By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance journalist living in Berlin
The other morning I was astounded by an interview I heard in German state radio. It was in Deutschlandfunk, which specialises in news and current affairs. It is considered by many to be the most serious and objective radio station in Germany.
In this case the moderator was querying the EU parliamentarian Sven Giegold of the Greens concerning the upcoming referendum, also known as Brexit, in Britain to leave the European Union. Giegold is a clever chap, in fact one of the few talents in Brussels. One of the moderator’s first questions was if it would not be better if Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, the EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council went to Britain to make the case for Remain in the upcoming referendum.
This question reflects some very basic problems that are plaguing Europe’s elite and its obsequious media. The first is a specifically German one: Authority should not be questioned. In other words when such powerful figures as the German Finance Minister and the presidents of the European Commission and Council tell you to vote Remain, then there can be no doubt what you should do.
Everyone is supposed to forget the recent records of these three politicians. Schäuble has pretty much single-handedly transformed Europe’s recession into a depression as well as reducing Greece to a perpetual humanitarian crisis. Juncker, as prime minister in Luxemburg, created a tax system there, which permitted large corporations to pay hardly any taxes on their European profits, to the detriment of the member states’ taxpayers. Instead of being jailed, he was made head of the EU Commission. Tusk rammed a neo-liberal EU policy down the throats of the Poles, resulting in them recently electing an anti-EU, ultra-conservative party with an absolute majority into government. That is the first time since the post-communist era that any party has obtained such a mandate. These are some rather impressive accomplishments.
To make matters worse, Schäuble has employed his usual tactic of bullying to influence the British, making it perfectly clear that in the case of Brexit “In is in and out is out”. There will be no good will, no compromises. Do not think this is simply polemic. It is the same sort of thing he told the Greeks before he crushed them. Britain may not have the Euro, but a nation defying German hegemony by leaving the EU is a dangerous precedent and must be made an example of – see Greece. There is a large arsenal of economic weapons available to the Germans and they have no scruples about using them.
Be it as it may, the radio moderator was gobsmacked when Giegold explained that such menacing rhetoric from Germany; be it from Mr. Schäuble or former German leaders has never impressed the British in the past. In his opinion such comments simply add fuel to the Brexit fire and are not in the least helpful in.
Following Schäuble’s threat, Tusk demonstrated the typical political acumen of the EU elite with his matter of fact analysis of Brexit, claiming that it could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilisation in its entirety. Oh well, we may have some exciting times ahead of us.
Should Britain prosper after Brexit, the EU elite will have some serious problems. Even worse would be the case that Britain prospers and the EU does not. One should also not forget that following Brexit the UK will be governed by a neo-liberal conservative government, whose political agenda is similar to the EU’s. What happens when they are eventually voted out of office and a more social labour government (should the Blairites not regain control of the party) introduces a different programme?
What the German radio moderator seems not to comprehend is that Schäuble, Juncker and Tusk, like the rest of the EU elite, have become anathema for most Europeans, especially for those with any sense of democracy, justice or solidarity. There is in reality nothing democratic or transparent about the EU. Where else, except in a dictatorship, do you have a parliament that does not have the right to create laws, this being done instead by bodies that have not been elected by the people.
If one looks at the EU today, nothing has changed for years. It is doing its best to push through the trade agreements TTIP and CETA, although there is little popular support for either. Corporate lobbyists still dictate policy. What is illegal concerning nitrogen oxide emissions of diesel cars in the US is permitted in the European Union thanks to loopholes built into the law. Volkswagen will probably not even be punished for its use of a defeat device in its diesel cars. It came as no surprise that this fraud was exposed in the United States and not in the EU. The EU’s new emission law concerning petrol powered cars, WLTP, is being made just as ineffective. Despite a raft of tax scandals, including that involving Juncker, no effective legislation to stop this has been created. The list goes on and on.
The EU spends millions every year maintaining the illusion that it is one of the great European achievements. The problem is that it has not been the case for a long time. It has become the enforcer of a now-liberal agenda, converting the particular interests of big business into European law. So we have an anti-democratic EU under German hegemony furthering the interests of large corporations – I doubt this is what the people of Europe want or deserve. The words of the British playwright Dennis Potter apply to the current situation in the EU: “They are not interested in our development or emancipation. That is the quality of an occupying force.” This is a conclusion the Greeks reached years ago.
It has been interesting to follow the stages of the Brexit campaign. Initially it seemed to be a referendum concerning David Cameron’s government. Then the role of immigration took centre stage. Now the question of national sovereignty and the lack of democracy in the EU has become an important debating point. There is even a nascent debate among the British left if the EU can be re-democratised, which is rather odd, seeing that it never was a democratic organisation.
There seems to be little hope of the EU being reformed. The EU elite feel too secure and have too much to lose. A democratic EU is completely useless for them, especially for the Germans. Schäuble has recently joined those calling for a stop to further EU integration. Germany no longer needs integration, which implies compromise, when it is already calling the shots. As I was recently in Brussels a member of an NGO explained that Germany is very content with the current EU situation. They dictate policy. There may be resistance here and there, but these cases are never existential for Germany and its clients.
Brexit however offers Britain a unique opportunity. Once out of the EU, who are the Tories going to blame when it becomes clear that it is mainly they who are ruining Britain, not the EU or the immigrants?