Friends of Europe

Yesterday I found myself (somewhat to my astonishment) dining with “The Friends of Europe” in the Bibliothèque Solvay, an impressive building across the park from the Brussels parliament building.  I am happy to regard myself as a Friend of Europe, though I remain an implacable foe of the EU.  Recall my popular bumper-sticker “LOVE EUROPE — HATE THE EU!“.  Someone once asked me how it was possible to love Europe and hate the EU.  As an illustration, I suggested “Love Cambodia — Hate Pol Pot”.  It is possible to appreciate a country (or group of countries), to love the diverse nations of Europe, the cooking, the culture, the countryside — and yet to hate the EU as a model of governance which is making us all poorer, and less democratic, and less free.  (“Love Germany — Hate the Nazis” works quite well, too).
 
The subject of the debate (for in Brussels we never dine without debate) was climate change and its impact on developing nations.  And we were not without impressive folk, led by Kemal Dervis.  Maybe not a household name, but nonetheless the head honcho of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and a très grand fromage.  Amongst thirty or so at the table, there were only three MEPs, two from recent accession states (Romania and Latvia); and myself.  Quite how I got invited I can’t say.  I suspect they may not invite me again!  For the rest, there were a few from the private sector, some from the diplomatic corps, and of course the inevitable NGOs.
 
There were so many possible subjects subsumed under the chosen topic that it was difficult to know where to start.  We constantly hear that developing countries stand to lose most from climate change.  Small islands will sink beneath the waves.  Bangladesh will be inundated by rising sea levels.  This despite the fact that sea level is rising no faster than it has for the last ten thousand years, and thorough research on oceanic islands shows no signs of sinking — the reverse in some cases.  (Why is the EU funding beach-side hotels in Mauritius?).  But of course for people in absolute poverty, the first thing they need is power.  If you have to walk five miles for dwindling supplies of firewood to cook the family meal; if your children have chronic chest complaints from wood-smoke in your mud hut; if those same children can’t study in the evening for lack of light; if your local clinic can’t store medicines and vaccines for lack of a refrigerator — you need electricity.  (You also need property rights, rule of law, enforceable contracts,  freedom to trade — but that’s another story).
 
Yet the determination of the green zealots to bear down on emissions, condemns million of those poor people to stay poor, and die young.  One can well understand why developing countries are unwilling to accept restrictions on growth at the behest of advanced countries who have been profligate with energy for decades.
 
In the end I decided that I could only address one issue in the time available, and I gave them a short seminar on the basic case against anthropogenic climate change.  The issue of public opinion (especially as a barrier to drastic action on emissions) had been raised, and they were horrified when I told them that according to recent opinion polling, 57% of UK respondents had serious doubts about the science of global warming.
 
There is a close parallel here with the European project.  I see it as a significant part of my role as an MEP to remind the apparatchiks in the Ivory Tower here in Brussels that not everyone thinks as they do.  They are visibly shocked and discomfited when I remind them that a majority of Brits have reservations about climate change, or about European integration.  But it does them good to be hit now and again with a sharp dose of reality, before settling back into their comfy consensus.  After all, when you know you’re right, why worry if ordinary folk on the street are too dumb to agree with you?

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