A letter from our Chairman – the lethal austerity of the €uro

Sir,

From the beginning of this year the Greek government stopped publishing the usual monthly statistics of births and deaths. Continuing to do so would give a truer cost of the EU-imposed austerity programme than any massaged economic statistics.

In 2017 the annual total of deaths was 123, 700 as against 118,623 in 2016. But in 2013 the total was only 70,830 and before the financial crisis the death rate was usually around 60,000 . So twice as many people are dying than used to be the case.

The reason for this massive increase in mortality is the austerity imposed by the EU and the IMF, which dissolved the Greek NHS. Poverty, hunger, lack of heating and increased suicides account for the rest. These figures measure a terrible increase in human suffering, taking place in a modern European country. But that’s all right with the BBC and broadcast media because it’s happening in the EU which, they believe, is such a wonderful thing and rather fashionable on the left of politics. Whilst the UK remains an EU member, our government is part of the government of the EU, responsible for the deaths in which Europhile MPs and MEPs are also complicit.

Whoever the Greek people elect to government, it is the EU authorities which dictate policy, such as the privatisation of public assets – ports, airports, electricity etc. They are also insisting that the government must speed up the auctioning of homes on which people can no longer afford the mortgages. Wages and pensions have been drastically cut and direct and indirect tax rates increased.

To prevent interference with the forced sales, electronic auctions have been introduced. Around 5 million taxpayers lack the funds to pay taxes and the state can now auction properties for debts over 500 euros.

I would not have credited this information, if it had not come from an unimpeachable source. Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos (Retired) had a distinguished career in his country’s foreign ministry. He is now a member of the secretariat of the Front for a Free Greece. Last year I hosted a conference which he addressed and thought surely “things could only get better” for the Greek people. But they have not.

Those who presently complain of austerity here need to be reminded that our fate would have been very much more like that of the Greek nation, if people like Tony Blair and Ken Clarke had got their way and locked us into the prison house of the euro currency. It is time to leave the whole tyrannical project behind and perhaps to divert at least a small portion of our bloated foreign aid budget to the worthwhile relief of the unfortunate citizens of Greece.

Yours faithfully

 

Edward Spalton

 

Our Chairman is confident that these figures are  accurate. Do feel free to copy this letter and send it to your local newspapers.

If you want to find out more abut the effects of austerity on Greece, this video (in  Greek but with English subtitles) lasts an hour and a half but provides some deep insights into modern Greek history.

Ambassador Chrysanthopoulos (depicted above) spoke at last years Annual Rally. You can watch his speech here

Russia is as much of a threat to Britain as the Klingons

Britain could not cope with an attack by either, but then neither are likely to invade any time soon

By Peter Hitchens. This article first appeared in Peter Hitchens’ blog. and also appeared in Russia Insider. It is used with full permission of the author. He writes a regular column for the Mail on Sunday.

I can’t blame the Army for trying to save itself from the current mad round of cuts, but could there be anything more ludicrous than a warning that we need to beef up the Army because it can’t cope with an attack on Britain by Russia? Likewise we could not cope with an attack on Britain by Klingons (who don’t as far as I know exist), or, come to that, by the Chinese People’s Republic (which does exist).  But these attacks are not likely, let alone imminent.

I say, please plan for what is realistically likely, rather than frightening people with bogeymen, and so perhaps creating the preconditions for a war which, if you had not been so silly, would never have happened.

General Sir Nick Carter, head of the army, was all over the media this morning warning of the Muscovite threat.

What is he talking about? Years ago, the great conservative satirist Michael Wharton (who wrote under the name ‘Peter Simple’ in the old Daily Telegraph, a very different newspaper from the one that now bears that name) invented a war between Sweden and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was then a country in the South-East of Europe, not having been dismantled to suit the convenience of the EU. It was also about as far as one could get from Sweden, while staying in the European landmass.

I forget what grievance had sparked this fictional conflict. One day I shall write a Wikipedia entry on the Suedo-Yugoslav war (I wonder how long it will take them to notice) which will doubtless explain all these things.

But the real lasting joke was of course that the two enemies could never find each other. They had nothing to fight about, no common border, no territorial dispute. It could have lasted for decades without an actual shot being fired.

Much the same is true of our relations with Russia. We have no land or maritime border. We have very little mutual trade or any other connection which might lead to war. We are far away from each other.

Silly media reports contrive to suggest that Britain is ceaselessly ‘confronting’ or ‘escorting’ Russian ships or planes which fly through international waters or airspace near our islands. But read them carefully. They often seem to suggest that Russian planes have violated our airspace. As far as I know, this has not happened. Likewise, Russian naval vessels have a perfect right under the International Law of the Sea, to pass through the North Sea and the Channel (I have checked the laws on this) provided they undertake no hostile action. Indeed, it would be hard to see how else they could get from their home ports to Atlantic or Mediterranean destinations unless they took these routes.

As I have pointed out in myriad posts on this indexed, archived and searchable blog, Russia is not a very significant country, even though it takes up a lot of space on the map. Its GDP, the best measure of economic importance, is roughly the same as that of Italy, a country which rightly does not trouble us.

Its nuclear weapons are unusable (like ours). Most of Russia’s conventional army and air force is deployed to defend its home territory, because (unlike us)  it has no natural physical borders in the shape of seas or mountain-ranges, and is vulnerable to invasion (see recent history). Its second most important city suffered countless deaths by starvation thanks to a siege by German invaders within living memory.

Many widely-believed myths about Russia are not true. Russia did not start the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia. The EU’s own Tagliavini report concluded that this was begun by Georgia.

Russia has long regarded NATO eastward expansion as hostile and expansionist, and sought to counter it through diplomatic warnings at the highest level. These were ignored. NATO expansion was not the consequence of some desire by the peoples of the region. The Baltic States, for instance, gained their independence from Moscow in 1991 and maintained it for many years without any threat or danger, without needing to join NATO. Expansion was in fact the result of expensive lobbying of the US Senate by American arms and manufacturers in the 1990s, exposed by the New York Times at the time. It was specifically warned against by George Kennan, architect of the containment of the USSR, who came out of retirement aged 93 to say it was dangerous folly.

Russia’s response only became military when NATO countries openly backed the violent overthrow of a non-aligned government in Ukraine in a lawless putsch, and its replacement (contrary to the Ukraine constitution and with armed men present in the Kiev Parliament building) by a pro-NATO regime. Russia’s response has in fact been highly limited and cautious. Russia has as legitimate a claim to Crimea (largely populated by Russians who were prevented from voting on their future by the Ukrainian government in 1992) as Britain has to the Falklands, and at least as good a claim as NATO Turkey has to North Cyprus. Russia’s troops were stationed in Crimea quite legally in accordance with international treaties. Russia is undoubtedly using covert and undeclared forces in Ukraine, but it should be pointed out that Western countries have done the same or similar things, notably in the Middle East and SE Asia. It is at the very least likely that NATO countries have also taken (and continue to take) covert action in Ukraine, and in my view laughable to suggest that they have not.  But the important thing is that the conflict was initiated by Western, not Russian action. Russia’s principal policy since 1989 (dictated by economic weakness which still persists) has been to retreat without violence from the countries it previously occupied. It did so on the basis of what it took to be promises that NATO (an alliance against whom, by the way?) would not expand into the areas from which Russia had withdrawn.

I have no purpose in writing the above except that it is the truth and that (having witnessed some of it) I hate war and wish to ensure that we do not wander into one through stupidity and ignorance. I also have some experience and knowledge of the region, having lived in Moscow form 1990 to 1992 and travelled in the former USSR reasonably extensively.  I regard Vladimir Putin as a sinister tyrant, repeatedly say so in unequivocal terms and have no relationship, direct or indirect, with the Russian state or any of its organs.  If we are truly so worried about Russian internal politics, it is odd that we were entirely complacent, and even supportive while Boris Yeltsin was using tanks to bombard his own Parliament back in 1993. The fact was that Yeltsin let the west push him around, whereas Putin does not. That, and not Mr Putin’s internal regime, is the reason for the change in posture towards Russia. Beware of this stuff. History shows that those who pick fights with Russia are seldom glad that they have done so, once the combat is over.

Photo by newandrew

Thanks but no thanks!

We have already reported Donald Tusk’s comments about his hopes that the UK might have “a change of heart” over Brexit. Now Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission (how many Presidents does the EU have – or need?) has chimed in, saying in a speech to the European Parliament , “once the British have left under Article 50 there is still Article 49 which allows a return to membership and I would like that.”

For the benefit of anyone not familiar with the entirety of the Lisbon Treaty (which is probably most of us!), Article 49 says, “Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by an absolute majority of its component members. The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.”

In other words,  we would have to go through a new application process just like any other country wishing to join the EU. This article merely sets out the conditions for applying. There is no mention of a “fast track” process for ex-members who have a change of heart.

Juncker feels a personal sense of responsibility for the Brexit vote.  Quizzed by a German MEP, he said, “I still feel the exit of Britain is a catastrophe, yes, a defeat we all have to take responsibility for.” He is most unhappy that a member state has voted to leave under his watch.  He then went on to say, “But the reasons for the British exit lie deeper. As Prime Minister (Theresa) May has said, the British never felt at ease in the EU and for 40 years they haven’t been given the chance to feel more at ease.”

It is hard not to be cynical about Juncker’s accommodating language only a couple of days after the EU toughened its terms for any transitional arrangement. Combining his words alongside the European Parliament’s guidelines for a transitional period for the UK,  you get a message which goes something like this:- “We’re really sorry that you’ve voted to leave; we’d love you to come back and as a sweetener, we intend to make it as humiliating and as awkward as possible – within the parameters of the EU treaties, of course – for you to get out.”  To which could be added “Oh, and by the way, there will be no derogations; you’ll have to join the €uro, you’ll eventually have to accept the supremacy of  Napoleonic inquisitorial law, you’ll have to let Spanish fishing boats plunder your waters again and you’ll still have to subsidise French farmers. “

“Thanks but no thanks” would be very much at the polite end of suitable replies to this. It is easy to forget just how many good reasons there were for voting to leave the EU. If we had had longer to explain more about the EU’s failings to our countrymen and if there had been a comprehensive exit strategy around which the leave campaign could have united, we would have won by a landslide and anyone talking of abandoning Brexit or holding a second referendum would have been referred to a psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, the government’s floundering has given the remoaners the space they have craved and they have made the most of it. On balance, it still looks extremely unlikely that Brexit will be stopped. In response to Juncker’s overtures, a spokesman for Mrs May stated that there was no question of a change of heart. We will be leaving on 29th March 2019, he insisted.

But would we ever want to come back?  Not if Brexit is managed successfully. It is unfortunate that Boris Johnson has insisted that the savings from withdrawal will, in fact, be higher than the controversial figure of £350 million per week which was bandied about during the referendum campaign. It is hard to follow his logic. In the short term, we are unlikely to be any better off financially, but in the longer term, there is every reason to believe that, free to make our own trading arrangements, to set our own taxes, tariffs and to make our own laws and regulations (or at least to have our own voice on the bodies that determine global regulation), we will be in a better position.

It’s not just a question of money, however. Brexit will wrest control of our country away from Brussels. More than that, it provides an opportunity to re-vamp our entire political structure. Our democratic process is in need of a major update to reflect the realities of the internet age. Politicians should face greater scrutiny and be more accountable to us, the voters who elected them and pay their salaries. Perhaps one of the best ways of weaning our young people away from their europhilia is to explain to them the exciting possibilities which direct democracy offers us. Young people are great petition-signers and originators. If we followed Switzerland’s example, their petitions could have a real effect on how our country is run.

And of course, Switzerland is not a member of the EU and has no desire to be one. A Swiss minister recently said that in his country, now “only a few lunatics” want to join the EU. If we can make a success of Brexit, Juncker’s overtures will fall on equally deaf ears in our country too.

Mind you, considering the headaches we Brits have given the EU in over 40 years of membership, one wonders whether it’s only really the lunatics who would seriously want us back – or is it our money they really want?

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An Assisted EU Council presidency

It’s not just Greece which has suffered thanks to its membership of the EU. Without even having joined the single currency, Bulgaria already is experiencing considerable hardship as this piece by Horst Teubert shows. (The original first appeared on the German Foreign Policy website and is reused with permission)

SOFIA/BRUSSELS/BERLIN – Bulgaria exercises its EU Council presidency – which began January 1 – with Berlin’s direct “counseling” and “assistance,” according to reports of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The foundation has been engaged in activities in Sofia along these lines, and has delegated its former Chairman and ex-European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering to serve as consultant in the Bulgarian capital. Since Bulgaria joined the EU on January 1, 2007, oligarchs have become the country’s crucial power factor, controlling its fate, according to observers. Berlin easily tolerates this, because Prime Minister Boyko Borissov readily yields to German leadership, a former Bulgarian justice minister explained. The country, with its unrivalled starvation wages, serves as a production site for German businesses and as a reservoir to recruit skilled workers for Germany.

No Heating, Malnourished

Eleven years after joining the EU on January 1, 2007, Bulgaria’s political and social conditions remain desolate. According to the statistical office of the European Union Eurostat, in 2016, 40.4% of the 7.1 million inhabitants – almost three million people – were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Nearly one third of the population – 31.9% – was severely materially deprived. They can barely cover basic needs such as affording adequate heating for their homes, everyday items, such as a telephone or a washing machine or meals with sufficient protein.[1] Even though the Bulgarian minimum wage has been raised to around 235 euros, it is not enough for decent living. Child poverty is particularly shocking: 45.6% of all Bulgarian children are on the verge of poverty or social exclusion. According to Eurostat, the situation is particularly catastrophic for children under the age of 16. 36.2% do not have any new clothes, 48.6% have at most one pair of shoes that properly fit, 40% cannot afford to eat fresh fruit or vegetables once a day and 42.4% do not eat enough proteins, because meat and fish are too expensive.

Toiling for Germany

To counteract the impression of hopelessness, spreading throughout the country, Bulgarian politicians like to point to the relatively low unemployment. The unemployment rate is currently 6.1% – significantly lower than the EU’s average of 7.4%. This, however, is due to the fact that large segments of the Bulgarian workforce have emigrated since 1990. The country’s population shrank from 8.9 million in 1990 to 7.1 million in 2017. Particularly the younger, well educated have left the country – in many cases to Germany. At the end of 2016, over 260,000 Bulgarians lived in Germany. More than 1,600 Bulgarian doctors are helping to alleviate Germany’s shortage of doctors.[2] From a German perspective, this is particularly profitable because Berlin did not have to pay a cent for their education. Sofia had paid for their expensive medical training. The same holds true for the training of numerous other Bulgarian specialists now working in Germany. Numerous other Bulgarians are being exploited as unskilled laborers, often under miserable working conditions, and at times, as illegal workers at the lowest wages.[3] Last year, the German government tried to prevent return flows to Bulgaria by massively cutting child benefits for EU foreigners, including more than 5,500 Bulgarians. The attempt failed, at least for now.

Unrivalled Starvation Wages

For the German economy, Bulgaria serves not only as the country of origin for cheap “human capital,” but also to a certain extent, as a sales market and as a low-wage production site. German companies sold nearly €3.5 billion worth of goods in that country in 2016. Although this placed Bulgaria 45th on Germany’s export list – behind Thailand, Israel and Ukraine – it, nevertheless, contributed to the stabilization of Germany’s Southeast European trade. Germany is Bulgaria’s largest trading partner and probably one of its most important foreign investors, when considering its indirect investments made through the Netherlands or Austria. In Bulgaria, labor costs are “the lowest in the EU,” noted the state-owned Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI). Wages and the non-wage labor costs are unrivaled at €4.4 per hour. This is another reason why this country remains “an interesting production site.”[4] The German clothing manufacturer, Hugo Boss, benefits from Bulgaria’s starvation salaries. Around 16 percent of Germany’s imports from Bulgaria are textiles. GTAI has, however, begun to complain of a noticeable “shortage of skilled workers” in Bulgaria – due to the emigration of well-trained personnel – also to Germany.[5]

The Age of the Oligarchs

Whereas the social situation in Bulgaria – caught in the economic hammerlock imposed by Berlin and the EU – remains desolate, the Bulgarian oligarchs’ political control over the country has considerably grown since it joined the EU. Experts are beginning to refer to an “age of oligarchs.”[6] One of the most powerful Bulgarian oligarchs is the businessman Delyan Peevski, who also controls about 80 percent of Bulgaria’s print media market. The fact that Bulgaria plunged from 51st place (in 2007) to 109th (2017) on the “Reporters Without Borders” World Press Freedom Index has been attributed to the predominating influence of the oligarchs.[7] The journalist Assen Jordanov, a specialist in white-collar crime, even accuses Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of being deeply involved in illegal transactions. “In fact, a neo-feudal, oligarchic, Mafia-clan is operating a shadow economy in Bulgaria.”[8] Unlike the leaders of Hungary and Poland, Borissov – whose party members sit alongside those of the CDU and CSU as members of the European People’s Party (EPP) – is easily tolerated by Berlin and Brussels, because of his political subservience. Hristo Ivanov, Bulgaria’s former Minister of Justice, (2014 – 2016), notes, “If there is a dossier in Brussels, and the Germans have a clear position on it, we agree with the Germans. … Otherwise, do as the Commission does, there is no independent Bulgarian position.”[9]

“Unity Brings Strength”

This principle obviously applies also to Bulgaria’s EU Council Presidency. Back in early October, the FDP-affiliated Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s project manager for Southeast Europe noted that, Sofia remained very “vague” in the preparations; “various priorities without a clear thread” are mentioned. They cannot even formulate their “own … projects.”[10] Meanwhile the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation has sought to plan the Bulgarian council presidency, and has begun “advising” Prime Minister Borissov’s government accordingly. They will be “advising the council presidency” also “in the same way,” it has been officially announced. “An important role will be played by the foundation’s president [whose term of office ended December 31, 2017, editors note] and former President of the European Parliament, Dr. Hans Gert Pöttering, who the Bulgarian government had appointed to join its supreme political advisory council.”[11] The issues Sofia is now presenting correspond to Berlin’s objectives for the EU. On the one hand, ways must be found to hold the union together, despite the centrifugal forces growing stronger, which is why Bulgaria has placed its presidency under the “Unity Brings Strength” motto. On the other, stronger ties should be established to non-EU member western Balkan countries, to counter China’s rapidly growing influence in the region. ((german-foreign-policy.com reported.[12])

Moving Toward the Right

At the same time, a government is assuming the presidency of the EU Council, in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation that is in a government coalition which includes an extreme rightwing party. An extreme rightwing party is also a coalition partner of the Austrian government, which will assume the presidency of the EU Council during the second half of 2018. German-foreign-policy.com will soon report.

[1] Eurostat press release 155/2017 16 October 2017. According to Eurostat, “severely materially deprived persons have living conditions constrained by a lack of resources and experience at least 4 out of the 9 following deprivation items: cannot afford 1) to pay rent/mortgage or utility bills on time, 2) to keep home adequately warm, 3) to face unexpected expenses, 4) to eat meat, fish or a protein equivalent every second day, 5) a one week holiday away from home, 6) a car, 7) a washing machine, 8) a colour TV, or 9) a telephone (including mobile phone).”
[2] Rainer Woratschka: Durch Zuwanderung deutlich mehr Ärzte in Deutschland. tagesspiegel.de 26.05.2017.
[3] Deutsche Arbeitgeber beuten EU-Ausländer aus. mdr.de 11.10.2017.
[4], [5] Michael Marks: Lohn- und Lohnnebenkosten – Bulgarien. gtai.de 22.05.2017.
[6] Stefan Antonov: The Age of the Oligarchs: How a group of political and economic magnates have taken control of Bulgaria. University of Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Oxford 2013.
[7] Barbara Oertel: “Ich würde Sie feuern“. taz.de 21.11.2017.
[8] Nina Flori: Ein Land in Oligarchen-Hand. wienerzeitung.at 22.03.2017.
[9] Markus Bernath: Bulgarien vor Beginn der EU-Ratspräsidentschaft im Zwielicht. derstandard.de 27.12.2017.
[10] Daniel Kaddik: Mangelnde Vorbereitung, fehlende Visionen. www.freiheit.org 02.10.2017. See also Bulgaria’s European Course.
[11] Thorsten Geißler: “Einigkeit macht stark“. Bulgarien übernimmt am 1. Januar 2018 die Ratspräsidentschaft der Europäischen Union. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Länderbericht Bulgarien. Dezember 2017.
[12] See also Berlin Calls for a “One-Europe Policy”.

Photo by Swedish National Heritage Board

Brexit still on course – a statement from Anthony Coughlan (Dublin)

BREXIT STILL ON THE WAY AS THE EU/UK NEGOTIATION MOVES FROM PHASE 1 TO PHASE 2

Genuine democrats and EU-critics everywhere will welcome the news that Brexit is still on the way following the decision of the European Council of Prime Ministers and Presidents to move to the next stage of the EU/UK negotiation, i.e. on the two-year withdrawal period and the post-withdrawal trade agreement between the UK and the EU.

If there had been a failure to move the negotiation to Phase 2, ultra-Europhiles and Eurofanatics everywhere would have been delighted.

The European Council decision of the other day means that the hopes of such people that they can stop Brexit are significantly diminished, although they will continue to hope on and still do all they can to  attempt to derail the process.

The less EU-besotted amongst Irish policy-makers and media commentators will now have to start thinking for the first time whether it is really a good idea for this State to attempt to remain in an increasingly federalizing EU when 1.8 million of our fellow-countrymen and women  in Northern Ireland will be leaving it.

They will need to ask themselves do they want to be responsible for a new Partition of Ireland!

If the EU/UK negotiation leads to a meaningful Brexit, which means that the UK as a whole will leave the EU single market and customs union at the end of the UK Government’s proposed two-year transition/implementation period, as now looks probable, ONE CAN BE CONFIDENT THAT THE REPUBLIC WILL FOLLOW THE UK OUT OF THE EU IN TIME  because the drawbacks of the Irish State seeking to stay in the EU when the UK leaves will become so obvious and be so painful that the Irish public will come to demand nothing less.

However, wishful thinking is still likely to prevail widely in the Republic for some tine and among those “Remain” supporters everywhere who seek to overthrow last year’s democratic UK referendum result  –  in particular the hope that Brexit can still be frustrated in the Westminster Parliament or by a change of UK Government during the negotiations; or that at the end of the day the softest of “soft” Brexits will mean that the UK will effectively remain under EU supranational  jurisdiction.

Genuine democrats everywhere will  now wish UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her Government every success as they move to implement a meaningful Brexit that gives citizens of the UK democratic control of their own law-making once again and removes them from the EU single market and customs union.

The man who could blow up the EU

On 22nd April 1966, Jean Rey, the Belgian lawyer who succeeded Walter Hallstein as president of the European Commission, delivered a speech in Brussels full of optimism about  the future of the European project.  At this time, the Community had just emerged from the “Empty Chair Crisis” where France’s General de Gaulle, concerned about the increasing power of the Commission and erosion of national sovereignty, recalled France’s representatives, resulting in six months of virtual paralysis within the European institutions.

Rey expressed great confidence about the Community’s ability to bounce back form the crisis and move forward towards closer integration:- “There is no reason for the leaders of the Community to show the any hint of pessimism, of discouragement; the slightest doubt about the eventual success of their efforts.”  Europe had a great future, he claimed, but only if it integrated. Indeed, in so doing, Europe could lead the world:- “The times when nations could live in isolation is over….After several centuries when the nation state represented the final word in political wisdom, see how the world is organising itself in continents and it’s the Europeans who are leading by their example.”

Overt federalists like Rey are a rare breed nowadays. True, the EU has expanded from its original six members to 28 (soon to be 27) but the optimistic, almost visionary quality of Rey’s utterances are a thing of the past. No better proof of can be found by comparing Rey’s words with a speech by Martin Schulz, the leader of the German Socialist Party, the SPD, at his party’s  conference on 7th December.  The substance may be similar but the tone is completely different.

“I want there to be constitutional treaty to create a federal Europe” he said. Fine, that has always been the goal of the EU. He then went on to say that once drafted, it would “be presented to the member states, and those who are against it will simply leave the EU.”

This is the big difference. It would never have occurred to Jean Rey to talk of expulsion from the EU and Schulz’s harsh language is an implicit admission that the European Project is faltering. We addressed some of the reasons a couple of months ago and in spite of the promising headline data on the Eurozone economy, the political divisions are as deep as ever.

Far from encouraging unity around common ideals, Schulz’s words will only inflame these divisions. His vision of “Europe” is the Western European multicultural variant which is being so fiercely resisted in countries like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.  Furthermore, as a German, his words will be interpreted in Southern Europe as a threat to their fiscal independence.  The most extreme reaction may well come from his own countrymen, however. The federal Europe to which he aspires can only come about if his countrymen are prepared to foot the bill and subsidise the poorer countries. The lack of enthusiasm for such generosity lay behind the success of Alternative für Deutschland in the recent Federal Election. Perhaps Herr Schulz might care to reflect that his own party recently registered its worst performance – and under his leadership – in almost seventy years.

True, there was a certain amount of grandstanding in the speech. The SPD is setting out its stall for renewing its coalition with Mrs Merkel’s CDU party but its overt federalism was given short shrift by the German Chancellor, who said ““I believe the ability to act now is the priority, not setting long-term goals,” In reality, while Schulz (and Jean-Claude Juncker, for that matter) are wanting to put their foot on the accelerator, Merkel actually wants to go more slowly but in exactly the same direction – and it’s not a direction that commands as great a degree of support as it once did.  There may not be anyone of the calibre of Charles de Gaulle in a position of authority in an EU member state, but the issues are the same as those which provoked the “empty chair crisis” – increasing centralisation and a loss of sovereignty by the member states.

In a very thought-provoking article, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard said that we must not forget why we are leaving the EU. “It is not a whimsical choice. The decision was forced upon us because the EU began to assert ‘totalitarian’ reach, using Hannah Arendt’s term advisedly to mean a systematic assault on prior traditions and institutions in order to create an entirely new order,” he said. The article begins, however, by quoting someone from the very heart of Europe who is claiming that the EU is becoming  an “imperial construction”. In other words, it’s not just the UK which has lots of unhappy people. “Life in Europe in 2017 is resembling more and more what it was like under colonial administration. We are subjected to an invisible administration that shapes our destiny down to the tiniest details. Should we really be surprised that it is leading to revolts?” asks the Belgian David van Reybrouck, a prolific writer and historian.

The EU expended a huge amount of energy (and, no doubt, money) to try to contain Brexit and prevent a domino effect. It breathed a huge sigh of relief when  Neither Geert wilders nor Marine le Pen achieved the breakthrough they had hoped for. The volatility of many European voters and the fault lines between the EU-27 have not gone away, however, and if Schulz becomes Germany’s vice-chancellor and fancies joining forces with Jean-Claude Juncker and Emmanuel Macron to push ahead with the federal Europe to which they fervently aspire, the net result may well be the opposite – that they end up blowing the whole project to pieces.

 

Photo by opposition24.de