Everything has practically been decided, and there are 26 relieved people waking up to their Weetabix* this morning. Whilst 92.9% of Europe might have voted by proxy for ex-PM of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker to take up the presidency of the EU Commission, the valiancy and determination of the Anglo-Hungarian 7.1% has left rather more of a stain on the whole affair than one might expect.
The German press is a good place to start: ostensibly the powerhouse of the Union, it seems from the nation’s broadsheets that the British opposition has caused quite a stir. Die Zeit‘s Brussels correspondant Matthias Krupa warns that ever-closer union has actually suffered from Juncker’s appointment, by provoking the Brits to action and making Cameron even more ‘deadly serious’ against the ideals Juncker stands for. In another article he repeats the Financial Times‘ labelling of Juncker as “yesterday’s man”, and re-affirms his interpretation that picking such a clearly pro-closer union figure has done wonders for anti-EU sentiment, has increased the chance of the EU losing one of its most important member states and has sown seeds of division and indeed derision amongst the heads of government. Caustically he claims, “There aren’t many who are really convinced by him.”
“Es gibt nicht viele, die wirklich von ihm
Axel Springer’s Die Welt, more conservative than Die Zeit, emphasises how lonely Cameron now is. Claiming that he’s “lost Merkel”, despite positive noises about the necessity to reform from both the German chancellor and Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt, it goes on to write that he has “no concept, no concrete ideas” and that he is merely “sand in the gearbox” – at least according to top EU diplomats. Read the comments on that article, to a newspaper founded by British occupying forces, and you’ll find 2 particularly interesting statements – “Einsam sein bedeutet aber noch lange nicht, dass seine Argumente falsch sind.” [“To be alone does not, by a long stretch, mean that his argument is wrong”] at 230 positive votes and “Helden kämpfen immer einsam!” [“Heroes always fight alone!”] at 214 positive votes. Hmm.
“Kein Konzept, keine konkreten Ideen zu haben, sondern meistens nur der Sand im Getriebe zu sein –das wirft der Rest Europas Cameron vor.”
When we interviewed Nick Clegg, he attributed up his pro-EU stance not to the fact that he thinks it doesn’t urgently require reform, but to the reasoning that nobody can change an institution from outside. In reality, Cameron’s proposition of an EU-membership referendum is a pressure point on the other EU heads of government – and it seems to be working. Our PM realises that his reforms must go through – without reform, and with the chief pushing the whole institution towards ever-closer union, Europe is going to end up in serious peril of breaking up.
That might sound nonsensical, but think about it. Like Krupa pointed out, the more extreme the push for ever-closer union – united European police, militia, administration – the stronger the opponents of it will grow, and there will come a point when effective diplomatic relations between the institution and its member states will cease. As Juncker and advocates of his school of thought incite the EU to draw the countries closer and closer together, gradually more and more people will oppose this ideal and will draw even further away from each other than is economically and diplomatically sensible.
Juncker won the EU’s Charlemagne Prize in 2006, and if that isn’t clear-cut enough proof of his intentions, then what is? Charlemagne, or Karl the Great as he’s known in Germany, built up and legalised an empire covering most of France, about half of Germany and Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Lietchenstein, some of the Czech Republic and parts of Hungary. This was meant to revitalise the Western arm of the Roman Empire, and became a sort of proto-Holy Roman Empire – a macrostate.
But it crumbled a few years after Charlemagne’s death. It certainly didn’t do much to help European unity, not in the sense of harmonious relations between the European peoples. The UK was never part of this – wasn’t even a United Kingdom itself – and I doubt Alfred the Great or any other Dark Ages monarch would have wanted to have been.
So we live in this United Kingdom, some of us (around 43% if Die Welt has reliable statistics) backing Cameron’s efforts whilst simultaneously backing his efforts in the No campaign for Scottish independence. That might sound like a contradiction in terms, but for one thing the UK is much longer lasting (1707 for governmental union), has already let Holyrood have some degree of self-government by devolution and has a population much more inextricably linked and intertwined than the variant peoples of Europe. There’s contradiction with Yes too though – Scottish SNP MEP Alyn Smith informed BBC Radio Scotland that the SNP “could do business” with Juncker, with the man who presses for ever-closer union but seems to shine a kindly eye on independence, unlike Barroso. Although probably a canny move by the EPP Spitzenkandidat to align himself with at least some UK party and insure himself in the case of a Yes outcome, the SNP – probably also eager to give more weight to Yes despite obvious contradictions – seem very keen indeed. Maybe it’s simply another way of annoying Cameron and his supporters.
With Juncker more or less certain of getting the Commission presidency, we’re in danger of a political power-cut. Nobody, except Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, has been swayed by the necessity to have a leading figure suitable to the priorities of the EU (reform & modernisation). Relations have been strained between the UK/Hungary partnership and the other member states, and one can expect that to worsen with the appointment of such a hardline ever-closer advocate. The disappointing turnout and protest voting deployed for the European elections in May in this country have backfired – with UKIP now more prominent than the Conservatives in the European Parliament, how do people backing Cameron’s fight against Juncker’s appointment expect that he looks credible when Farage and friends swept past him at the polls? The EPP, the most prominent party in the European Parliament & the party who put forward Juncker for president, are basing the legitimacy of his appointment on the fact that they have the widest support across Europe.
Partially due to the fact that Cameron took the Conservatives out of the EPP in 2009 because they were too backward-looking, thereby losing some support from it, and partially due to the fact that the UK didn’t vote sensibly in the European elections, we’re now facing a power cut.
*Quark would like to point out that there are other breakfast brands available.