Things I don’t like about the EU.

The EU: Flawed but vital.

The EU: Flawed but vital.

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.  

15 thoughts on “Things I don’t like about the EU.

  1. But if, for example, child sex trafficking rings are integrated across European and international borders, then shouldn’t the police pursuing them also be integrated? I don’t think Dutch or Irish citizens what to see uniformed French Europol officers patrolling their streets, that’s true, but having an FBI style organisation to deal with cross border crime makes sense.
    I’m not sure what you mean by social issues.
    I don’t want uniformity for uniformity’s sake either. We are an alliance of independent nations, and even in a United States of Europe I would still want that, and no, I do not believe you can’t have both. My problem is that we have the worst of both worlds now. An ineffective EU which is not delivering the benefits of the combined strength of the 27 members to its citizens, and a EU leadership which Europeans are distant from. You seem to be arguing for the status quo.

  2. You make it sound like i’m not for european or transatlantic cooperation, which is not the case.
    I’m simply saying that i wonder if the current way of european integration not just on the economical but also inherently sovereign issues such as criminal and social issues is not necessarily the way i’d like to go. Since my fear is that this just leads to uniformity imposed on smaller nations by larger ones.

  3. As I said, if you feel that the Netherlands can get what it needs without combining with other like minded nations, then you’ve a fair point. I guess I come from a country that has been dominated by a hostile neighbour, and was helped to be liberated by foriegn allies. That’s why I feel it is important that Ireland ally herself with other like minded nations. I suppose it’s a question of historical perspective. We couldn’t liberate ourselves alone, we needed help from friends, and we got it. Where as you put it, the Netherlands doesn’t need that sort of help.

  4. But you make it sound like eventually cutting CO2 emissions is not in China’s best interest either.
    Like they are only going to cave in under presssure from the EU. Even though globally changing climate patterns affect China with it’s aridification of the interior just as much as any other part of the world. Whether or not they find it as pressing as us to reduce emissions within the next 10 to 20 years already as drastically as lots of EU countries want i can’t say.
    Plus the fact they have valid arguments that we in ‘the west’ had basically 200 years of industrial revolution to pollute the crap out of the world and now that they’re catching up tou our levels of CO2 emissions per capita we’re screaming they have to do something about it.
    That’s s;ightly hypocritical.
    And my point is not that i don’t see differences between for instance Britain and China, but just because i don’t like to be dictated to by China’s interests doesn’t mean that i DO want to be dictated to by Britain’s interests.

  5. Sorry, I misunderstood your point. If you don’t see any difference between, say, Britain and China, and feel that what co2 emissions that China make, for example, have nothing to do with the Netherlands, then your point is perfectly valid.

  6. I don’t really see why the Dutch would be interested in the labor laws of China.
    They have their system of law and we have ours. I don’t want to be told by another country why my laws are flawed or why we should change them and i’m fairly certain that China feels the same, whether it’s the Netherlands, Ireland or the entirety of Europe speaking.
    And accepting domination by the giants, is that really going to be prevented if we integrate Europe more fully. Won’t we just open ourselves up to the domination by other giants, namely France, Germany and the UK within the european framework.

  7. But surely Texas and Vermont do not have the exact same interests? Indeed, both export different products and compete against each other. I understand the difficulty of such an ambitious project, and you are of course right about people’s loyalty to their nation and sometimes region. I’m an Irish European, and I don’t want to abolish the nation state. I’m just pointing out the fact that the choice of maintaining old fashioned national sovreignty, attractive as it is, is no longer an option. If the Irish or the Dutch choose to accept domination by the giants of the 21st century, as opposed to having a seat at the table of a European giant, that is their right. But subjugation to the massive economic power and radically different political agenda of the Chinese is, in my mind, a far less attractive option that a united, democratic Europe. But you tell me: If YOU had to choose, do YOU believe that the Netherlands can get as good a deal with China on its own, as it could with the EU? For example, if China told the Netherlands that it was relaxing its child labour laws, could the Netherlands face down China by denying China access to the Dutch market until better standards were reinstated?

  8. “What 500m Europeans acting together want.”
    You’re going on the prerequisite that there is a common purpose between those 500m people and that we all want the same, even though clearly what is in the interest of one nation in europe might not be in the interest of another.
    I’m not saying we don’t share commonalities with other european countries which facilitate in dealing with them through a shared common history and fairly significant cultural overlap (on certain levels) but working together and having a single identity are, atleast in my eyes, far from the same.
    The fact that Europe might have a bigger say if it works in unison might be a nice rational reason, but the fact that we, in my view, don’t have a well established european identity, apart from the national and regional identities, can’t just be fixed by going off in a realpolitik mood where it’s either sink or swim.
    Besides sharing certain values that happens whether or not we have a EU or not.
    We just happen to all have those cultural values in Europe so whether or not the EU is involved in that is moot.

    (Oh and The Netherlands has 16m people and i’m fairly sure even the largest few cities in China are not much bigger then about that number, so definitely not a small city but a big one)

    ps. if the above message seems somewhat vague that’s because it’s 1am and i’m really tired, i’ll see your response, if you have any, tomorrow hopefully and i hope to have a slightly better, more concise reply.

  9. I think the question is whether we believe the choice as to how we get control of the things that affect our lives happens at the European or National level. I don’t think that is a valid question anymore. Do you belive that the great powers, China, India, the US, Brazil, will pay more attention to what 14m Dutch citizens ( a small city in China) want, or what 500m Europeans acting together want. The real choice is that the Dutch and the Irish share our decisions, in Brussels, or we let China pick us off one by one. Now ask yourself this: You believe there is no such thing as a European identity. Whom do you think the Dutch govt can work easier with: The Irish govt, or the Chinese one? Which is closer to Dutch values, do you think? A country that shares democratic human rights values, or a country that uses tanks against its own people? Because that is the choice of the 21st century.

  10. I don’t think the US is really a good teacher here though. The ideas about governance are completely different. The US is a federal system where you have to balance the regional with the national but there is eventually an overriding sense of being an american first.
    There is no real european identity to speak of (barring the ruling elites who are generally way ahead of their electorate as they have always been since the beginning of this project) People are dutch/slovenian/german/etc first and probably even when you ask what they are second they identify with an even smaller region and/or city.
    Before this kind of federalism or confederalism works there needs to be an overarching idea that we’re all atleast somewhat similar ‘europeans’ whatever that may be.

    Besides i personally hope we don’t move towards a federal system which would curtail national governments even further in their decision making.
    (by the way, i’m not anti-europe or anything, just anti-brussels)

  11. I accept it won’t be easy, but the US can teach us a lot about how to do it. Don’t forget, a British French or German candidate will have great difficulty winning the votes from other big countries. Whereas a Dutch or Irish candidate, if they were the right candidate, might. Also, we would probably elect a slate of say, a President and three Vice Presidents, which would make each party want to balance its ticket in terms of geography, gender, etc. Finally, if candidates had to address national parliaments in order to collect enough votes to get on the ballot paper, they would seek endorsements from national politicians. If Balkenende endorsed an Irish Christian Democrat, would it not act as a guide to Dutch CDA voters? I agree, it would not be easy. But who the hell in Herman Von Rompuy and who voted for him? At least we would know who the candidates are!

  12. An elected EU leader?
    I don’t think that will fly with most of the smaller nations including the one i’m from (the netherlands)
    since that basically means it’s always going to be either a german, french or british president, since voters tend to probably vote far more along national lines then on some bulgarian/slovenian/dutch/whatever guy they’ve never heard of.

  13. In fairness, Andrew, I did suggest the direct election of the President of either the Council or the President as a means of improving the Democratic Disconnect. The parliament has had over 30 years to establish itself in the popular consciousness of the people, and has failed. Time to draw a line under it. It has to prove its legitimacy to us, not the other way around. Do you accept thart there must come a point when its electoral turnout reachesa point where it loses legitimacy?

  14. You’re right that it’s important to look at the flaws in any system – EU or otherwise.

    But I just don’t think suggesting disbanding the directly elected European Parliament while simultaneously complaining about the democratic disconnect makes a lot of sense. Granted, people don’t pay that much attention to the Parliament, but they do elect it. Improve it, don’t abolish it.

    On the Turkey point, I’m finding it hard to find many EU leaders in favour of allowing Turkey into the EU. Merkel and Sarkozy are dead against it. I’m all for it, but I’m not holding my breath for any developments on this one.

    Sleaze. It’s everywhere – try following Chicago politics. You’re right, it’s a problem in Brussels as well as elsewhere. We should expect and demand more.

    On the European Arrest Warrant – gotta say we’ve no common ground here. Criminals should not be given safe havens in other EU countries. I’m a big fan of human rights, but even I don’t buy the human rights line on this one.

    All in all, I agree that we should examine the EU critically, just as much as we would examine our national Government. If only issues like these got discussed more often in the public sphere, we would get a lot closer to the kind of EU we all want and need.

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