The EU’s quick post-referendum amendment to Article 50 to ensure that, in future, it is subject to Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), coupled with Junker’s ‘radical vision’ for Europe’s future, including the creation of an omnipotent President, is nothing more than a poorly conceived strategy to overcome the awkward and rebellious obstacle of democratic nations, says Peter Divey.
Juncker’s state of the EU speech needs to be seen in the context of growing personal and organisational confidence. The EU has not been buffeted off course by the migration crisis. The tsunami of “populism” is receding with only Brexit leaving an oily high-water mark. Juncker decided to downplay Brexit, an easily washed off stain of little consequence. Soon there would be no mark at all. The fact that Brexit occurred on his watch was events beyond his control. Juncker would re-write his legacy. Everything was about the new improved EU going forward. There was no looking back. Onward. Together. Ultra-federalist Juncker went on maximum attack with project much more EU.
But did he over-reach? Sentiment has been changing as the speech has been absorbed and considered. There has been rowing back and “clarification”. He would have anticipated “told you so” from the UK. He has been surprised by the blow back from our continental partners. Some of the more diplomatic have described the ideas as ‘blue sky’ thinking; original or creative thinking unfettered by convention and not grounded in reality. Meanwhile, others have been less diplomatic. Suffice to say that their emphasis has explored the un-reality quotient. The response of the Dutch PM Rutte was my personal favourite…”I am more of a when you have visions, go see a doctor kind of guy”. But Juncker generally ignores the light hitters. Britain was always snubbed. The German and French though need to be heeded.
Juncker suggests combining the presidencies of the Commission and the EU Council. This would speed up decision making. This new post-holder would have unprecedented power. Enlargement of the Schengen area to include Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania on an expedited basis has concerned Germany who have been on the hook following the rushed entrance of Greece. Others like the idea but they are not Germany. Expansion of the EU into the troubled Balkans. Why invite this trouble, say some? It has already been pointed out that this sprint to engage more countries may be a strategy to ensure Juncker isn’t the first Commission President to oversee a reduction in the number of EU member states.
One of the big debates in Britain prior to the Brexit-referendum was about an EU army. Farage predicted it and Clegg was scathing. It is coming to pass and should be ready by 2025 said Juncker. It is unclear what role and capability this new EU Defence Union will have but what is clear are the big costs involved. If the EU can delay a clean Brexit beyond 2019 with the ruse of, say, a three year “transition” a hefty chunk of these costs may fall upon the UK. It is ironic that British taxpayers will be buying French, German and European equipment to set up this new army. British equipment has already been pretty well locked out. Juncker says the EU Defence Force will be complimentary and compatible with NATO. Member States would be “assisted” with uptake of the Euro. A multi-speed, multi-currency EU is no more. All for one and one for all. Even if you don’t like the idea until national economies are more harmonised.
Best of all, Juncker spoke about qualified majority voting (QMV). This was noticed but made fewer ripples than I expected among all the other ‘creative thinking’ goodies. It should have. It was to be specific to particular areas of economic and financial competence, but you can be certain of mission creep. A slippery slope. Why did Britain enact Article 50 before the end of March? Because the EU never dreamed that it would be used and hurriedly changed the rules so that from April 2017 Article 50 would be subject to QMV. However difficult it may be for Britain to “escape” the EU can rest easy in the knowledge it will be much harder for anyone else in the future. No wonder Juncker was so bullish in his assertion that no one else would be silly enough to leave. QMV disenfranchises the smaller EU members, such as Portugal, Ireland and the Netherlands. They may find themselves paying their subs to the EU but having no practical say if they are opposed to Germany and France on any issue as the block vote will be overwhelming. Toothless.
Much of what Juncker proposed seems fanciful and certainly will be subject to compromise if not outright rejection. A new “super” President, able to legislate for ever more QMV may be just the thing that Juncker envisages to overcome the obstacle of awkward democracy and rebellious nations. I am pleased that Britain is stepping away. Even one Vince Cable thinks that Juncker is “wrong”. Less ‘radical, innovative thinking’ and more claret-induced haze.