THE other night I was asked to debate the pluses and minuses of Europe with former European Parliamentarian (MEP), Francisca Bennassar, in front of an audience of international expats here in Mallorca, members of an organisation called Europeos por Espana. Several people have contacted me since and asked for details of my speech – so here’s an abridged version (and apologies for its length)…
THE GREAT DEBATE: Yours truly discusses the EU with former Euro MEP, Francisca Bennassar – Photo: LAURA STADLER
CONTRARY to popular myth, I am not the UK Independence Party’s Man in Mallorca, a swivel-eyed loon or a Little Englander, whose attitude to Europe was probably best summed up by a famous headline in The Times, from the 1930s, that read: ‘Fog in Channel, Continent cut off.’
Indeed, I feel extremely fortunate to live in the sun-kissed Balearic Isles, so I’m not a turkey which votes for Christmas and I don’t want to see an end of the European dream.
And I can tell you: if Britain ever left the European Union, my wife and I would be devastated. Being declared persona non grata here and forced to return to Britain is a dark prospect with zero appeal, especially if – like us – you hail from Manchester.
Not that I’m not immensely proud of being British and my home city. Because, in spite of the EU’s attempts to homogenise us all into being Europeans, first and foremost, we are still entitled to take pride in our nationalities, cultures and history.
Still, in 1973, I was more than happy for my country to join what was then the European Economic Community, or the EEC in short, perhaps more affectionately known as the COMMON MARKET. And, two years later, I voted a resounding ‘Yes’ for continued membership in the only referendum Britain has held on being part of Europe.
This was not just because it would further irritate the French – General De Gaulle, you might remember, worked tirelessly to keep us Anglo-Saxons out of what he regarded as his club…a French invention, funded by Germany, as my German neighbours insist it still is.
No, this was because I strongly believed in the merits of neighbouring nations banding together to form a trading bloc, with free movement of GOODS, SERVICES, CAPITAL AND PEOPLE.
However, the cuddly, old Common Market – which appeared to be working very nicely, gracias – somehow sneakily grew into what we have now…the European Union.
In doing so, the original concept has morph into an UNDEMOCRATIC, BUREAUCRATIC, POWER-GRABBING BIG BROTHER – A LAME ATTEMPT AT THE SUPER-STATE SOME YEARN TO SEE, BUT ONE I SINCERELY HOPE NEVER HAPPENS, BECAUSE IT WOULD BE AN EVEN BIGGER DISASTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE NOW.
Condemned by its own arrogance, the EU is a smug gaggle of unelected appointees, unanswerable to its citizens, backed by a mollycoddled, egotistic bureaucracy – also unaccountable to the electorate – and 766 MEPs, who at least are voted in by us hoi poloi every five years, even if they apparently haven’t the power to pop a paper bag.
To me, this smacks too much of George Orwell’s nightmarish 1984, with totally centralised control bossed by an unchallengeable BIG BROTHER CABAL. Even words they use to sugar-coat policy sound like ‘News-speak’.
What’s more, it’s also a grasping, unapologetic GRAVY TRAIN, where money – that’s OUR cash – is no object when it comes to frittering it away on far too many worthless, needless so-called ‘initiatives’ and ‘projects’.
And, thanks to its arcane treaties, it meddles with and too often overrides the will and laws of sovereign nations– and their peoples – insisting on something called SUBSIDIARITY, which basically means: ‘Europe know best, so do as you’re damned well told’.
Naturally, as you can tell, I’m being hyper-diplomatic here in the interests of pan-European unity…and we haven’t even discussed that most shambolic symbol of EU financial alchemy, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro.
So now you’re thinking this man is Nigel Farage in disguise after all and his weasel words of being pro-European are a sham.
I can assure you they aren’t. Because what I dearly want to see is a Europe that actually works for all the its peoples…one that’s transparently democratic from top to bottom, where APPOINTEE DICTATORS don’t rule the roost and faceless bureaucrats – or EUROPRATS, as many call them– are held accountable for their excesses, however bananas they are at times…and believe me bananas, as we’ll see, is a very apt description.
I don’t know who watched either or both of the two, televised debates between UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and the country’s No.1 apologist for the EU.
But, apart from Farage winning both by a country mile – sorry, kilometre– what struck me most was how hostile the public have become to Establishment politicians of all stripes, because voters feel the likes of Clegg live in a political bubble utterly divorced from their reality.
NO TO THE EU: Nigel Farage’s UKIP is a symptom of growing anti-European opinion
So UKIP is not the cause of this frustration, merely a glaring symptom of that disconnect…a disillusionment that’s echoing throughout Europe.
Just look at the gains Marine Le Pen’s National Front made in France’s recent mayoral elections and the manifest dangers other neo-fascist, headbangers – like Jobbick in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece – pose to democracy.
It heavily emphasises that a perilous rejection of mainstream politics is happening and politicians have only themselves to blame, thanks to their litany of broken promises, wishy-washy policies and the growth of a pasty political elite, few of whom have ever done proper jobs or got their hands dirty.
And it can’t be denied that one of the prime targets for this swelling tide of rage – a cri de Coeur you might say – is the clunking fist of the EU and its inability to deal with six years of crippling, financial crisis, except to pile on more misery and austerity.
It even had the effrontery to sack democratically-elected leaders in Greece and Italy and impose its own technocrats to take charge.
As an aside, look what happened in 2008 when the peoples of France, the Netherlands and Ireland voted ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty. The all-knowing, all-seeing EU simply said ‘Vote, vote and vote again – until you get the ‘Yes’ result we demand.’
So much for democracy – as we used to know it – in today’s Europe.
It’s no surprise, then, people want to wrest back control of their own countries not have more and more power hijacked by Brussels. Because if, as the records show, over 50% of laws originate from the EU, what’s the point in a state holding a general election?
But, briefly returning to the Farage-Clegg debates, the scariest words I heard came afterwards from the Lib-Dem leader. When asked how he saw Europe 10 years on and he glibly replied, ‘Much the same as it is now.’
‘****!’ (or words to that effect),’ I thought: ‘If this is as good as it gets, heaven help us all!’
Because even a purblind Europhile like Clegg must ask why, for instance, the EU needs TWO centres of government, Strasbourg as well as Brussels.
Not that he’ll admit, but the reason is the French demanded it.
So every so often the whole EU bandwagon – Commissioners, MEPs, Europrats, advisers, translators, lobbyists, hangers-on, plus assorted odds and sods – up sticks and buzz off 432 kilometres down the road to its other HQ, sets up camp there and gets to work.
No wonder the EU Commission budget for 2014 is mind-boggling €142.64-billion – and it’s only that low because Britain, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Austria and the Czech Republic balked at the Commissions’ demand for an inflation-exploding, near-7% rise, which was slashed down to below 3%…still at least a percentage point higher than inflation (or stagflation) afflicting most struggling member states.
Personally, I think it was a gross impertinence of the EU’s great and good to demand to let their belts out several notches just when nearly every citizen – especially in crisis-stricken Club Med states, like Spain – was dramatically tightening theirs.
You might be interested to know, by the way, that ever since 1994, when it first started producing annual reports into Europe’s finances, the EU’s own accountants, the Court of Auditors, has failed to sign off the Union’s accounts because of gross profligacy and widespread irregularities.
One audit found over €100-billion of spending was ‘affected by material error’– a polite term for fraud and mismanagement.
Indeed, so critically searing were the auditors, last year the Commissioners ordered them gagged, for fear of what else they might uncover.
But it’s not all just about money, even if an MEP sitting in the EU assembly costs £1.79 million a year (2012 figure) – three times what a British MP costs in Westminster – and the European Parliament’s 766 members cost us taxpayers a staggering £1.3 billion annually. And that doesn’t include pensions most folk could only dream of.
This takes me onto another point about duplication, because just like it has two HQs, the EU has TWO PRESIDENTS. Lucky us, I hear you say – even America’s only got one (and there’s even some doubt about him).
CHEERS TO EUROPE: No wonder Barrosa (left) and Van Rumpoy are smiling…they’re in charge of Europe
First, there’s Herman Van Rumpoy, who as President of the European Council, is effectively Europe’s Prime Minister and, to be fair, has some experience in that role, since he was once Belgium’s premier.
Second, there’s Jose Manuel Barrosa, President of the Commission, the EU’s executive branch and Biggest of the Brethren.
As President, the former Prime Minister of Portugal doles out jobs to the 28 members of the Commission the EU’s cabinet, each being an appointee from their member state.
The President also determines EU policy, having the final say about all the laws, because the EU’s inner circle is the only body that can propose legislation. MEPs, as I said earlier, can’t pass or change whatever lands on them from above, but – rather like Britain’s House of Lords – can merely rubber-stamp it or ask the Commission for a review.
Now, you maybe be unfamiliar with Messrs. Barroso and Van Rumpoy – even if Farage once described him as ‘having the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk’ (and was fined €2,400 for the insult). But you might – just might – be aware of the UK’s grandee at the EU top table.
She is no less than the Gilbert & Sullivan-sounding High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – in other words Foreign Minister – and none other than Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, near Wigan, which, I can tell you, is better known for its meat pies than its diplomats.
Vice-President of the Commission, too, no less, Cathy has never been voted into public office anywhere at any level, not even a parish council or a junior school PTA. In fact, all her jobs – from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament administrator to Leader of the House of Lords – have been by appointment only.
What’s more, many member state foreign ministers believe the Baroness has been hit by a huge ego-rush and considerably overreaches her brief – and expertise – by insisting she speaks on the world stage for all 28 nations of the EU, something Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, describes as ‘competence creep’ (though maybe ‘incompetence creep’ is, perhaps, more accurate).
Hardly considered a colossus in diplomatic circles, Cathy apparently owe her status to the patronage of her great friend, Britain’s ex-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown…so perhaps enough said.
UPDATE – RE: THE BARONESS: The artless EU’s foreign policy chief is the only international diplomat to have welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s new unity deal with it arch enemies, the Islamic crazies of Hamas, who hijacked Gaza in a mini-civil with the PLO in 2007 and are designated a ‘terrorist’ entity by the EU.
The move also signals the final nail in the coffin for US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s bid to forge a two-state solution and end the Israel-Palestinian impasse.
‘Daft as a brush’ is an expression popular in Wigan. Perhaps someone should suggest she’s an apt recipient of that ‘accolade’ on her next visit to planet Earth.
EU’S LOONIER RULES
THE Union gets itself a bad name because not only is it constantly meddling in member states’ domestic affairs, but some of its rules and diktats are beyond absurd. Just for your edification and amusement, let’s look at a few…
BANANAS! Because it is so curved, this banana was branded illegal by the EU
● Until 2008, when the daft law was repealed – pardon the pun – for 13 years the EU deemed this banana illegal…because it wasn’t straight enough. It cost growers millions and a similar law applied to bent cucumbers.
The only positive I can recall from this bananas idea was when I came home from work one night with one and my wife said to me, ‘Is that an EU banana in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’
WATER WON’T WORK: According to the EU drinking water doesn’t re-hydrate – so it can’t be advertised as being able to do so
● You might know our bodies are composed of nearly 60% of water and we need it to survive – so no wonder marathon runners take on so much when plodding 26 miles. But, despite overwhelming medical evidence, in its addled arrogance, the EU ruled that drinking water DIDN’T STOP DEHYDRATION and manufacturers of bottles like this were stopped from claiming it did.
PRUNE POTTINESS: The EU says prunes aren’t laxatives, so can’t be marketed as a means to make you go (you know where)
● These are, as you’ve guessed, prunes and, again, there’s overwhelming medical evidence they aid…well, you know what. But an EU diktat declared prunes were not laxatives, so they couldn’t be marketed as an aid that helps…well, you know what. That farcical pronouncement prompted one MEP to suggest a prune-eating contest to see what happened. Unsurprisingly, there were no takers.
CHOC CHUMPS: The EU banned Cadbury’s chocolate – because they didn’t consider it was ‘chocky’ enough
● Most Brits will have been brought up on Cadbury’s chocolate, yet for 27 years is was effectively banned by the EU, because it contained up to 5% of vegetable fats and up to 20% of milk.
There was also considerable argy-bargy about British chocolate in general not being chocolate at all, since it didn’t contain at least 60% of cocoa bean, but cocoa butter instead.
And ditto a proposed ban on smoky-bacon flavoured crisps…because they didn’t contain smoky bacon. Of course not! The clue was in the word ‘flavoured’, silly.
Thank heavens Brussels didn’t get around to examining cheese & onion crisps, with no cheese or onion in them, or BBQ-flavoured nibbles that didn’t have a BBQ in the bag.
And, by the way – just in case the Europrats ever decide to look into it – I can I assure them there aren’t any monsters in Monster Munch.
However, one victory for EU ‘group think’ was to re-name carrots as fruit, not veg, because the Portuguese make jam out of them.
The point is not that these laws, pronouncements, diktats and directives are utter twaddle from the EU’s Ministry of Silly Talks, to misquote Monty Python.
It’s more about: what is an organisation like the EU doing wasting valuable time, money and resources by poking its nose into things that don’t concern it and are of absolutely no consequence to the betterment of Europe’s people.
JUSTICE ON TRIAL: ECHR judges ride roughshod over the legal systems of EU member states
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
LOOK, I don’t want to keep rattling on like a machine-gun with a tirade against the EU, though I could do at least until midnight.
I could cite the lunacy of the profligate Common Agricultural Policy, CAP – designed by the French for the French, which pays farmers obscene amounts of money to produce nothing and how CAP’s stupidity resulted in useless Wine Lakes and Butter Mountains.
I could ask why the EU needs 13,000 Europrats, who are paid salaries way above any civil service norm, along with generous pensions and perks that include EU-designated shops, where they can buy products tax-free.
I could also cite the EU’s at least 56 quangos and so many committees, even the Commissioners have lost count of them, which all require truly obscene amounts of funding.
But I won’t.
Last week I spent two days researching the EU and on Wikipedia its entry is so garbled with Euro-babble, it must have been written by a committee of the most nerdish Europrats Brussels could assemble.
What I did discover, though, were the three qualifying rules of entry to the Union as set out in simple, unambiguous language for once. So any nation seeking accession must agree to: be financially solvent (like Greece, for instance?), democratic and uphold the rule of law.
That’s seems more than reasonable, I hear you say.
Except it presupposes a nation’s justice system has enough checks and balances not to require further (shall we say) ‘refinement’ by more EU interference.
But, not only does the Union have its own judges in the Courts of Justice, it requires member states to kow-tow to the European Court of Human Rights, the too often ridiculous ECHR.
Technically the ECHR isn’t part of the EU. But it is, because EU rules demand that every member nation joins the Council of Europe, thus every member must automatically accept the European Charter of Human Rights, which means every member is answerable to the judicial quirks of the ECHR.
To be fair, this court was set up in the late 1950s with the best of intentions – as is the road to Hades.
So, more than half a century on, the fitness for purpose of the ECHR as a court of last resort is quite rightly being questioned, thanks to some of its – how can I explain them politely – more bonkers judgements.
Britain, whose judicial code dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215, is but one of many of the 47 nations answerable to the ECHR that raises extremely valid issues about the decisions handed down, often by judges who are junior legal academics with absolutely no courtroom experience anywhere.
DEPORATION DODGER: For years hate preacher, Abu Hamza, used the ECHR to avoid terror charges in America
Yet the Court remains free to ride roughshod over national judicial systems, as it’s done with the UK’s, blocking, for instance the legitimate deportation of hook-handed hate preacher, Abu Hamza, to face terrorism charges in the US and with the equally-odious Abu Qatada, wanted by Jordan on similarly offences.
And only the other day it agreed to process the appeals of two Real IRA scumbags, seeking to overturn a UK civil court verdict holding them responsible for the heinous, Omagh bombing in 1988, in which 29 people were murdered and 220 maimed.
Meanwhile, for years the ECHR has accused Britain of ‘human rights abuse’ by refusing criminals serving prison sentences the right to vote in elections. To me – and I’d hope to most sane folk – it doesn’t seem unreasonable that those convicted of crimes should not share the same privileges as law-abiding folk, including the right to vote.
So, like the Big Brother that’s the EU, the ECHR is in dire need of having some common-sense knocked into it.
CURSED CURRENCY: The ‘one-size-fits-all’ Euro doesn’t allow weaker, Club Med states to devalue
FINALLY, I can’t but help mention the Euro and say simply this: No currency union in history has ever worked long term – and there have been several…but, just like the Euro, they were wishful and egotistical political thinking winning over the realities of economic nous.
And this ‘one-size-fits-all’ pipedream had the makings of one of the most monumental currency blunders right from its introduction in 1999.
How many remember how, here in Spain, 166 pesetas were converted to one Euro – and a 150-peseta cup of coffee suddenly cost €1.50 (249 pesetas) or even €2 (332 pesetas) overnight? If that wasn’t a financial health warning for things to come, I don’t know what was.
A strong currency might meet the needs of manufacturing super-states, like Germany, relatively untouched by the financial tsunami of 2008 that hit the world. But the same doesn’t apply to the weaker, agriculture and tourism-dependent economies of southern Europe.
So, sadly, it’s no surprise to see the growing poverty, civil unrest, joblessness and despair. Just look at Spain, where kids, often highly educated, have to seek work overseas, because over half of under-25 – the cream of the nation’s future – can’t find employment at home.
And the tragedy is compounded by the abject lack of imagination of the European Central Bank, the ECB, which hasn’t a clue about how to combat the drift into stagflation.
The fact that Britain, Sweden and Denmark had the good sense to keep out of the Euro – and are now recovering fastest from the crisis – should be an object lesson in how vital it is for nations to keep control of their own currencies.
So my plea is ‘Si, VIVA EUROPE’…but let’s have a helluva lot less of it!’