There is, of course, a European parliament, whose powers have been enhanced. But it has no official opposition, and its elections are quite meaningless. MEPs simply cannot offer manifestos of policies which they can implement once elected. Their elections change nothing. The role of the commission does not change—hence policies do not either—as a result of European parliamentary elections. In any case, only 40 percent of voters take part in these elections. The majority stays in bed. The largest number of votes in France and Britain in fact go to parties (the National Front and UKIP) that oppose the EU. And MEPs are anonymous beings. Even the Eurofanatic Tony Blair was unable to name his. On one occasion the leading administrator of the European Parliament told the European Research Seminar at the London School of Economics: “The only people who listen to MEPs are the interpreters.” An Italian senator said that “only” twelve Italian MEPs were Mafiosi. Caroline Jackson, a Tory MEP for South West England, once discovered that an Italian colleague had been shot and after further investigation told the Parliament: “I don’t think it is fair that members who are dead should claim a salary.” Finally, the system of expenses for European parliamentarians is a scandal. Clearly, therefore, the European Parliament cannot be considered a hub of European democracy.
THERE HAS been another way, however, in which electorates have been involved in European politics. Every so often, the negotiation of European treaties has meant that referendums have had to be held to ratify them. According to the founding treaty of the EU—the Treaty of Rome of 1957—these new treaties are legally amendments to the original treaty and have to be approved by all member states. Yet when Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the treaty did not fail. Denmark was simply forced to vote again until it voted “yes.” The German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, told the Danes: “You are just a little people. You cannot dam the Rhine.” When Ireland rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001, it, too, was told to vote again. However, when the French and Dutch voted in referendums against the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, it was felt that France was too big to be bullied or insulted in this way. Instead, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany devised the strategy of tweaking the wording of the treaty and calling it something else. In a letter to heads of government of other member states—it was leaked to the German press—she sought their advice on how “to use different terminology without changing the legal substance” of the treaty and referred to “the necessary presentational changes.”
Thus a long, new, almost incomprehensible document was launched, known as the Lisbon Treaty, and in a speech in London in 2007, former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato explained that EU leaders had deliberately decided that “the document should be unreadable . . . Should you succeed in understanding it at first sight there might be some reason for a referendum.” Indeed, even before it was ratified, all the new bodies that depended on it—the European Defence Agency, the External Borders Agency, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Public Prosecutors Office, the new paramilitary structures, etc., etc., were put into place anyway. The real significance of the treaty, of course, was to turn the EU from a confederation of independent states into a unitary state with its own legal personality and the right to act as a single state. All this was done without any popular mandate—indeed, had to be done in this fashion after the voters of France and the Netherlands had rejected virtually the same document. So the new treaty was rammed through national parliaments by party whips. There was a constitutional hiccup when Ireland found it necessary to hold a referendum after all. The Irish then voted to reject the treaty, but as with the Treaty of Nice, were forced to vote a second time. Their premier, Brian Cowen, head of Fianna Fáil, campaigned on the slogan Yes to Lisbon, Yes to Jobs, and won a majority. This happened just as the economy shrank by 10 percent and Brussels thanked him with an austerity package. His party was destroyed in the subsequent general election—sometimes democracy fights back in the EU. Still, the EU attitude to voters resembles that of the pig Napoleon in Orwell’s Animal Farm to the other animals: “He would be only too happy to let you make your own decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
Meanwhile, this undemocratic union runs almost every aspect of the domestic policy of its member states. A few years ago, the German Interior Ministry claimed that 80 percent of all domestic legislation originated in Brussels. The then leader of the European Liberal Democrats, Sir Graham Watson, put the figure at 75 percent. Tony Blair’s cabinet website put the regulatory impact of EU red tape on British industry at 55 percent. More recently, Steve Hilton, formerly David Cameron’s policy guru, stated in a seminar at Stanford University that 40 percent of the British government’s time was taken up with EU matters, 30 percent with domestic British matters and 30 percent with unforeseen, day-to-day events. Clearly, given its huge democratic deficit as outlined above, the EU takeover of British parliamentary government should come to an end as soon as possible.
CURIOUSLY, DESPITE its dominance of member states through its powerful bureaucracy, the EU has never achieved its other political aim of becoming a superpower exerting major influence over international affairs. Quite the contrary. It remains something of a joke or, in the words of the president of the EU Commission in a 2015 interview with Welt am Sonntag: “…in terms of foreign policy, we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously.” For a start, it cannot agree on major policies, so that major events leave it at sixes and sevens. It split over the First Gulf War, when Germany lied about its constitution to avoid sending troops to aid the coalition led by the United States against Saddam Hussein. France, for its part, joined up in a semidetached way rather late in the day, having first sent an aircraft carrier to the Gulf—without planes. Then, when the French president came round to supporting the war, the defense minister resigned. During the Second Gulf War, both France and Germany opposed the invasion of Iraq, but Britain supported it. Germany later refused to back military action in Libya against the el-Qaddafi regime, which both France and Britain instituted, although they could only execute it with U.S. aid. Today, Germany and France are much more reluctant than Britain to enforce economic sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. Indeed, Europe is so dependent on Russian gas and oil that it can do very little to oppose Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Hence, after offering Ukraine a special deal with the EU and prospective membership of NATO, Europe’s leading states can now offer it practically no help in its hour of crisis. Britain has offered up to seventy-five military advisers to train Ukrainian troops, as well as one thousand troops to boost the defenses of Eastern European members of the EU and NATO. None of this is likely to impress the Russians. Having reduced their defense budgets to below 2 percent of gross domestic product, the EU’s leading military states have nothing to fight with. The Dutch army recently ran low on bullets for its infantry; they had to pretend to fire ammunition, shouting “Bang! Bang!” Germany’s military hardware is highly incapacitated, according to papers leaked to the Bundestag. Like most EU member states, it has essentially become a pacifist country. Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Germans would oppose fighting for the independence of the Baltic states or Poland if Russia invaded. Clearly, therefore, the EU is in no position to exercise hard power anywhere. Meanwhile, Russia is spending 4 percent of GDP on defense and renewing its nuclear and conventional hardware.
Despite a large, new and very expensive foreign service, it is by no means clear that the European Union can solve any of its major foreign-policy challenges. For example, it has found it extremely difficult to formulate a policy regarding the influx of more than a million migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East. The established (Dublin) rules were that these desperate people should be registered in the EU member-state where they arrived—usually Greece or Italy. Yet since the numbers involved overwhelmed these countries and since the migrants themselves wanted to be registered almost exclusively in Germany or Sweden, the Dublin rules were rarely applied. The migrants instead were allowed to walk hundreds of miles through the Balkans towards their desired destinations, incidentally encouraging Balkan migrants to join in the trek. Amazingly, no thought seems to have been given to organizing an airlift of these poor people to properly established refugee centers, despite the fact that German chancellor Angela Merkel at one point declared it her duty to open Germany’s borders to any Syrians who wanted to come there. Yet the thousands of men, women and children who took her at her word were simply left to struggle along dirt roads and across borders—sometimes open, sometimes closed—as EU member states argued about what to do with them. Eventually, in mid-August 2015 Germany and its allies forced loudly protesting Eastern European states by majority vote to accept mandatory quotas of migrants (who themselves had no desire to be sent there in the first place). Plans were also announced to offer more aid to Syria’s neighbors and to improve refugee camps in an attempt to stop or slow the influx, while much vaguer proposals were discussed to establish an EU border force and proper reception centers in Italy and Greece. The questions of how so many Muslim immigrants could be integrated within the EU, how costly assisting them would be and how welcome they would be were left unanswered. The net result is an EU with no control of its borders. Individual member states have widely differing policies on immigration, and Germany’s flip-flopping and bullying on the issue has left the EU as much divided as united.