I feel about the EU the same way that British monarchists feel about the Royal Family. It’s a gut instinct thing, informed by my reading of history but also by the fact that it just makes sense to me. The way that some of my fellow Irish citizens feel about a united Ireland. Yet I can’t help feeling that such is the adolescent approach to political debate in this country, it’s almost impossible to criticise aspects of the EU without getting called a eurosceptic, which I’m obviously not. There are, nevertheless, things about the EU I don’t like.
1. The prickly approach to criticism. It is not anti-EU to criticise the EU, yet I have been savaged by pro-Europeans for daring to admit that some things don’t work. To say, as some pro-Europeans say, that opposing european integration makes one a nazi/communist/warmonger is just plain silly. There are many reasonable people opposed to further integration who are barely represented on the political spectrum.
2. The European Parliament. It is patently ridiculous to claim the EP is the voice of the people of Europe. Yes, it is elected, but so were Jedward. Americans, who bitch about Congress, nevertheless accept they need it. Would we miss the EP? The European Parliament, despite the fact that it scrutinises the Commission to a better extent than any national parliament, speaks primarily for itself. It could be replaced by a oversight panel made up of appointed people, for much less money and the same standing in Europe. It is hard to find the EP defended by anyone who is not an MEP or would quite fancy being one.
3. The European Arrest Warrant. Crime is international. So should crime fighting. But does anyone really believe that human rights in Finland and Bulgaria are respected to the same degree? Until it is, we should not be extraditing people to less human rights secure states.
4. The Commission seems to have no better ideas other than letting nations that are not ready into the union. I’m sorry, but Bulgaria and Romania were not ready.
5. The people of Europe do not want Turkey. The EU leadership does. The fact that there is any question at all as to whose opinion will prevail is quite scandalous. And I say this as someone who can see many of the good arguments for letting the Turks in.
6. Sleaze. There is a lot of sleaze and feather nesting in the EU institutions. When you mix 27 political cultures, all with their own variants of corruption or misuse of funds (The Brits buy duck houses and get their moats cleaned. We let dodgy bankers get away with stuff.) this is hardly surprising.
7. The back scratching. Can there be any more insidious example of buying people into the European Project that the European Economic and Social Committee, the greatest quango of them all. The Borg used to say “resistance is futile.” The EU tends to say “Resistance is a lot of hassle. Another glass of bubbly?”
8. The Democratic Disconnect. We are absolutely taking the piss when the Dutch and the French vote No,and we just ignore it. True, it’s up to the people in those countries to decide themselves how to run their internal politics, but it stinks. The eurosceptics aren’t much better, as their airbrushing of the Spanish and Luxembourg results show, but we are supposed to be better than this. The fact is, EU democracy is not as much non-existant (there are so many chacks and balances as to make the system move deathly slow) as being so opaque and malleable as to be grubby looking. Don’t tell me that the way that Baroness Ashton and President Von Rompuy, two good people by many accounts, were appointed wasn’t just plain dodgy. The fact that Europeans cannot, through their ballots, elect the people at the very top of the EU is a factor which is causing rot within the project itself. Could President Von Rompuy have won a union-wide election? I don’t know. But I do know that after the process we’d A) know who he was, B) have more respect for a man with 150 million votes in his back pocket, and C) call the bluff on the eurosceptics.
Don’t get me wrong. I was in Dublin Castle when the flags were raised and the new member states joined, and to see Europe reunited was a dry throat and eyes well up moment for me. This union is the most extraordinary political construct of the 20th century, and millions live in a Europe more free and prosperous than any time in human history, and the EU has played THE lead role in that. That’s why it is important for those of us who believe in it to point out the flaws.