France gives the EU a breather

The nightmare scenario in Brussels would have been a le Pen/Mélenchon run off in the second and final round of the French Presidential election. Both candidates, for different reasons, were strongly EU-critical and the far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon put in a strong showing in the final days of campaigning.

Not strong enough, however, to beat Emmanuel Macron, the most pro-EU candidate of the four front runners. He will go forward to the second round where he is widely expected to win comfortably against Marine le Pen, although probably not by anything like the same margin as the 82%-18% victory of Jacques Chirac over her father Jean-Marie le Pen in  2002

One reason why a Macron victory is unlikely to be that decisive is that he has come out openly in support not only of the EU but of multiculturalism and diversity. France today contains a substantial number of voters who are distinctly unenthusiastic about both. Indeed, a total of 46% of all votes were cast for either le Pen, Mélenchon or “Frexit” candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. Abstention is likely to be high in the second round and some supporters of the defeated candidates may well switch to Marine le Pen. Even so, it would be a brave man who would bet any money on her becoming president this time round.

So huge sighs of relief are the order of the day in Brussels and Berlin. What about in London? A run-off between two EU-critical candidates with one of them eventually becoming president would have perhaps given us a Brexit-friendly voice in the Elysée Palace but at the expense of the remaining EU-26 wanting to take a tougher line on Brexit to minimise the risk of contagion. A probable Macron victory relieves the fear of any other country voting to leave. As with the failure of Geert Wilders’ PVV Party to top the polls in the Netherlands’ election earlier this year, Brexit now looks more and more like a one-off as far as the EU is concerned.

But those disaffected 46% will be heading back to the polls in June to vote in elections of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament. Even if France ends up with a pro-EU president, that president is likely to deal with a considerable number of députés who do not share his enthusiasm. As in other European countries, support for the mainstream socialist party is in freefall and the centre-right Les Républicains are unlikely to perform well. This doesn’t mean that the EU’s day of reckoning has only been postponed by a further two months. Its final collapse could be several years away, but as one Old Testament prophet put it, “The vision is yet for an appointed time… thought it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.

Our closest friends would like to see an historic wrong righted

Now we are leaving the EU, Brexit provides an opportunity to put right an historic wrong which goes back many years.

Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and other ‘subjects of the Queen’ are still treated as foreigners when they visit the UK. Whereas our membership of the EU has required us to submit to the EU’s principle of free movement of people, Australians and Canadians, among others, have to apply for a visa.

The Australian Monarchist League has urged Theresa May to address this historic wrong. “Mrs May forgets that many citizens of the Queen’s Realms are domiciled in the UK and have a vote as do many people with relatives and friends in these former British nations”, said a spokesman for the organisation. “It is about time Britain undertook to resolve this situation now.”

The Australian Monarchist League is considering an advertising campaign to make this an issue in the forthcoming election. Philip Benwell MBE, the national chairman, is already in London for meetings with British and European MPs and others to urge that there be established a special entry gate for those countries, such as Australia, who have the Queen as their head of state. He is not suggesting special visa allowances but merely arguing that those from the Queen’s Realms be treated with dignity and not as aliens.

The biggest obstacle Mr Benwell and others have faced in their 20-year campaign has been the negativity of supporters of EU membership in this country. With our country now about to begin the great divorce from the EU, the time is surely right to address this issue.

Mr Benwell will be one of the speakers at the Campaign for an Independent Britain’s annual rally in London on 29th April.

Photo by Tamsin Slater

Some EU-critical Irish are starting to put their heads above the parapets

Ireland joined the EU, along with the UK and Denmark, in 1973. With its important agricultural sector very dependent on exporting to the UK, the Irish really had very little choice.

Many Irish men and women developed an enthusiasm for the European project which has been conspicuously absent from this side of the Irish Sea.  The generous EU subsidies which Ireland received undoubtedly contributed to their Euro-enthusiasm, but EU membership helped Ireland publicise its separate identity as an independent nation after breaking with the UK in 1922.

The leadership of the main Irish political parties, along with the Irish media, have been staunch supporters of EU membership. Their position has not changed in spite of the severe hit taken by the Irish economy in the recent Great Recession – a downturn exacerbated by Ireland’s membership of the Single Currency. Neither has the change in Ireland’s status from net recipient of to net contributor to EU funds made any difference in their stance. Brexit has made them downright hysterical in their depiction of the Brexit vote as an unmitigated disaster for both the UK and Ireland.

But what of the Irish people? The most recent Eurobarometer survey still pointed to a nation happy to be part of the EU. 55% of those surveyed had a positive image of the EU, the highest score across the entire EU28.  Ireland was also the most positive country regarding the future of the EU. At face value, there seem to be few echoes of  the hostility towards the EU which has always been such a feature of the UK.

Regular visitors to this website will be aware of the work of the veteran Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan, but  has he been a voice crying in the wilderness?

If a recent letters page in the staunchly pro-EU Irish Times is at all typical, the answer seems to be no.

A Mr Ronan Scanlon, from Leopardstown, Dublin, had written a few days earlier, “Ireland is a maritime country in the North Atlantic, an open economy with a flexible, literate, highly educated and – above all – English-speaking workforce. To what kind of future can she look forward walled into an anti-democratic, over-regulated, protectionist little customs union with its job-destroying currency and within which hardly anyone else speaks English as their mother tongue?” and he returned to the fray on 4th April to hit out at EU regulation:- “EU membership imposes far too many regulations on small businesses that don’t export anywhere…Why are such standards decided at supra-national level? It ought to remain a competence for domestic legislation in national parliaments.”

Ken Andrew from Cobh, Co. Cork debunks claims in the paper that we in the UK are regretting voting for Brexit:- “Your columnist also mentions a long-time London-Irish businessman admitting to feeling ‘a little scalded’ as proof that many British people are suffering regret over their choice to vote Leave. The truth is there is little evidence of buyer’s remorse among voters, and Theresa May is enjoying remarkably good approval ratings, even amongst Remainers, for her handling of the Brexit process thus far. The British economy is booming, inward investment is at record levels, unemployment is at its lowest rate in a decade and the predicted exodus of jobs from the City of London simply hasn’t happened.

The offending columnist, Kathy Sheridan, also gets short shrift from Dave Slater of Kilkea, Co. Kildare, for her condescending attitude towards supporters both of Brexit and President Trump:- “Why don’t your columnists actually come out and directly say what they are obviously thinking? They oppose universal suffrage, clearly consider it a disastrous failure and would, in light of events, ‘reluctantly’ prefer a return to limited suffrage. Those with third-level degrees, business owners and those who own a house valued above a certain threshold. That should put a stop to a Trump or Brexit ever again being forced through, against all logic and decency, by the great unwashed.

Of course, such sentiment does not imply that Ireland is going to follow us out of the exit door, although the very fact that a group of Irish economists and lawyers have recently produced a report making a credible case for “Irexit” indicates that Brexit has given a new spring in the step of a much larger number of EU-critical movements than the more widely-reported groups such as the Front National in France or Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands.

Sinn Féin has predictably ditched its sham euroscepticism after realising that Brexit provides an opportunity to press for a vote on an United Ireland, with Northern Ireland being incorporated into the Irish republic (and thus the EU) rather than bringing back a hard border with the UK. However, not only is a hard border unthinkable on either side, but if the UK government plays its cards right, Brexit may further open the eyes of our Irish cousins and encourage them at least to consider whether they might be better off joining us in seeking freedom from the failing, disunited and moribund EU. We can but hope.

 

Photo by minniemouseaunt

Some pictures of the anti-austerity rally on 25th March

On 25th March, several members of the Campaign for Independent Britain joined with representatives of EPAM, the United People’s Front, to protest about the EU-imposed austerity which is crippling Greece. The demonstration was held in front of the Greek embassy in London and was one of a number of similar demonstrations held in several European capital cities.

Here are a few pictures of the event.

If you would like to find out more about the extent of the suffering among the Greek people, former Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos will be one of the speakers at the forthcoming CIB Annual Rally on 29th April. His subject will be:- Greece – the cradle of democracy with no democracy and EU-inflicted poverty

60 more years of the EU would be a tragedy for Europe

Last weekend, 27 EU leaders gathered in Italy to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome – the event which gave birth to what has become the EU. When last weekend’s festivities are compared with the 50th anniversary celebrations 10 years ago, however, it is apparent that the fault lines within the whole structure of the EU are becoming more visible as time passes.

Ten years ago, there were no issues with nations refusing to sign a declaration. This time, Greece and Poland both threatened to block the renewed statement of the EU’s future intentions. Ten years ago, no one could have believed that,  in a white paper setting out five options for the EU’s future, a President of the European Commission would have mentioned scaling down the EU to a trade bloc and nothing more, even though this was clearly not his preferred choice.  Ten years ago, the practise of scapegoating Brussels for everything which goes wrong was largely confined to the UK. Now it is grist to the mill in countries like Hungary.

It is possible that 2017 may be the year when the EU starts to heave a collective sigh of relief after a dismal decade. The €urozone economy seems finally to be turning the corner after an extensive programme of Quantitative Easing  and the first of the big General Elections to take place this year has seen the anti-EU Geert Wilders gain fewer votes in the Netherlands than some had anticipated. No other nation looks set to follow the UK out of the exit door.

But these crumbs of comfort offer only a respite. The fundamental flaws in the EU project will still be present.

In order to understand why the EU has failed to live up to expectations, one needs to travel north from Rome to Belgium. Rome, once capital of an empire which encompassed much of the Mediterranean world, may have provided the inspiration for European unification, but it has been the small, rather enigmatic country sandwiched between France and the Netherlands which has served as the real template.

You don’t have to have spent very long in Belgium to realise that it isn’t like most other European countries.  While you can find minority indigenous ethnic groups in Spain, Finland, Romania and Sweden, among others, Belgium from its very beginning was an uncomfortable marriage between two ethnic groups between whom very little love has been lost.

The country came into being as recently as 1831 when it declared independence from the Netherlands. In the three previous centuries, the territory we now know as Belgium had been ruled by Spain, Austria, France and finally Holland. Unlike its northern neighbour which accepted the Reformation, its people were predominantly Roman Catholic and this was the main reason for the break with the Protestant Netherlands. However, in spite of sharing a common faith, the people did not share a common language. In the south lived the French-speaking Walloons while the North was populated by the Flemish people, who spoke Dutch.

Our country provided Belgium with its first king, Leopold I, a young widower who had previously been married to Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. His second wife was a French princess, Louise of Orléans and the problems began straight away. The language of the court was French, which thus turned the Flemish into second-class citizens. To add insult to injury, Brussels itself was situated in Flanders, but the Francophone court resulted in a French-speaking enclave developing in parts of the new capital city. When Belgium industrialised, the heavy industry was situated in the French part of the country, which became the more prosperous area.

In the First World War, most of the officers in the Belgian army were francophones and some Dutch-speaking soldiers were court-martialled and even sentenced to death for not obeying orders even though their reason for not doing so was simple enough – they couldn’t understand a word. Even the court proceedings were held in French.

Unsurprisingly, behaviour like this fuelled a strong resentment of the francophones by the Flemish majority, Even an attempt by Belgium’s third king Albert I to preside over a genuinely bilingual court could not bind the two communities together. In recent years, Belgium’s economy has become more services-orientated and much of its heavy industry has been shut down. French-speaking Charleroi, once the centre of Belgium’s coal and steel production, is now a by-word for poverty and unemployment. Meanwhile, to the north, Flanders has now become the most prosperous part of Belgium and the Flemings are none too keen that their taxes are used to pay benefits to the Walloons, whom they regard as lazy.

These tensions have led to the devolution of quite significant powers to the two regions and to Brussels itself in an attempt to hold the country together, although there is still a national parliament where you find twice as many political parties as you would normally expect – a French-speaking Socialist party and a Dutch-speaking Socialist Party; a French-speaking Liberal Party and a Dutch-speaking Liberal Party and so on. The linguistic divide is sharper than any ideological divide, as evidenced by the 2010 General Election where arguments between the bickering parties lasted a full 541 days before a coalition government finally took office.

Unsurprisingly, parties have been formed in Flanders whose goal is independence – in other words, the end of Belgium. During my time in Brussels (2006-2008), a number of opinion polls painted a very pessimistic outlook for the country, with many expecting it to disintegrate within a decade.

Belgium, however, has muddled on and looks set to keep going at least for now. Besides the sheer inertia which the country’s massive bureaucracy engenders, there is also the problem of Brussels itself – now a predominantly Francophone city – albeit  surrounded by Dutch speakers – whose inhabitants are none too keen to see their country partitioned. In other words, the obstacles to ending this unhappy marriage are so great that carrying on seems the least bad option.

The parallels with the EU are obvious. For Flemings complaining about lazy Walloons, read Germans moaning about profligate Greeks. For one of two of Belgium’s ethnic groups to be seen as second class citizens, think of Poland’s worries about it and the other Visegrad nations being treated as second member states. In other words, the same problems but on a wider scale.

Most importanly, however, if two peoples united by religion and several hundred years of shared history are still so uncomfortable with each other after over 180 years, what chance is there of establishing a European federal state where all the citizens of 27 very different nations will somehow feel themselves to share a common European  identity?  It just isn’t going to work.

Nevertheless,  as the complexities of the UK’s Brexit divorce will be very much to the fore during the next two years,  it may well be that even the most uncomfortable members of EU-27, especially if they use the €uro, could well decide that inertia is the better option – in other words, to try to slow down the move towards closer integration but to grin and bear it and carry on much as before in spite of seemingly insurmountable problems.

The future of the EU therefore could be that of Belgium writ large. If so, it would be nothing less than a tragedy for the entire continent.

You can never trust an emigré

I was going to write this column a couple of weeks ago, but I was unable to find the correct source for the quote that serves as the title. I still haven’t been able to track the quote down properly, so you will have to take this as an unsourced anecdote instead. But one of immediate and urgent relevance to our current state of relations with the European Union.

In the autumn of 1813, Wellington was poised to cross the Pyrenees and invade southern France. He was faced by the decision of where to strike. At this point a group of French Royalist emigrés appeared with inside information that had, they said, come from their contacts inside France. Bordeaux was in a state of turmoil. Royalists had armed themselves and were just waiting for a chance to rise up against the hated Bonarpartists. If Wellington attacked towards Bordeaux, the emigrés claimed, he would have a warm welcome and an easy victory.

It was at this point that Lt Colonel Colquhoun Grant , Wellington’s chief intelligence officer, stepped in to say “You can never trust an emigré”. He suspected, rightly, that these emigrés wanted Wellington to do their dirty work for them, defeat the French forces around Bordeaux and so allow them to move in and exact their own brand of revenge on personal enemies. Wellington listened to Grant, and advanced toward Toulouse instead.

It is, indeed, a truism that you cannot trust those with ulterior motives. Particularly emigrés.

From 1998 to 2002 the American intelligence agencies spent a lot of time speaking to Iraqi emigrés. These exiles poured out a host of stories about how unpopular Saddam Hussein was, how Saddam had vast stocks of weapons of mass destruction and how Saddam was a dangerously unstable dictator who was just itching to invade neighbouring states. The only solution, the emigrés said, was for the USA to invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power.

The US intelligence services did not heed Grant’s advice. They believed the emigrés and only later realised that it was all a pack of lies designed to get the Americans to remove Saddam from power. We all know how well that ended.

And so we come to today. In the Referendum last year, those who wish to leave the EU gained a majority. Since then most of those who voted “remain” have accepted the decision. But a small number of die-hard Europhiles have not. They fondly believe that they are right, that a growing number of British people agree with them and that the referendum decision can be overturned. For the most part they are harmless, but some are not.

Some are men and women who have high level contacts in Brussels, Berlin or Paris. Like the emigrés of old, they are saying what their audience want to hear. “The British people are changing their minds”; “The British economy is in trouble”; “We can stop Brexit with legal challenges”; “Parliament will never agree to go with WTO rules” and so on and so forth.

This is dangerous stuff. If the EU negotiators believe these emigrés  – and from what I have heard some are inclined to do so – then they will seek to impose a punishment deal on the UK in the belief that this will cause the UK to change its mind and stay within the EU.

So those well-connected big beasts with their contacts within the EU machinery are working against the interests of their own country. Like the emigrés of old, they are wanting the EU to do their bidding for their own reasons. They are potentially dangerous, they are certainly wrong. The EU should heed Grant’s advice and “never trust an emigré”.

Photo by dun_deagh