Thursday, 23 June 2016

collapso calypso

The European Union (EU) is a moribund organization and is probably now on the verge of collapse. It was once a good idea. The European Coal and Steel Community, formed in 1952, was clearly an attempt to repair the ravages of the Second World War by bringing former enemies into partnership, but its successor, the European Economic Community (EEC), formed in 1958 by the same six countries—Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany—under the terms of the Treaty of Rome, was more than this. It was intended to create a ‘common market’ in goods and services (hence the popular name for the EEC), and it worked. The economies of the six founder members of the EEC forged ahead of the rest of Europe.

However, by the time the first new members had joined the EEC—Denmark, Ireland and the UK in 1973—global economic headwinds such as the oil crisis of 1973 had reduced these initial advantages. Nevertheless, the system still worked, although it was starting to creak. Greece joined the EEC in 1981, yet less than seven years earlier, it had been a military dictatorship. Spain and Portugal joined in 1986; these too had been military dictatorships only a decade earlier. More pertinently, all three countries were peasant economies with limited levels of industrialization, so they were, inevitably, subsidized by the richer countries of northern Europe, although with a community of only twelve countries, this was seen as a positive move, designed to bring the three new entrants up to the same level of prosperity as the existing members.

The rot really set in with the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, whereby the EEC became the EU, with its mantra of ‘ever closer union’. An economic bloc became a political entity. On this point, it is worth noting that the European Commission (EC), which should be the EU’s civil service, is in fact the EU’s executive arm. The current president of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker, was prime minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013, while his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso, had previously been prime minister of Portugal (2002–4). The commissioners, who oversee the various departments within the EC, are also former politicians. It’s called riding the gravy train.

Three new countries joined in 1995: Austria, Finland and Sweden. One wonders why they waited so long before applying for membership. I must assume that their leaders didn’t anticipate what would happen next. It seemed like a good idea to admit former members of the Warsaw Pact. For citizens of these countries, having lived under the yoke of communism for decades, it must have seemed like liberation. Instead of being shot by border guards, they could now board a train or plane and travel to any other EU country. It was always going to happen that many of these citizens would want not only to visit but also to settle in one of the EU’s richer member countries.

Meanwhile, among the earlier tranche of members rescued from an unpleasant history, Greece is now, economically and politically, a basket case, while Spain has a youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent. However, what made me think the EU was on the verge of collapsing was the sight of member states on the eastern border of the union closing their borders to keep out refugees from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. I don’t blame the governments of these countries for taking this step, because I have no experience of the threats from the east that the eastern edge of Europe has experienced for the past 2,000 years. I imagine that folk memories of these incursions were behind the decisions to close borders.

You will have guessed by this point that I’m not impressed by the EU. Policy is decided by politicians who have been appointed, not elected, and while it would have continued to work as a trade bloc, it has been a disaster as a political entity. However, my motive for voting for the UK to leave the EU tomorrow has nothing to do with the shortcomings I’ve discussed here. It is the prospect of further expansion. There are six countries in the Balkans that are not yet members of the EU, none of which are particularly prosperous, so they would need extensive support from the union’s richer members.

And then there is Turkey. The accession of Turkey is probably a long way in the future, and things may have changed by the time this happens, but as it stands I have no wish to be part of a political club, one of whose members routinely uses anti-terror legislation to jail journalists who criticize its government. Even worse, the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge—it’s illegal even to discuss the subject—the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians between 1915 and the early 1920s as genocide. It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were killed during this period, often in grossly inhuman ways. The excuse at the time—it is still trotted out now—was that the Armenians, being Christian, were ‘the enemy within’. If this were to be considered a reasonable excuse, Nazi apologists could use it to justify the Holocaust.

In fact, a similar thing is happening now. The Kurdish Peshmerga is probably the most effective fighting force against the monsters of Daesh, yet Turkey has been attacking it largely because it is also dealing with a Kurdish insurgency in the east of the country. The Kurds are the new enemy within, and they are revolting because they are not being treated by the central government with either dignity or respect. On the other hand, I could be persuaded to change my mind if Turkey were to get rid of the mountebank who is its president. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a megalomaniac who cannot stand criticism, who is anti-intellectual and who probably sees Christianity and Islam as mutually antagonistic. There is no place for such views in the modern world.


  1. I can't imagine Turkey being admitted for the foreseeable future, for the reasons you mention; but I can also see the advantages of European governments keeping the Turks on a string by telling them that their membership is still under discussion. It might have some effect. I'm going to vote to stay in the EU. I don't profess to understand the economics (the opposing sides have kept quoting entirely contradictory figures at us), so I'm judging the issue by personalities; and there can be no doubt that the headbangers, swivel-eyed loons and nasties in general are overwhelmingly on the OUT side. The polls also tell us that educated people, and those in responsible jobs, are strongly in favour of IN. This must mean something!

    1. You make a good point about keeping Turkey ‘on a string’ Peter. I also agree that a lot of the campaign has been little more than each side shouting “liar! liar!” at the other. But, then, we should by now be used to that sort of behaviour from politicians. I was also struck by the fact that apparently intelligent men like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove both made references to Nazi Germany during their campaign in favour of a vote to leave the EU.


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