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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 30 July, 2014

Damien Kiberd: Why are the Irish not more critical of the EU?

And more to the point – are we “f**ked and brainwashed” by the ‘European Project’?

Damien Kiberd

RUSSIANS DO NOT mince their words.  When ex-Kremlin advisor Alexander Nekrassov said last week that the Irish people are ‘great’ but that they are ‘fu*k*d and brainwashed’ by the EU, he was being a little impolite. But he may have been right.

Not a single Irish candidate for the European elections on 23 May has so far suggested that Ireland should consider its position within the euro currency zone even though membership of the single currency has brought our economy to the doorstep of ruin in the period since we last elected a set of MEPs.

Nobody has dared to ask if we should remain within the EU itself even though our biggest trading partner is getting ready to ask its people this very question by way of referendum.

Instead official Ireland has this past week laid out the red carpet for the visiting elite of Merkel’s European People’s Party. The EPP is home to the continent’s most Europhile politicians. You might call them the Euronuts, people whose ongoing careers are tied into the success of what they grandly call the ‘European Project’.

Lavish Dublin welcome

The lavish Dublin welcome for the two thousand visitors came despite the abject failure of the EPP and others to honour a pledge made in June 2012 to give Ireland special assistance in paying down the €64bn cost of its bank bailout.

Instead of helping us, the EU sent us one of its errand boys just before Christmas to tell us that far from being owed a favour by the EU, the opposite was the case.

Commission president Jose Manual Barroso told us blithely that by paying off all those German and French bondholders we had caused a “major destabilisation of the Euro area” and that it was simply wrong to suggest that “Europe has to help Ireland”.

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Barroso and Enda Kenny in Dublin Castle last year. Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland.

Barroso is a political chameleon. A former standard bearer for the Movement for the Reorganisation of the Party of the Proletariat, or MRPP, a Portugese Maoist micro-party that has won less than 1% of the popular vote in every election since 1974, he was coincidentally in Cork city last week.

In an outbreak of Stockholm Syndrome the burghers of Ireland’s real capital had decided to bestow an honorary doctorate on Barroso in UCC’s Aula Maxima. Dr Barroso made the trip.

If Barroso’s willingness to reverse a solemn EU commitment became apparent to the Irish in December, his contempt for the idea of national sovereignty was evident a fortnight ago when, though not invited to do so, he stuck his size elevens into the debate on the referendum on Scottish independence.

Effectively he told the Scots to vote no to independence in September. He warned them that it would be almost impossible to get the support of larger EU members for Scotland to remain within the EU if they voted yes. In other words this unelected European bureaucrat took it upon himself to pre-determine the consequences should the Scots seek to reverse their own Act of Union, which dates from 1707.

Barroso declined to explain in greater detail what amounted to political blackmail. Just what would become of the Scottish economy if Scots voters declined to bow down? Would it be allowed to participate fully in the Common Market just like Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do as part of the European Economic Area (EEA)?

Or would it continue to enjoy the benefits of free trade like EFTA-member Switzerland does under a series of bilateral arrangements with the EU states themselves?

Would it be permitted like Turkey has been since 1995 to remain part of a customs union with the EU?Or would it simply be frozen out?

Everything about the EU is ‘top down’

These ‘top-down’ diktats from the Commission president should not surprise anybody. Everything about the EU is ‘top-down’, reflecting the dirigiste thinking of the French bureaucrats who fashioned it.

Logic seldom enters the equation. The EU’s top brass are like people who, having decided to build a house, have chosen to build the roof first and the foundations last.

Across Europe people who don’t agree with the way the EU is gobbling up our national sovereignty and with the way it is hollowing out national identity will put up a fight in the elections on May 23. They may return enough MEPs to block the further unaccountable expansion of this out-of-control juggernaut.

But we are doing nothing to help the fightback here in Ireland. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour are in thrall to the New Magisterium in Brussels. Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party whinge about ‘austerity economics’ imposed by Europe but raise no fundamental objection to the onward march of the so-called ‘European Project’.

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Even if Irish politicians are coy about criticising the ‘top down’ structure of the EU, some Irish people vented outside this week’s EPP convention in Dublin. Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland.

The central problem with the EU is that it promotes the untrammelled power of a civil service and an unelected political elite that operates for its own benefit, regardless of the interests of either the people or of business. The logical consequence of providing a bureaucracy with a budget of  €160bn a year to expand its own power is that the EU will one day be overwhelmed by new laws and regulations.

Even the most avid pro-Europeans have ultimately been forced to question the avalanche of regulation and legislation which has emanated from the Commission and which threatens to suffocate business in Europe.

By the end of 2013 the EU had introduced 8,937 regulations; 1,953 directives; 15,561 decisions; 2,948 other acts; 4,733 international agreements; 52,000 agreed EU international standards and 11,961 verdicts from the EU Court of Justice. The laws enacted since 2010 alone would take a skilled legal professional three months to read.

One man who tried, and failed, to dismantle part of this body of law was the former EU Commissioner Gunter Verheugen, a German social democrat who had presided over the enlargement of the EU in 2004/5 but who subsequently served as Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry.

Verheugen concluded that there were people across the EU bureaucracy who believed that ‘the more rules you produce the more Europe you have’. These people held that the machinery of the Commission was only working when it was actually producing new laws.

He calculated that the cost of this sea of regulation was over €600bn a year, an amount which was more than three times the €160bn in benefit accruing to EU business as a result of the operation of the Single Market.

Many newer EU member states have only recently escaped Stalinist economic planning

A central problem in facing down the EU bureaucracy arises from the fact that many of the newer EU member states have only recently escaped from the tyranny of Stalinist economic planning and have no real experience of free markets. They are literally so accustomed to suffocating forms of regulation that they do not see it for what it is.

The tendency to regulate in these post-Stalinist societies has been reinforced by the EU itself in the period since 2004. Inheriting the botched remains of various planned economies the EU bureaucracy was quite horrified. It was convinced that the imposition of ‘European’ standards upon them was a necessary pre-condition for their recovery.

Vaclav Klaus, former premier and president of the Czech Republic, who had lived under the yoke of Stalinism knew exactly what was at stake. Tellingly he remarked that, “Every time I try to repeal some Soviet era directive I am told that whatever I am trying to scrap is a requirement of the European Commission.”

Damien Kiberd: Ireland’s real friend in Europe is not who you think>
Read Damien Kiberd’s columns for TheJournal.ie here>

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