State of Disunion: Thank goodness for Brexit
EU State of the Union addresses are meant to mimic America's, but they are a sick joke for many "ordinary" Europeans. Commission President Juncker would not know the feelings of a European citizen if he ran over one in his chauffeur driven Mercedes. Thank goodness for Brexit
'My fellow Americans, the state of our Union is strong’. That is, at least to my memory, how the annual presidential peroration always enters its final few paragraphs. And it is not a bad way to do it. The very words seem strong.
The State of the Union address for the European Union is of course an imitation of the American one but, well, different. In particular that wording would not be appropriate. The State of the European Union is not strong. It is, at best, confused.
Jean Claude Juncker, the politician cum civil servant who runs the bureaucracy, appeared to the press to have played a blinder. He declined to list his administration’s successes (Come on, JC, it wouldn’t have taken long) save mentioning the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which he reluctantly allows to be known as ‘the Juncker Fund’.
Instead Juncker looked at the challenges facing his empire and declared ‘more Europe’ to be the answer to everything. That doesn’t mean more sunny café-culture, it means more EU: more civil servants, taxes, laws, more uniformity.
Economically in the EU, things have not been too bad. Average growth has been 2% which is acceptable. Youth unemployment however is stubbornly high at nearly 15%. But these numbers -- an average covering half a billion people -- belie the reality of people’s lives.
Greece is broken, perhaps permanently. There are towns in the Eurozone’s third largest economy, Italy, with youth unemployment at 50%. That means abandon hope: leave the area and your family, or join the mafia.
Politically in the EU, things are, if anything, worse. So called ‘populist’ parties have sprung up everywhere. Nobody tells you what ‘populist’ means, but in this context it portrays people who look at life’s realities without the misty eyed Romanticism of a lifelong federalist after too many G&Ts.
Hungary is being sanctioned for the behaviour of its elected government, which is anti-immigrant, and elected as such. Other countries with significant anti-immigrant parties include Italy, Austria, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland. France urges European solidarity but still closes its borders.
What these populists want is for the EU to have a look at itself, understand the areas where it is failing. Often this means immigration but I think it should mean more.
The EU model is for centralisation. Richer countries pay their taxes into the EU which then parcels the money up and hands it out to poorer countries, with conditions. Suppose these conditions were removed and, instead of having wonderful roads which no one used, countries such as Spain were allowed to pay down their national debt?
Suppose countries were allowed to leave the eurozone temporarily and make use of the devaluation to boost exports at the expense of some inflation?
Suppose the EU subsidised factories in North Africa so the migrants had no need to leave?
The people of Europe do not want ‘more Europe’ as the answer to all their problems. They want fresh solutions to the immigration crisis. They want help for countries struggling under a currency too strong for anyone except the Germans. They see, as does the rest of the world, that the EU’s forays into international politics have been a disaster.
The EU wants a foreign presence as befits its economic strength but doesn’t much like the military. In losing Britain it has lost maybe a third of its potential firepower. This will keep it weak: no clout, no influence. The next months will see it setting up more strategic bases, a task at which it excels, with no soldiers.
The people of Europe don’t want this nonsense; they want jobs and they want proper security.
The puppet Juncker would not know the feelings of a European citizen if he ran over one in his chauffeur driven Mercedes. The man who pulls the strings, Martin Selmayr (who remains in place despite an investigation revealing his appointment was a fiddle) does not care about European citizens or what they think. He is not accountable to them.
Chilling, isn’t it? Yet Italy, Hungary, Greece and the rest will one day get angry that no one listens. Where I live, you can hear the anger even now.
While on the tenth anniversary of the 2008 crash people are wondering what could cause the next one, consider this. The implosion of Europe under the weight of its own contradictions.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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