Thursday, 9 August 2018

Brexit: no love lost

A worthwhile piece appears in The Wall Street Journal enquiring as to why EU funding has not made it any friends.
The European Union has spent nearly $1 trillion to unify the continent by delivering highways and trains into places where there were once gravel paths. In current dollars, that is over eight times the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. The EU has bought airports and bridges, trams and swimming pools. It has repaired castles and medieval churches. It hasn’t bought love.
To the vexation of European leaders, some of the biggest recipients of funding are now hotbeds of discontent, brimming with voters disquieted by the cultural and political pressures that have accompanied European integration, and threatening the bloc’s cohesion.
This is a factor which, to this day, continues to confound remainers. They continually impress upon us how the regions depend on EU funding yet it doesn't seem to make a dent. This article manages to answer its own question. 
East European leaders returned home touting the money pledged. Some now say this created unrealistic expectations of swift economic change. Among EU enthusiasts, the Copenhagen summit was seen as a step to EU political union - an idea anathema to easterners who had just shed Soviet hegemony. “This vision was never, never shared in countries like Poland or the Baltic States,” said G√ľnter Verheugen, a German politician who oversaw EU enlargement from 1999 to 2004.
One might go one further and say this vision was never shared by the UK either - among others. The grand vision is really a fixation of Western European liberals and our political elites. The EU has always been marketed as a grand gesture of reconciliation between France and Germany where the UK, with a legacy self-image as the saviours of Europe, doesn't really feel the need to get in on the act. 

Eastern Europeans, Poland especially have fought their own struggles and you can say the same of the Balkans. They have only ever seen the EU as a pot of money and a marriage of convenience. Just recently I went to Croatia, where on landing at Dubrovnik airport, the EU ring of stars is evident everywhere. The flag on the gate stone is so big you can't miss it. You would almost think it was an occupied country. And in some respects - it is. 

Once you get into the city, however, the EU flag is nowhere to be seen. The Croatian crest adorns to rock face above the city and military insignia are painted on to the walls approaching the city. Croatia is a country with a strong sense of nationhood - which is not at all surprising given its recent history. If you talk to the locals the EU is seen as an economic necessity, and a welcome source of revenue but beyond that you won't find rabid europhilia. As I understand it, that attitude is much the same in Greece which historically has seen any regional power as a pot of money and has configured its politics accordingly. 

That really is about the size of it. The EU vision is little more than a delusion where the peoples of Europe tolerate it simply because there are undeniable economic advantages. Britain, however, does not see it like that. Britain sees itself as a wealthy country which isn't financially dependent on the EU.

Remainers point to the regional funding in the UK, particularly in deprived areas, but unless you're a direct beneficiary it doesn't make a huge difference. Moreover, you can go all around the country and find projects from community centres to nature parks funded by the EU, but the first thing one notices is that the sponsorship plaques are tarnished. They date back to the early 90's when we were being softened up for Euro membership.

As soon as it became clear the UK wasn't going to join the Euro, the UK's fate was sealed. We were simply not on the road to the same destination and since then there have been fewer visible signs of EU occupation. But then as the article observes, there are strong cultural influences in Eastern Europe which see the EU as a threat to their own values. UK liberals may assume the UK is above all that having undermined national self-confidence and demonised nationalism over decades - but those feelings on identity still run deep. 

This is where the EU made avoidable mistakes. I recall as a young activist in the eurosceptic movement that our own government was determined to take us deeper into the EU without our consent, and then we started to see symbols of EU dominion popping up on official documents, not least our driving licences. Soon after, the ring of stars appear on the registration plates of new cars. This was a silent bureaucratic coup. 

For all the liberal sneering about blue passports, the anger was less to do with the colour as the fact this was a sign of an unwelcome takeover. They were letting us know that the EU was our supreme government - whether we wanted it or not. 

This, in part, explains the generational divide in that the young have only ever really known EU dominion and will not remember the series of betrayals through brought us to where we are now. Moreover the rejection of the EU as as much a two fingered salute to the political elites who did this to us in the first place. We now find the damage done by Brexit is the effect of taking back what should never have been given away. 

This in part explains our clumsy departure process. The UK's borders were thrown open without our consent and our economic model adapted to the new dynamic and now we are told we cannot have enhanced trade relations with the EU unless we leave our borders open. 

When it comes down to it, EU regional funding is seen as the crumbs from their table. Sticking plasters and propaganda bribes. The main recipients appear to be academic grant chasers and regional quangos whose actual purpose remains a mystery. In the end it wouldn't have mattered if the funding did make a noticeable difference. The EU occupation was never a welcome one. 

This, again, is where Remainers failed. Battering us with economic statistics telling us we are better off is not going to hold much sway with someone from a dilapidated northern mill town. It doesn't matter if you slap a vehicle assembly line and an Amazon distribution centre on the outskirts of town. The trends remain the same. 

The failure of the EU is ultimately in its DNA. Ever closer union will be its epitaph. The EU is an artificial construct with exclusionary politics where only those who agree with its aims can influence it. There is no demos so it uses the levers of policy to manufacture it, harmonising for its own sake, while shedding responsibility for the problems it inevitable creates. 

All the EU has ever wanted is to be loved - but there is nothing especially lovable about it. It's technocratic, remote, faceless, lacking legitimacy and ultimately unwanted. Had the EU remained an anonymous international organisation like UNECE or the WTO - virtually unheard of and lacking a public face, its mundanity would have allowed it to continue functioning. But they couldn't let sleeping dogs lie. They wanted a flag, a currency and a toy parliament. They wanted us to share in their vision and ignored us when we said no. From that day onward, Brexit was inevitable. 

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