“They give us back a little of our own money; they tell us what to do with it; then they expect us to be grateful”. I coined this aphorism ten years ago, and have been repeating it at every opportunity, but it is particularly relevant now.
When I wrote my May 3rd piece on the EU’s “Arc Manche” project, I thought the idea was so evidently and egregiously preposterous that no right-thinking Englishman (or woman) could support it. So the piece was merely shock/horror, a cri de coeur, rather than forensic analysis or tightly-argued polemic. But judging from a couple of comments on the piece, I was mistaken, and I need to argue the case. I am, characteristically, happy to do so.
The EU is aiming for a Europe of Regions, in which the nation state will wither away, and become a dusty anachronism, rather like the fading memory of all the principalities, dukedoms and city states that littered Europe in the seventeenth century. We see this policy in big things like the centralisation of administration and law-making in Brussels, which proceeds apace. We see it in small things like the EU’s insistence that its wretched Crown-of-Thorns flag be flown on public buildings in the UK during Europe Week (which starts Saturday May 7th, in case you’d missed it), under penalty of draconian fines. I hope that British local authorities and the Conservative-led government will stand together to resist, reject and repudiate both the flag-waving and the fines.
We see the determined effort to undermine the nation-state in a series of organisations and programmes. Like INTERREG, which funds projects but only on a trans-national basis, so we see joint applications for funds from (in some cases) hugely ill-assorted groups of organisations from different countries, thrown together with the sole aim of exploiting the rules and the funds. We see it in pointless organisations like the European Economic and Social Committee, and the Committee of the Regions. These exist primarily to stroke the egos of local big-wigs in, respectively, industry and the unions; and local authorities.
These people are made to feel important, given titles, sent on fact-finding missions and conferences where they enjoy networking, benchmarking, sharing best practice, and not a little entertainment at the public expense. The EU is simply buying influence, and the support or at least acquiescence of the participants, who clearly constitute a significant opinion-forming group.
“Arc Manche” is clearly another of these initiatives. But let’s be fair and look at the arguments adduced in its favour in the comment column on my earlier piece.
It is “simply a voluntary organisation of local authorities and stakeholders”. (Stakeholders — note the new Labour admin-speak). It “assists them them in accessing EU funds”. It enables them to discuss relevant cross-border issues of which (says the comment) there are many.
The first two claims are linked. Local authorities volunteer because they see it as a way of accessing EU funds. But EU funds don’t come free. They don’t grow on trees. It’s our money, which has been laundered through Brussels, and as I have shown elsewhere, each pound we get back costs the UK economy around £3. I can understand the Kent County Council (say) being pleased to get £1 million from Brussels for some pet project, and I support them in the attempt, but it could have been £3 million if we’d managed it ourselves. We’ve been bribed with our own money, and on very bad terms.
And relevant issues? There are none. If it’s navigation rules in the Channel, these should be negotiated bilaterally between the UK and France. If it’s more local, like cross-channel ferry schedules, it should be discussed between the Ports of Dover & Calais. Arc Manche is a microcosm of the EU’s larger problem — yes of course there are transnational issues to be discussed, but almost never is the group of countries in the EU (or the councils and “stakeholders” in Arc Manche) the most relevant group. For example, there may be vital concerns in the North Sea that should be discussed by countries bordering that sea. But not the EU 27. We’d need Norway in (it’s not an EU member), and we certainly wouldn’t need Greece or Slovenia.
So let’s have relevant discussions between relevant groups — not a rigid EU/Arc Manche structure which is rarely ideal for any issue, and which in any case is designed not to solve local problems, but to promote EU centralisation and to sideline the nation-state.