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The EU is now even worse than when we left it

The Franco-German charm offensive to lure Britain back to Brussels must be resisted.

Gawain Towler

Topics Brexit Politics UK

The new report by the Germans and the French to the EU’s General Affairs Council, Sailing on High Seas: Reforming and Enlarging the EU for the 21st Century, merely confirms what many of us have long understood about the EU – that it wants to exert ever more control over an ever wider area. The proposals represent France and Germany’s plan for an enlarged, reformed EU – which, as the much of the press have noted, could even include Brexit Britain.

The report makes clear that France and Germany would like to rope in UK Labour leader Keir Starmer to support these plans for enlargement. In doing so, they are doing more to undermine Labour’s election prospects than anything the Tory Party in its current state could possibly manage. They are making Labour look like it might be seeking a way back into a bigger EU.

The report itself is startling. Sailing on High Seas could be subtitled ‘Everything that Nigel Farage told you about the EU is true’. It’s a 58-page blueprint for a more centralised EU. With another round of enlargement in the offing – and the western Balkans, Moldova and possibly Ukraine hoping to join – the EU’s technocrats clearly fear a weakening of Brussels’ control. So the plans laid out in Sailing on High Seas are designed to tighten Brussels’ grip over smaller EU members.

The Franco-German plan promises to abolish the national veto in all areas of EU policymaking and give the European Parliament decision rights equal to those of a national parliament. The only sop to national sensibilities is to give members some autonomy in the fields of defence and foreign affairs.

It says that a top tier of countries would be formed to whom the key portfolios and decision-making would be granted. This top-tier status, we understand, would be offered to the UK should Sir Keir want to take us back in. Up until then, the UK could be offered ‘associate member’ status, like Northern Ireland has now. In other words, the UK would have to accept all the EU’s rules, while having no say over them, until it joins the big boys’ club.

Under the plans laid out in Sailing on High Seas, all EU nations are equal, though some, chiefly Germany and France, will be more equal than others. Compared with the top-tier nations, second-tier ones will be granted zero independence and even less respect. They will have less autonomy than the tiny US state of Rhode Island.

France and Germany also want to reduce the number of MEPs from each member state. With fewer representatives in the European Parliament, even the semi-democratic decisions taken there will be further removed from EU citizens. The report also calls for a deeper ‘harmonisation’ of MEPs and their parties. This will allow the EU to drive the more EU-critical parties from the European public sphere.

Sailing the High Seas also pledges ‘greater tax-policy harmonisation for member states’. This sounds like a common EU tax policy, decided by majority vote. This would likely be bad news for Ireland with its attractive corporation tax. The report says a common tax policy is necessary to ensure that ‘the EU budget [can] grow over the coming budgetary period in nominal size as well as in terms of a proportion of GDP’. There would also be the formal Europeanisation of debt, meaning all will be equally and permanently in hock to the mistakes of their European betters.

In the sphere of justice, we will see a similar concentration of power in the hands of EU leaders. The report plans to turn the constitutional and supreme courts of EU members into a ‘Joint Chamber of the Highest Courts and Tribunals of the EU’. This would restrict the power of national courts, such as the German Federal Constitutional Court, which has at times challenged and overturned decisions of the European Court of Justice.

And to back all this up, Brussels is prepared to issue threats. Nations that do not comply with certain measures, states the report’s enforcement section, would be punishable by the European Council if four-fifths of it agree. Currently, to sanction a country, withhold its funds and generally put it on the EU’s naughty step, the EU requires unanimity. Under the new plans, an alliance of countries could no longer legally defend themselves from the big five.

If the UK Tory Party were competent, if it had even a spark left in it, it could use the EU’s plans and their association with Labour to do some political damage. After all, Sailing on High Seas indicates the EU’s direction of travel, and Starmer is keen to build closer ties to it. According to one EU source, the report was explicitly crafted with a Labour victory in mind and an associate-member package on the table. The aim, apparently, of the associate-member status was to offer a ‘potential place for Britain [within the EU] without the need… to hold a referendum’. However, it seems unlikely that even a 250-seat majority Labour government could get away with pulling a stunt like that. Though many in the UK are disillusioned and battered by years of Tory complacency over Brexit, they surely would not put up with a surreptitious re-entry into the EU.

Still, with the Tories as inept as they are, it’s up to the rest of us to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Gawain Towler is a commentator, former director of communications for the Brexit Party and a consultant for Reform UK.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Brexit Politics UK

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