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

The plan for a new EU Constitution proves Britain is right to get out now

In Japan, so I am informed by people who know these things, there is a genre of activity known as Tamakeri.

Readers are advised not to Google that on their office computer: it involves individuals getting pleasure from being kicked in their chestnuts, or watching that happen to some other poor unfortunate individual.

Each to their own. But it appears that despite the obvious risks and consequences, some in the EU are determined to engage on their own political equivalent.

Supporters of continental integration have already forgotten the lessons that led to Brexit, and are determined to push ahead with further trips to referendum A&E. On go the sturdy boots. A new EU Constitution is now doing the rounds.

Of course, no one in their right mind could possibly revert to a concept that was so beyond the pale it caused two of the founding EEC states to reject it in a referendum. So, naturally, there is a draft which is even more integrationist instead. Like a classic Hammer Horror, the undead Constitution has risen for the sequel, and this time it means business.

We explore the background (less the Tamakeri) in a new paper for the Red Cell, The Ljubljana Initiative. In short, some old school academics in the Balkans have latterly drafted a text that borrows heavily from the US constitution. It might have stayed on Slovenian shelves gathering dust and waiting for the planets to align, but they have got their President on board, who is even now touring chancelleries pushing the document as the hard text of the ‘more integration’ option recently mooted by Jean-Claude Juncker.

It thus appears to be the only one of his five options that has a concrete set of proposals to go with it. Even if it doesn’t get selected as the Council’s preferred route, it shifts the fulcrum: it will make all the other models that will emerge seem perfectly modest and acceptable by comparison.

So why is it such a shocker? Well, as our paper explores in greater depth, there are three core issues: things that get changed in how the EU works; things that get changed in what the EU does; and the creation of a fast lane for further integration.

Let’s start with functionality. The constitution becomes openly federal so the EU becomes a sovereign government and an international player in its own right, and Brussels formally becomes Europe’s Washington DC. Power shifts from member states, as the Council becomes QMV-driven. The Delors proposal is adopted that made Thatcher say “No! No! No!”: power shifts massively away from governments towards MEPs in the model of the US Congress.

Meanwhile, the Euroquangos become subject to the souped-up President, who can make new ones whenever he wants. As for the European Court of Justice, it formally becomes the EU Supreme Court, subject to MEP – and not national – oversight.

The two big winners are the MEPs, and the lucky new occupant of the EU Presidency. The EU President gets to run international affairs and defence just like the US President does. He appoints ambassadors and judges. Particularly controversially, and ideal given the track record in Brussels, he gains the right to grant Presidential pardons (so, plenty of scope for replays of Nixon after Watergate). A new system meanwhile sets up a Security Council made up of representatives from other EU institutions at times of crisis – generating a ‘War Cabinet’.

These are radical proposals. Realistically, it’s unlikely that member states will be willing to all go along with this, though it would be informative to see the haggling. In any case, we turn to the division of competences (i.e. powers) and this is where the drafters’ prospects start to improve.

Under the text, Foreign Affairs becomes an EU competence. The EU gets its own European Defence Forces (Army, Navy, and Air Force). Even Juncker’s proposals to reduce the role of Brussels included creating a Defence Union, so this certainly has legs.

A new EU territorial police force is also created. Because everyone is such a fan of Casablanca, obviously that means that a new EU Intelligence Agency Service (an EU CIA) needs to be formed too.

Emphasising the complete failure to learn from June 2016, a new Common European Asylum System is also set out, which is intended to share out asylum seekers.

Then on top of these measures, there are also the proposals intended to make EU integration easier in the future.

There is a new ‘passerelle’ clause, so that if MEPs want the power to do something, and don’t have the express legal right in the treaty, but the general objective is mentioned in the treaty, then MEPs can grant themselves the power to do it. To grapple with the consequences of that, consider for a moment what MEPs might choose to legislate on in order to ‘bring peace to Europe’.

On top of that route, there are clauses for fast tracking widespread constitutional change. MEPs can decide they want more powers, summon a Constitutional Convention, and vote themselves those powers. A referendum failure in several member states during ratification still doesn’t veto the result.

Separately, a new Article 50 also incidentally makes it harder for states to leave in the future by transferring the key negotiating role to MEPs.

Some will say that these are merely proposals, and they will be right. These are ideas that are simply being put forward by a Head of State, who is looking for (and incidentally, so he says, winning) support from his counterparts. But let us not forget either how many items now contained in the EU treaties were themselves once dismissed as whispered follies, or on a par perhaps with, say, the Beano, scant years before they indeed came to pass.

So it is important to take note and not to dismiss such plumb lines out of hand. Even if only a part of this new draft EU Constitution happens, the inescapable nature of ever-closer union (contained, incidentally, within the recent reaffirmation in Rome) means that it maps the long term direction of travel. We are at the same time prompted yet again that those engaged in running the EU are incapable of adapting from past mistakes, learning nothing and forgetting nothing.

All told, it proves that the United Kingdom was right to vote to get out when it did. Consider for a moment that, if Brexit is difficult now, what it would be like after another thirty years of plug hole suction on our sovereignty, and matting of our economy’s paperwork.

But above all, the existence of this new EU Constitution alerts us of the importance of strategically thinking ahead.

Theresa May, David Davis, and all ministers and team leaders across Whitehall need to plan over the long term. They need to look at what the EU will over future decades become, rather than think about how they want to associate with the structures that are in place today. That way, they can avoid creating new institutional ties that are so close that they mire their successors as the EU construction site continues to fill with cement.

(this article first appeared on Brexit Central and is used with permission.)

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