Monday, October 21, 2013

EU turn

The FT reports on the sharp rise in support for the limitation of the powers of the European Union- even amongst traditionally strong supporters of the bloc.

The context is interesting- the suggestion is that the backlash against the EU is coming as a result of the rapid growth of immigration. The rise of immigration has indeed been rapid, and there is obviously generally pretty limited support for expanding the rights of free movement to the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. Yet the majority of immigrant attacks are not made against EU migrants but against those coming from the Arab World, the sub continent and sub-Saharan Africa.

To my mind, the issue of immigration is a kind of referred pain: discontent is far more entrenched than merely a right-wing backlash against immigration. The creation of giant government-lead projects, such as EU funded rail construction, is a symptom of a Brussels elite which is seeking to buy the support of the voters. Yet the elite is very isolated and as a result consistently hits the wrong note. Spiffy infrastructure funding looks more like pork-barrel politics when you move beyond the European quarter of Brussels. Whizzy initiatives lose their sparkle when we note how the last grand projet - the creation of the Euro- turned out.

The fact is that the EU clientele has lost its way. The idea of ever closer union has been buried for at least a decade by the economic shocks post-2008. They fear the loss of momentum that puts the creation of a single EU economic and political space at risk. Yet that fear is itself putting the EU into reverse. The point about the functionalist EU was that it sought to create practical agenda for integration, which was to be a lasting and mutual benefit to all the members. The fact is that the current system works to the benefit of Germany and not to the PIIGS, and the sense of injustice that this has created is undermining support for the Union across all member states.

The next EU elections will doubtless see a big upsurge in anti-EU groups, from UKIP and the True Finns in the North to Le Front National and the PVV in the West. Yet the fact is that the voters will give such support because they know that in the great scheme of things it doesn't matter much- and that is a measure of the failure of the Brussels political class: despite all the political influence and investment clout they can wield, they still don't matter to most voters.

It is not the hatred of the voters that the EU needs to be most afraid of- although that is growing- it is the sense of impotence and irrelevance that the EC still has in the eyes of most EU citizens, even compared to image of the national governments. That is a problem that will not go away, and the current thinking in Brussels- all free spending pork and no civic authority- will not address that crisis in the slightest.

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