Perestroika not #Brexit

| June 30, 2016 | 0 Comments

brexit-2The vitriol has begun, ever so slightly, to wane but there is an emergent consensus that the Brexit referendum has put the UK in an impossible position, writes EU Reporter founder Chris White.

Fury, while understandable in some part, has poisoned the well of good relations and is inexcusable in both political and diplomatic terms. “Jean Claude Juncker is a man full of hate”; not my words, but those of a young Belgian university graduate whose views are widely held among young people in the EU’s ‘capital’ Brussels.

He went on to explain that he had signed a petition run by a Belgian newspaper which was showing a 68% majority in favour of serious reform or following the example of the U.K. “It had vanished when I tried to check it later”, he said adding: “People are reacting to politicians who as grown ups are acting like children.”

High on the list of “disgraceful behaviour” is the exchange between Jean Claude Juncker and UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the European Parliament. That the unelected President of the European Commisson was able to vilify an elected MEP in the parliamentary chamber has shocked many observers but not, apparently, the majority of MEPs.

The uncanny resemblance to the former Soviet Union in the way the EU institutions are structured is gaining resonance. But, more importantly the public comments of EU leaders elected and unelected has driven home the fact that the whole of Europe is in a febrile state of political disharmony.

Prime Minister Cameron, leaving his last European Council meeting, said that discussions had been reasonable and constructive. Public statements on that day reflected an opposing view but by Thursday following the meeting of the 27 excluding the UK a hint of rational thinking had begun to creep into statements.

“It could still be that the UK will not leave,” was almost a throw-away line from European Policy Centre Senior Analyst Janis Emmanouidis in an Internet Video. And hereby lies the rub: behind all the brouhaha is a rather different picture.

Our young Belgian friend reported that at a meeting of young graduates a unanimous complaint was the misleading nature of media reports. That same day UK Press Gazette reported that 24 newspaper stories published in the run-up to the Brexit vote had “misled the public”. Again, as my Belgian contact put it: “The media has misled the public across Europe both during the Brexit campaign and since.”

What has not been reported is that the European institutions have been preparing for Brexit for a very long time. Rather than accept that questions about lack of democracy are legitimate the Commissars – sorry Commissioners – have been clearing the ‘English’ influence from their organization for some two years.

An Irish diplomat told me some six months ago that there was such concern about the way English speaking officials were being outed or sidetracked in favour of French and German that they were, unsuccessfully seeking the support of the British for a plan to reverse the trend.

The same diplomat highlighted that some 1.2 million British citizens living in France and Spain had created a “very large spike in the number applying for French and Spanish citizenship in the light of Brexit”. He also reported that there was “a huge spike in the number of EU migrants applying for British passports”. More significantly there was “an unprecedented spike in the number of British citizens with Irish ancestry applying for Irish passports”. It is unofficially reported by other Irish sources that the latter figure has reached six million.

Then there is the vexed question of migration. The Prime Minister has made much of negotiations to allow the UK to control migration. People should have to wait four years before they get social security and health benefits. The fact is the EU Treaty allows people to seek work for six months at their own expense. Move to France and you must pay into the national scheme for three years, in Belgium unemployment pay requires being employed for at least a year. So how is that?

The UK Is perfectly entitled to change it’s laws it is just that they must apply to everyone and not just EU migrants. This appears to provide for a change to the British system that would benefit the NHS and end the global impression that the UK is a soft touch. To quote a migrant interviewed by the BBC at Calais: “If I can get into Britain they will give me a house and money to live while I wait for my paperwork”. So why not change UK law, it has little or nothing to do with the EU.

Much has been written lately by former government officials to the effect that the British have failed to apply themselves to their role in the EU. This is a well known critique in the corridors of power in Brussels and has been so for decades.

This brings us back to our Belgian friends who question the legitimacy of withdrawal on the basis of a narrow referendum result influenced by misleading information from politicians and media. There is growing concern about the failure of the EU’s information leviathan has failed to communicate with ordinary citizens.

At my last count the press and communications staff of the European Commission alone numbered close to 1,000. That figure outnumbers the current International press corps based in Brussels in the region of 600 and declining. Given that the European Parliament, Council, Committee of the Regions et al have enormous press and communications teams it is worth asking the reason why the EU has so disastrously failed to communicate with the electorate across Europe, let alone the media generally.

My Belgian graduate fraternity speculate that big business has too strong a grip on the European institutions. I point out that there are some 35,000 lobbyists and consultants based in Brussels and they point out that business dominated the Remain campaign in the UK. “There are people all across Europe who are living in poverty and looking at how wealth is going to a small percentage of the population and business people across the world. That is why there have been such huge demonstrations – the largest since the Second World War – against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US,” they tell me.

With such a Head Commissar – there I go again, Commission President – as Jean Claude Juncker spitting blood, speaking more and more in German at his press conferences and telling the world such things as the Canada trade agreement “will be EU only” it is clear that not only politicians have lost the plot.

That there is and always has been a hidden or not so hidden Franco-German agenda is a given. That there has been a long standing British reluctance to make Europe work is also a given. That the democratic and political failures that have plagued British membership is due to incompetence is a matter of conjecture, but the evidence is emerging.

What is the answer to this debacle? Confound the postulators, return to the high standards of British democracy and put the question of EU membership to the people in a general election with the final decision taken, as it should be, by Parliament.

Otherwise, as a columnist in The Times once wrote, “learn German”. To that I would add French, because that is the way Europe will now go without us.

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Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, EU, Opinion, UK

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