Its democratic deficit is the biggest single threat to the future of the European Union regardless of whether the United Kingdom votes on 23rd June to remain or to leave.
Put simply, there is no way the “citizens” of Europe can vote out of office the senior members of the political elite who run the main institutions of the European Union. They are over-powerful, over-paid, removed from the lives of ordinary people and are fundamentally unaccountable.
That such senior officials have recently commented with derision on the rising popularity of what might best be described as anti-establishment parties not only exposes their smug arrogance, but also actually makes it more likely that the popularity of such parties will increase. To have lumped, as one senior official did, Boris Johnson, with the likes of Marine le Pen and the leaders of other right wing parties was frankly a gratuitous insult to the British electorate which has twice voted him as mayor of its capital city, London, and repeatedly returned him to Westminster to serve in its Parliament.
You can like Boris, or loathe him, he is admittedly rather like Marmite, but there is no doubt that when he has been given high office it has been through a democratic mandate, the people’s choice through the ballot box. The same, to be fair, can be said of the allegedly far right parties whose popularity has been growing to the horror of Europe’s political elite. The same cannot be said of the self-serving, self-appointing, self-aggrandising clique that carves out jobs for itself at the top of Europe’s institutions.
What’s more, those parties alleged to be of the “far right” are not really any longer as far right as their dismissive critics would have us believe. Their views are mainstream in the countries in which they are growing, whether that be in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Greece or Germany. Your author may not entirely share their views, for example about immigration, but we have to accept that, rightly or wrongly, there is a widespread concern about immigration into those countries and/or the punishing economic policies that have been forced upon them by the institutions of Europe contrary in many cases to the views of the majority of people in those countries.
The high-handed arrogance with which the European Union and Germany in particular have subjugated other nations to their will smashes through with contemptible ease every possible rational interpretation of the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good which are loftily voiced by the European elite with such flagrant hypocrisy that it is breath-taking. If they were accountable to an electorate or even to a few sessions with Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr, or Andrew Neil, the nakedness of our new European Emperors would promptly be exposed.
This column has consistently rejected the virus of xenophobia that has infected British politics, the rise of Ukip in the run up to the last election, and the way fears about immigration have been whipped up by all political parties to an extent that is unhealthy and is distorting the debate about our future in Europe. It is becoming a debate about the lowest common denominator in British political life. It is not an edifying experience for a nation that has historically been one of the most welcoming nations and which has derived huge benefit from those who have come to this country from overseas bringing their skills and their industriousness to our economy.
The quality of our national debate on this issue is also impoverished by the scare stories being launched with hysteria and hyperbole by both sides in the debate.
Let’s get real, if David Cameron and George Osborne really believed their own propaganda, they would have to resign from office in shame. A third world war? A collapsing economy? A destruction of the housing market? Falling pensions, shares and currency? Loss of trade to Europe? Ostracising by America? The destruction of our thriving financial services industry? A loss of influence on the world stage? Greater terrorist threat? If they really believed all that, then how could they possibly have justified permitting the referendum just to buy a short period of unity within the Conservative Party in the run-up to the last election?
They’ll be promising plagues of locusts and the Angel of Death taking the first born son of every family next!
This is frankly bunkum. Nobody can be sure precisely what a Vote Leave would mean in all those policy areas. There would be economic advantages and disadvantages, which is why British business is split on the issue depending on the markets in which it operates. Sterling may fall in value against the Euro, but that would make our products cheap to overseas purchasers and give our economy a further boost. The City of London was the world leader long before we entered the European Union, and its primacy is more under threat by over-regulation if we remain within the Union than if we leave.
Our security is guaranteed, yes guaranteed, by our membership of NATO. It is undermined and destabilised by the European Union which takes forever to make any decision, on anything and which in fomenting widespread unrest and disillusionment with itself and with the Governments that support it, puts at risk the peace of Europe.
Just look at the mismanagement of the refugee crisis that has been exacerbated by EU policies and pronouncements, which has led to widespread abandonment of the principle of open borders because they are simply unsustainable, and which is now planning to give 75 million Turkish citizens free travel in Europe. The European political elite is hoping to admit as a full member of the EU that country which is run by a repressive regime that is systematically abandoning all the basic freedoms and rights that underpin, in their different forms, the governments of so many EU member states, and which were hard won through revolutions and civil wars, and were ultimately defended through two world wars.
If the European Union does not fundamentally reform itself, and this column see’s the so-called reforms obtained by David Cameron as part of his “renegotiation” as purely window dressing, then it risks breaking up as a result of the tensions it is itself creating and exacerbating. But Europe’s elite doesn’t like democracy, its dream of a United States of Europe is to be pursued at all costs, and when it wants the views of the citizens of Europe, it will give it to them, rather than listen to the views of the dreadful and institutionally unimportant common man.
Democracy is the only thing that can now save the out-dated concept of the European Union from its inevitable collapse, regardless of whether the United Kingdom is a member. But democracy is somethings the controlling masters of Europe will never allow to sully their grand project.
To save the EU from itself, and to force that reform that is so vital to the rest of Europe, we should, undoubtedly, Vote Leave!
This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 3rd June 2016
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).