The EU project: falling apart at the seams

Tunisian refugees attempt the crossing to Europe

Arriving at Brussels airport from Birmingham, as I regularly do, I frequently find that although we disembark from the aircraft on an air jetty, we are then shepherded downstairs (frequently in the rain) to a waiting bus, and are then bussed to the other side of the airport.  When I grumbled about this, my former West Midlands colleague Philip Bushell-Matthews used to adopt a supercilious tone, and point out that if only the UK had had the wisdom to join the Schengen area that allows border-free travel between most EU states, we should not have suffered the inconvenience of a bus-ride to another terminal.

I have heard similar comments about the convenience of joining the euro.  Just think, if we had only joined the single currency, we could travel throughout the EU with the same notes and coins all the way!  Think how much hassle we’d save!

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the famous line that those who are prepared to sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security.  This is clearly true.  And it is even more clearly true in the case of those who are prepared to sacrifice liberty and independence for mere convenience.  These decisions come back to bite us.

I remember in the mid-noughties being teased by europhiles about the euro.  We sceptics had predicted problems, perhaps disasters, asymmetric shocks, all kinds of difficulties.  Yet the euro was well accepted, stable, strong, and well on the way to becoming the world’s second reserve currency.  Where was the predicted catastrophe?  Today, of course, we see the catastrophe all too clearly.  The strains are self-evident, the PIGS are in crisis, the EU struggles to create palliatives and bail-out mechanisms, but they are too little, too late.  And despite the UK’s wisdom in staying out of the toils of the euro, we find that willy-nilly we are sucked into these rescue mechanisms.

Yet as Dan Hannan wrote in the Telegraph yesterday, “Greece, Ireland and Portugal have not been rescued: they have been sacrificed to save the euro”.  And it is not clear that the austerity medicine prescribed by Brussels is deliverable in a free and democratic society.  Indeed, most market commentators now seem to believe that Greece has no alternative but to default (sorry — restructure!), and I think they are right.

Schadenfreude is an ugly thing, but I can’t resist saying (at least for Bill Newton Dunn’s benefit) “We told you so”.  Folly can prosper for a while, but eventually it delivers its inevitable consequences.

But now we are seeing parallel problems with Schengen, which I must admit I had not anticipated, or at least not on the scale we see today (though I was always and instinctively opposed to giving up control of our national frontiers).  The principle of free movement is being challenged by an external shock, and arguably an asymmetric shock.

The Schengen agreement is named for the small town of Schengen in Luxembourg where in 1985, five of the then ten members of the European Economic Community reached an accord on free movement between them.  This accord was absorbed into EU law in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999, and now includes 25 of the 27 EU member states, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and the micro-states of Monaco, San Merino and the Vatican City.  Fortunately, the UK and Ireland (not coincidentally, both island nations with some hope of controlling their borders) remained outside Schengen.

The firestorm currently surging across North Africa and the Arab states of the Middle East is unprecedented, unpredictable and has a long way to run yet.  No one can foresee the outcome.   But already we see one consequence — a huge wave of emigration, with the emigrants heading north to Europe.  Significantly, the greatest numbers right now are from a state which appears to have come through its revolution — Tunisia.   Yet there are no jobs and no prospects in that country for thousands of young men, who have made their way towards Italy, many initially to the island of Lampedusa.

These pose a massive problem for Italy.  Yet many of them are French-speaking.  They have relatives in France, and want to go there.  So we see a game of pass-the-parcel developing.  Italy already faces huge concerns about immigration, and is demanding EU help.  But in the meantime, the Italians are doing all they can to facilitate the onward journeys of these refugees, giving them six-month Schengen visas and even train tickets north.

Meanwhile France also has immigrant problems.  Marine Le Pen, daughter of former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, is looking like an increasingly credible challenger for the French Presidency, so Sarkozy has to burnish his credentials on immigration.  The French are holding trains at the Italian border, in defiance of Schengen, and calling for the Schengen accord to be suspended until the North African problem is solved.

We have a reprise of earlier problems with attempts at immigration into the UK.  The Daily Mail reports that a thousand Tunisian refugees have set up make-shift camps around the Gare du Nord in Paris, hoping to catch the train to Saint Pancras, and I am not sure that we can trust the French to stop them.

There are two key points here.  First, two flagship policies of the EU are in disarray: the euro and the principle of free movement.  It is not at all clear that they can be maintained in their present form.  I expect the euro to exist in ten years’ time, but it will probably look very different, and have fewer members.  And I doubt whether the principle of free movement will ever recover its first fine careless rapture.  As Browning put it, “Never glad confident morning again”.  The credibility of the European project looks increasingly threadbare.

Secondly, we in Britain — and especially the Coalition government — face a challenge.  We’re out of the euro — but we’re being tapped for money to support the failing euro project.  We’re out of Schengen — but we have yet to show the vigour and determination we’ll need to secure our borders.  These are critical areas on which the credibility of the government will stand or fall.

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10 Responses to The EU project: falling apart at the seams

  1. Sue says:

    Well. What can I say? As the situation worsens, the sheeple who are usually kept asleep by a monotonous lineup of “reality shows”, are beginning to wake up to the nightmare. The no-smoking ban closed many of the places which people traditionally frequented and chatted about life and everything.

    Once upon a time they were blissfully unaware that the EU was slowly impinging on every little bit of their lives. The lion is waking and not only in the UK. The “citizens” are realising that the great EUtopia is not what they want. The only countries keen on the EU are those who are benefiting from it.

    The rest of us just see the EU as a bunch of dictators who not only tell us what we can or cannot do or say or think but charge us for the privilege.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t lead charmed lives but quite honestly, when aren’t they partying? The events calendar on the EU site is filled with grand parties and michelin starred banquets, all funded by us. What’s left get distributed to undeserving causes like rap lessons for traveller’s children and exotic kennels in East Europe (sorry that money got embezzled I believe).

    You are a proper Tory, tell me Roger, what is up with Cameron et al?

    Are they so caught up in the EUtopian socialist dream they can’t think straight? Even if they are, that’s hardly the way a conservative should be thinking!

    On the other hand, they may just be thicko’s or perhaps the promise of positions of power within the EU have created an indelible mist over their eyes. Or maybe they’re scared to pull out. It would mean they would actually have to run the country on their own.

    Even our trading figures for non-EU countries is better than the “advantage” of our free trade within the EU.

    I’m just baffled. I just need to know, what’s in it for us?

  2. Peter HUlme Cross says:

    Haven’t you noticed that the Tories talk ‘Eurosceptic’ when out of office ( NOT you Roger ) but act completely differently when elected to office? Here is their record…

    It was Ted Heath, a Tory (theoretically), who took us in (after the ground-breaking by Macmillan), it was Thatcher who led the “yes” campaign for the Tories in the 1975 referendum, and it was she that agreed the Single European Act.

    Then, of course, it was John Major, Thatcher’s protégé, who negotiated the Maastricht Treaty (aka Treaty of the European Union) – and wrecked the Conservative Party getting it through the Commons. Now the heir to Heath, Mr Cameron, refuses us a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and gives us AV instead.

    Perhaps Cameron genuinely values being on equal terms with Sarkozy and Merkel. It seems he is a true convert to the whole ‘climate change’ agenda propagated by the EU. How else to explain his choice of Chris Huhne as Energy Secretary?

    But the whole EU ‘project’ is a profoundly SOCIALIST project and I am as mystified as Sue as to why the Conservative Party would have anything to do with it, never mind support it.

    • As Dan Hannan has often said, parties in opposition tend to be eurosceptic, while parties in government tend to cosy up to their opposite numbers in Europe. And I think it was Peter Oborne recently who wrote a piece pointing out that, true to form, after nearly a year in opposition, Ed Balls has started to talk eurosceptic language, espeically about the euro bail-out proposals.

  3. James A. Hutchinson says:

    Re the Tunisian emigrant build up in Calais . You are right to ask if we can trust the French to stop them illegaly entering England ? The answer is Non , we can’t , as has been the case many , many times in the past . Also of course , our “Borders” still leak like the proverbial sieve .The present government show little willingness to tighten our border controls although to be fair , the EU human rights debacle makes it difficult , if not impossible ,to deal with the situation as we would like .The sooner we kick the sorry EU state into touch the better . Unfortunately , we don’t possess a politician with the guts to do it .

  4. Fire Horse says:

    I saw a quote made my a Labour politician, saying that the Tory party agreed with everything when talking to the Eurpeans and came back to Westminster claiming there was no cahnce of us being forced. The date of the quote 1962! The two faced party has been doing this for many years!

  5. Richard Brennan says:

    @ James Hutchinson – we DO have politicians with guts to get us out but they’re mostly in a party with no MPs because too many people lack the guts to vote for them. A sad irony that most people angered with the CONDEM Coalitions slavish kowowing to the EU will flock en masse to Liebour at the next election.

    • James A. Hutchinson says:

      You certainly got the ” Liebour ” bit correct ! But yes , I agree with your first comment . I have considered voting for UKIP many times , as I like their anti-EU stance , but feel that my doing so is a vote less for the Conservatives and one more vote for Labour . A party I wouldn’t vote for if they were the last party on earth ! In that respect you are right .

  6. Hugh Davis says:

    Roger, I’m sure that a full answer to Sue’s queries
    rather than just a comment on her final one would be appreciated by all the bloggers on this site.

  7. Peter Bridgwood says:

    James and Richard,
    you appear to agree that the only politicians with the guts to get us out of the European Urinal are in UKIP! As there is virtually no difference between Labour and Tory when in power why bother that a vote for UKIP would reduce the chances of your preferred choice of the ‘old parties’. your only chance is if (when) enough people have the courage to vote UKIP. Why not set the example?

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