Friday, October 19, 2018

Karl du Fresne: Brexit exposes the imperious mindset of Fortress Europe

Let’s start with a brief history lesson.

What is now the European Union originated in 1957 as the European Economic Community. It had just six members: France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy.

It began as a customs union and common market, the aim being to promote free trade and economic co-operation. Neutralising the historic enmity between France and Germany was a crucial objective.

The EEC’s founders, eager to avoid a repetition of the horrors of World War Two, theorised that countries that were inter-dependent in terms of trade were less likely to start shooting at each other. And so it turned out.

But the ultimate goal always involved more than trade. From the start, the concept of supranationalism – the creation of a multinational political union with broad powers delegated to it by member states – was central to the EU’s evolution.

Accordingly, the EEC morphed into the European Union in 1993, reflecting the reality that its interests were now political rather than simply economic. That was followed in 2002 by the introduction of a common currency, the euro.

Along the way, membership expanded far beyond those original six countries. The EU now consists of 28 member states (soon to reduce to 27 with Britain's exit) with a far more diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures than was originally envisaged.

And as the EU has expanded, so tensions have emerged – perhaps inevitably, given that many of its member states have little in common, culturally and historically.

The first fault lines were exposed during the global financial crisis, which highlighted disparities between the rich industrial countries of Northern Europe and less resilient member states such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Resentment of their subservience to dominant economies such as Germany was a key factor in the emergence of populist nationalist parties in Greece and Italy.

Since then, strains within the EU have been greatly magnified by conflicting attitudes toward the massive tide of refugees and asylum-seekers flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.

Liberal, affluent Europe, led by a Germany that is still anxious to atone for Nazism, considers it has a humanitarian obligation to provide for the newcomers. But dissenting EU countries such as Hungary and Poland insist on the sovereign right to decide who should cross their borders.

As a result of these tensions, nationalism is again on the rise in Europe. It’s not a pretty sight, but it’s understandable. When push comes to shove, these dissenting countries resent being subjected to rules imposed from outside.

All this suggests that the old-fashioned nation-state, forged by its own common history, culture, language and sense of identity, is not easily erased. This is not what the visionaries who founded the EU were hoping for, but it’s hardly the first time grand, idealistic projects have had unintended outcomes.

And then, of course, there’s the British experience, which tells us a lot about the true nature of the EU and the imperious mindset of the Grand Viziers who control it.

The British people voted by a margin of 52 to 48 to leave the EU. Concern about uncontrolled immigration was one factor, but there was also understandable resentment at being subjected to an ever-increasing set of arcane rules and regulations imposed by a remote bureaucracy that was seen as un-representative and unaccountable.

Ah, but the men who run the EU don’t like having their power challenged. They have gone to great lengths to frustrate British attempts to negotiate a fair and honourable exit. It’s obvious that they mean to make an example of Britain by punishing the country for its impertinence.

Their behaviour toward the British prime minister, the beleaguered Theresa May, has been bullying and vindictive. The fact that May personally favoured staying in the EU hasn’t saved her from the taunts of arrogant Eurocrats such as Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, who humiliate her at every opportunity – even to the point of putting mocking pictures on Instagram.

The message to other EU member countries is that they can expect similar treatment should they dare consider leaving. But the more striking message these men send to the watching world is that the protection of Fortress Europe takes priority over the democratic right of the British people to decide their own future. 

That surely tells you something about the monster the EU has become, and how its ideals have been corrupted. As the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wryly observed recently: “The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving.”

You have to wonder how many countries would have joined the EU had they realised what it would turn into – a surreal Hotel California where you could check out any time you like but never leave.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of the Dominion-Post. He blogs at


Brian Arrandale said...

Ex The Spectator

Divide and rule: how the EU used Ireland to take control of Brexit
James Forsyth

I suggest you read this article by James Forsyth and you will be as confused as I am! The real solution would be to dig up UK Prime Minister William Gladstone from his grave. During his term of office he was thought to be the only man in the world, bar two, who understood the Irish Question.
Oh the others, one was insane, and the other got lost up the Nile with Livingstone.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

No, 52% of the British people did not vote for Brexit. Fifty-two percent of the 72% who bothered voting at all did so. Less than half the electorate voted to leave the EU. This may seem pedantic on my part but the Lords declared the European Communities Act 1972 to be a 'constitutional statute' and it should take more than a simple majority to change a constitution even when there isn't a [written] Constitution. We see here a serious deficiency of the British system of governance compared to countries that have formal written Constitutions.
I think the way the EU has dealt with the UK has been fair, but they cannot allow a precedent to be set whereby States can cherrypick what regulations they want to apply to them and which ones they don't. Being a member of a club invokes responsibilities and duties as well as benefits.

Unknown said...

I think the fact that 72% of the public turned up to vote when compared to the much lower turnout of 66% in the previous general election means a lot more of the British were engaged in this. I agree with the Vote Leave as a means to take back the reigns of the UK and not be subsumed into the EU. Britain would be far better off in the medium to long term with trade deals to the rest of the world. Even leaving with no deal is not at all disastrous as the large pot of money the UK govt is willing to pay the EU for a smooth exit can instead be better spent inside the UK as it pays more than it receives.

Geoff Bourke said...

@Brian Arrandale Festung Europa indeed!

Anonymous said...

Generally when leaving a 'club' but wanting to retain access to the facilities of said club you'd be expected to have to continue to obey the rules of the club. Why should the EU provide the UK any privileges it doesn't give to other non-EU members when the UK leaves?
This shows why there should be a 2nd referendum once the actual exit terms are known. The lies from the first will be shown up for what they were and the UK can choose to stand apart from the EU as a standard non-member like the rest of the world or take the good with the bad and remain in the EU.

Mervyn said...

Brits voted to leave, it is their wretched leaders, the priveledged elite who want to stay and continue getting their benefits of the EU system at the expense of the general population. Mass immigration of unskilled workers allows large companies to pay low wages that have to be subsidised by ordinary taxpayers, workers and small business, in effect subsidising the wage structure of these large corporations. As in America these large companies and their wealthy shareholders are bitterly opposed to any policies that limit unskilled immigration.

Brian Arrandale said...

Not questioning Barend’s legal ruling, but here is a point, since the inception of the European Community it has radically changed its format. It has changed into a Bureaucratic dictatorship of two major powers; namely Germany and France. “Fortress Europe” Hitler’s dream has come true, a Pax Germania flavoured with French sauce(s).”
I have no problem with a simple formula for voting; if people are too lazy to vote that is their concern and take the consquencies. The more complicated a system becomes the better it is for the Politicians and Bureaucrats; and the less democratic and dictatorial it becomes. Just take a look at our MMP set up.
Since its inception minorities have ruled the roost, we have lost nearly half our electorate members, and a minority party can rule the government.
The idea of a “United Europe” under one set of rules is even a bigger mistake than was made after the First World War when the allied leaders Lloyd George, France’s Clemenceau and Italy’s Orlando waited for America’s President Woodrow Wilson to set forth a Statesmanlike future for Europe. What they got was a “Divine” who carved up the map of Europe irrespective of peoples, culture, and history. It planted the seeds of the 1939/45 conflict; especially so, when America turned its back on Europe.
British politicians of the time unable to govern took Britain into Europe as an escape hatch from the militant Unionism that crippled that country both financially and economically for decades; and they also dictated disastrous socialistic policies until the arrival of Mrs Thatcher.
Whatever transpires with Brexit, it has shown that a rampant ever increasing bureaucratic power like the E.U. and the demand for World Government by the United Nations, are to be feared just as much as the Nazis and Communists.
There is no return to the European fold for Britain now, only as a colony with no power in Brussels.