Last Wednesday in Brussels our EFDD group hosted not one but two political celebrities, in committee room 1E2.
At 11:00 a.m. we had the leader of the Italian Five Star Movement (the second largest delegation in our group). Beppe Grillo, former comedian, celebrity, and now leader of the insurgent 5 Star party, gave an impassioned speech. The main take-away message was simple: he wants Italy to have a referendum on membership of the €uro Currency Union, which has done such huge damage to Italy’s economy, and created record unemployment rates.
Of course there are many issues where UKIP and the Five Star Movement don’t see eye-to-eye, and we occasionally get questions about that. But the answer is simple: we both believe in democracy, and the democratic right of our respective countries to forge their own destinies. We agree that our freedom to choose should not be over-ridden by unaccountable foreign institutions in Brussels. And when we agree about something as fundamental as that, we can live and let live on other issues — and I hope, learn from each other.
Then at 1:30, we welcomed one of my political heroes, former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, the only EU Head of State who has been consistently sound on both the EU and climate issues. I had the privilege of chairing the session, and of introducing him. Alongside us on the panel were Nigel Farage; Czech MEP Petr Mach; Slovak MEP and economist Richard Sulik; and academic economist Professor Philipp Bagus, http://www.cobdencentre.org/author/philipp-bagus/, author of “The Tragedy of the Euro”.
President Klaus made a keynote speech, and one of his points struck me very forcibly. In a sense it was self-evident, yet I had never seen it in quite such clear-cut terms. Quoting Von Mises, he argued that communism, and centrally-planned economies in general, are incapable of delivering economic efficiency, for a very simple reason. The only way of allocating resources and assets efficiently is according to their value. And without a free market sending price signals, even a well-meaning central planner (if such a beast exists) could not achieve an optimum allocation of resources.
For example: take a forest. You could leave it as a public or private amenity and (if you care about such things) a carbon sink. Or you could cut down the trees, pelletise them and burn the wood in a power station. Or you could take the timber to make furniture and other useful items. How do you decide, how do you optimise the return from the forest, without price signals?
Klaus and other speakers went on to make the point that the EU’s “soft socialism” and central regulation are, to a considerable extent, re-creating the problem and obscuring price signals in the market.
I feel that issue particularly strongly with regard to the energy market, where normal pricing considerations have been overlaid by such a plethora of taxes and subsidies and rules that a functional market can scarcely be said to exist — and as a result, energy prices are far too high, and are driving energy intensive businesses out of the EU altogether, taking their jobs and their investment with them.
President Klaus has written some excellent books. One close to my heart is “Blue Planet in Green Shackles” — and not only because he cites my own work in a foot-note on page 34! He has a new book just published, “The never-ending struggle for a Free Society”, of which he very kindly gave me a signed copy. I haven’t had opportunity to read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.