit), for a number of decisive reasons.

If the UK leaves the EU customs union while the Republic stays in the EU, the North-South border within Ireland will become an EU land frontier, with customs controls being inevitable and possibly passport controls too. EU-based laws and standards, for example in relation to crime and justice, will prevail in the South and UK-based ones in the North. The only way for the Republic’s politicians to avoid adding new dimensions to the North-South border within Ireland is therefore for them to leave the EU along with the UK.

Since 2014, the Republic has become a net contributor to the EU Budget. This is a big change from the previous 40 years, during which it was a major recipient of EU money, mainly through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. In future, money from Brussels will be Irish taxpayers’ money recycled, as is already the case with the UK. This removes what up to now has been the principal basis of Irish Europhilia, official and unofficial – namely, easy EU cash, not any ideological enthusiasm for Eurofederalism or “the EU project”.

If the Republic seeks to remain in the EU when the UK leaves, it will henceforth have to pay more to the EU Budget as its proportionate contribution to help compensate for the loss of Britain’s contribution. On the other hand, a bonus for Ireland of leaving the EU along with the UK is that it would get its sea-fisheries back – the value of annual fish-catches by foreign boats in Irish waters being a several-times multiple of whatever money Ireland has got from the EU over the years.

As regards trade and investment, the Republic sends 61 per cent by value of its goods exports and 66 per cent of its services exports to countries that are outside the continental EU26, mostly English-speaking. It gets two-thirds of its imports from English-speaking countries. The USA is the most important market for the Republic’s foreign-owned firms and the UK for its Irish-owned ones – the latter being particularly important for employment. These two markets together are comparable in importance to that of the EU26 post-Brexit. Taking other English-speaking markets into account makes the English-speaking world much more important for the Republic than the EU minus Britain. This is also so for foreign investors coming to Ireland. Economically and psychologically, Ireland is closer to Boston than Berlin, and to Britain than Germany.

It is not of course a question of the Republic having to choose between one export market and another if it should decide to leave the EU along with the UK. If common sense prevails in the negotiations, there should be continuing free trade between the UK, Ireland and the EU in the context of Brexit and Irexit occurring simultaneously.

Without Britain as an ally beside her in the EU Council of Ministers, the Republic will be in a much weaker position to defend its low rate of company profits tax, which is the principal incentive that it uses to attract foreign capital investment to the country. Germany and the Brussels Commission are already gunning for this. It would also be in a weaker position to defend its fishery interests, its trade interests, its distinctive Anglo-Saxon-based traditions in the area of law and justice, which the EU aims to harmonise, and its military neutrality.

The main argument for the Republic staying in the EU when the UK leaves is the negative one that it is a member of the Eurozone while the UK is not. When the euro was established in 1999, Dublin’s ultra-europhile politicians were so foolish as to adopt the currency of an area with which Ireland does only one-third of its trade. They thought at the time that the UK would be bound to adopt the euro-currency too, and that Dublin would show how “communautaire” it was by going first! The Republic now desperately needs to get its own currency back so that it can devalue it along with sterling and the dollar, and not be stuck with an implicitly overvalued euro that is now crucifying its exports.

That is why Dublin should aim to leave the Eurozone in a planned, concerted manner, negotiating its departure with Germany, the ECB, the UK and the Bank of England in private behind the scenes as part of its move to leave the EU along with the UK, rather than be forced to abandon the euro anyhow in the next Eurozone financial crisis.

The EU plans closer military cooperation when the UK leaves. From Britain’s point of view, can it be be happy with the thought of the Republic participating in EU security and defence policy and implementing ever-closer integation with an EU/Eurozone that is likely to come under greater German hegemony following Brexit?

Germany, like the other 27 EU States, will seek to prevent Brexit if it can but, if it is unable to thwart it, it will accept it, as will the others. This and other considerations may possibly encourage Germany to support Irexit alongside Brexit if that should become Irish Government policy. Germany could more easily aspire to greater hegemony over the continental EU Member States if Ireland as well as Britain cease to be EU members. This should appeal to influential sections of Germany’s current political elite.

It is only since Theresa May’s speech in January that Ireland’s ultra-europhile political Establishment is beginning to realise that Brexit really does mean Brexit, and the case for it being accompanied by Irexit is starting to be heard in Irish business circles. Irish public opinion is in advance of élite opinion on this. An opinion poll last October showed that almost four in ten Irish people would choose open borders and free trade with the UK over the EU. This was before there was any realisation of the hugely adverse effects on the Republic if it is so foolish as to seek to remain in the EU when Britain and Northern Ireland leave it.

That realisation is now growing in Ireland. Both public and élite opinion is likely to move in the direction of Irexit over the coming two years, and UK policy-makers should do all they can to encourage it.

This article originally appeared on the Conservative Home website.

That BBC Documentary

As a post script to our piece last week discussing the problems which the EU is currently facing, a number of people have drawn our attention to Katya Adler’s documentary “After Brexit: The battle for Europe“.

The BBC has been in the firing line of groups like the Campaign for an Independent Britain for a long time because of its pro-EU bias –  a bias which dates back to the years when our accession talks were still ongoing, so it was understandably quite a shock to watch the Corporation’s own Europe editor travelling round Europe in a documentary which openly acknowledged the challenges which the EU is facing  in the wake of the Brexit vote. Miss Adler called our departure just “one crisis among many” as far as the EU is concerned and certainly, if one takes the documentary at face value, she is correct.

The progamme features interviews with several euro-critical politicians of varying shades of opinion, including Beppe Grillo in Italy and Marine le Pen in France. Miss Adler also travelled to Hungary to interview  László Toroczkai, the controversial mayor of Ásotthalom, a town near the country’s border with Serbia, who has posted a controversial video warning migrants not to enter his town – totally in disregard of the EU’s fundamental principles, but very much in line with the stance of his Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán.

The prevailing picture painted by the documentary was of an EU caught in the crossfire of several different, albeit interlinked, opposition movements. In Italy, the €uro is the main gripe, whereas in France, an historic bastion of protectionism, globalists are being challenged by what Marine le Pen calls “Patriots”.  Hungary, along with its Visegrád friends, is proclaiming in no uncertain terms its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism.

Of course, Marine le Pen’s Front National is every bit as opposed to immigration – at least Moslem immigration – as Hungary’s leaders while Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland – whose Deputy Leader Beatrix von Storch was among those interviewed by Miss Adler – is as unhappy with the €uro as Beppe Grillo’s party in Italy.  Yet these interwoven strands do seem to have put the EU into something of a stranglehold. Miss Adler finds herself drawing a conclusion which would have been dismissed as poppycock ten years ago:- “Europe’s decision-makers face an unprecedented challenge. Our thorny national debate about Brexit could turn out to be irrelevant. Sooner or later the EU as we know it may no longer be there for us to leave.”

Not everyone agrees, Guy Verhofstadt, the ex-Belgian Prime Minister whom she interviewed in Brussels,  sounded very upbeat. He pointed to a rise in support for EU membership in, among other countries, Denmark following the Brexit vote. “A counter-revolution is under way” he said, while reiterating the classic Europhile mantra for solving Europe’s problems:- “We need to work for closer union.”  Federica Mogherini, the EU’s “High representative” for foreign affairs, also sounded very positive, calling the EU ” a miracle” and claiming that as an institution, it remains “indispensable”.

A more sober assessment was provided by Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament. Although every inch as much a Europhile as Verhofstadt or Mogherini, he bluntly stated that “the risk that we  fall apart is very real.” This is a far more realistic assessment of the situation. Gone are the days when the EU project was regarded with admiration by other countries and continents. To quote Miss Adler again, “Few Europeans are happy with the Union the way it is now. The cry for change is deafening. As is the demand for less bossiness from Brussels. EU power-brokers have a choice: to sink or swim differently, and more in harmony with what the people of Europe want.”

This is the crux of the matter. The EU has been doggedly pursuing its building project of a single European state by means of “ever closer union”. The political problems of its currency union, the blatant violation of the Schengen agreement, a smouldering resentment of the power of the institutions in Brussels and growing hostility to its embrace of big multinationals and political correctness cannot be addressed by just carrying on with the same agenda – Mr Verhofstadt’s solution to the  problem. The question is whether it is possible to change direction quickly and radically enough to avoid being swamped by the rising tide of hostility to everything which Brussels represents.

We have reached the point where the EU’s usual “muddle through” approach to crises is no longer adequate. Furthermore, the recent utterances of people like Verhofstadt, Juncker and Mogherini do not suggest that the EU élite has the ability to “think out of the box” which is needed if the EU is to survive in anything like its present form. No doubt critics will read this piece and say that it is nothing more than wishful thinking by a long-standing anti-EU campaigner, but the harsh reality is that it is nothing more than a précis of a documentary fronted by the BBC’s Europe editor  which happens to agree with her assessment.

Photo by motiqua

Outrageous – or a denial of harsh reality?

collapsing building photoPresident

President Trump’s choice of Ted Malloch, a former Oxford Academic who speaks French and German fluently, to be the next US ambassador to the EU, has not gone down well in Brussels.

On the face of it, the trilingual Malloch appears very well qualified for the job. He is an experienced diplomat who served at an ambassadorial level in Geneva as deputy to the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. He also sits on the Institute of Economic Affairs’ academic advisory council.

Professor Malloch’s sin is to have given a harsh analysis of the current political climate.  “Davos-man is dead,” he declares. “Read the obituary. It is framed in the US election and all that Trump represents. The post-Berlin Wall globalisation consensus is over. Going around telling the locals that they are racists for opposing migration does not help. They are not racists, they are nationalists – and the reality is that just like homeowners they want to feel and see the benefits of home ownership or being a national. Building the country is now Trump’s political and economic imperative.”

More cuttingly, he also said “No longer do we need to have ultimate allegiance paid to corrupt international organisations.” The gist of his argument is that the West is going through  a seismic change on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its attendant Marxist-Leninist ideology in 1989-91.

He could be right, although only time will tell whether his optimism is justified. After all, there have been plenty of false dawns in the past. Think of the like of Wordsworth’s early euphoria  about the French revolution (“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive“) or Francis Fukuyama’s book “The end of History and the Last Man”  which naively predicted in the wake of the collapse of the USSR that liberal democracy would spread effortlessly across the world.

But whether or not we are living at a time when the tectonic plates are shifting, Malloch’s comments about international organisations – and the EU in particular – have infuriated the leaders of the main political groupings in the European Parliament. Several have gone as far as to call for his nomination to be withdrawn.  Manfred Weber of the Christian Democrat grouping and Guy Verhofstadt, who heads up ALDE, the liberals, wrote a letter to the EU Council President Donald Tusk saying that his “statements reveal outrageous malevolence regarding the values that define this European Union.”

Malloch’s strongest and most controversial criticism of the EU was his boast that “I had in a previous career a diplomatic post where I helped to bring down the Soviet Union, so maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.” This has particularly upset the Germans, who are every bit as keen as Messrs Verhofstadt and Weber to block his appointment. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Foreign Minister, recenly visited America and reportedly told his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, “We are the new kids on the block.” He counterposed “a confident and ‘strong Europe'” to the new US president’s “America first” Readers may recall that Barack Obama’s last port of call on his last foreign trip before handing over the reins of office was Germany. Several commentators highlighted the symbolism of this act – a “handing over of the torch” – a recognition by Obama that Mrs Merkel in Berlin rather than his successor in the White House would be the standard-bearer for the particular “liberal” values he espoused.

But are the values of Obama and Mrs Merkel the values of the EU as a whole?  In answering this question, one can see why Malloch’s criticisms have evoked such anger among the EU’s élite. Look eastwards from Brussels to Budapest or Bratislava and you will find, in Peter Oborne’s words, countries that are “more bigoted than Trump’s America.”

Now whether or not you think that Trump’s America is bigoted (and many people clearly do not) or whether you support Viktor Orban’s plans to build a massive fence and his claim that migrants are “a poison” that Hungary “won’t swallow” – or indeed, whatever your views about the statement by the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico that Islam had “no place” in his country – it is indisputable that these men do not hold the same values as Barack Obama and, more importantly, Angela Merkel.

Poland is another headache for the EU. Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the country’s de facto leader, has called for EU members to challenge what he called German dominance. “Merkel is the absolute No. 1 in the EU and that is not a healthy situation,” he said. The governing Law & Justice (PiS) Party, which he leads, has been accused of breaking the rule of law and the country faces the withdrawal of its voting rights if it fails to conform. Since coming to power, PiS has passed laws giving it powers to appoint the heads of the state TV and radio stations and has interfered in the operations of the Polish supreme court. The party is also socially conservative, with close links to the Roman Catholic Church. It also supports returning power from Brussels to the member states – diametrically opposed to the “ever closer union” of the Treaty of Rome.

Can the EU really hold together when member states take such polarised positions over the issues which Professor Malloch claims are currently re-shaping the Western world? One person who has his doubts is Paul Magnette, the Minister-President of Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. In a stark about-turn from the usual expansionist federalism of  most Western European politicians, M. Magnette has stated that the departure of further member states  from the EU would be “desirable”. Slovakia isn’t  on his list, but Hungary definitely is, along with Poland,  Bulgaria and Romania. Will we have to get our tongues round “Polxit, Hungrexit, Romaxit and Bulgxit” before long?

Ironically, it’s the economic issues rather than the ideological divergence which concern M. Magnette. The workers have migrated west while the money has move east – a far from ideal situation. He feels that a peeling-off of some member states is the only road to renewal. His observations about students’ views on the EU contrast starkly and surprisingly with the UK’s Europhile “snowflakes” who paraded themselves all over our newspapers in the wake of the Brexit vote.  “When I speak to students”, he said, “Europe doesn’t mean anything any more. On the contrary, it symbolises the losers of globalisation,  the cause of all (their) problems.”
Europhiles on both sides of the Channel insist that any talk of the EU disintegrating is wishful thinking on the part of British Leave voters who hate the EU. “It is here to stay” claims Miguel Otero-Iglesias. But when a senior Belgian politician warns that it is going to disintegrate, it is possible that Professor Malloch’s forthright euroscpticism may be nothing more or less than a statement of harsh and uncomfortable reality.