Europhiles deny that any alternative is possible

20 May 2019

Europhiles deny that any alternative is possible

The fact that europhile politicians and opinion-makers cry shame about the SP's satirical campaign video on the fictional European Commissioner Hans Brusselmans, foaming at the mouth about populism and 'political porn', is not surprising. This always happens when hard-hitting criticisms are levelled at the European Union and the hoped for European Superstate. It happened during the referendum on the proposed European Constitution and again during the referendum on Ukraine. With this reflex the europhiles are denying that any alternative is possible. It's striking that there is so much anger and ballyhoo about our critique, while poverty in the European Union, for example, continues to be accepted. It's time for debate about what sort of European cooperation we want, cooperation in which Brussels is no longer the boss.

Arnout Hoekstra

'Completely hijacked by multinationals', wrote lobby watchdog LobbyControl in a recent report on the European Union. With more than 20,000 lobbyists, big capital dominates the direction of the European Union. 'Companies can hijack laws.' The European Commission does nothing to restrain this power. Far from it, Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans himself broke off the negotiations on a transparency register. “An impressive mourning ceremony for democracy,” the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco called the disregarding of the results of referenda in a whole series of EU member states in a virulent essay. An example is the referendum on the European Constitution in 2005, written in part by the same Frans Timmermans. Majorities in the Netherlands and France voted against the Constitution, but we got it all the same. 'There is no alternative,' is the perpetual response. Yet these are coherent responses to the fundamental problem of this European Union: it's elitist, undemocratic, and it serves the multinationals' interests.

The SP has been critical of the European Union from the outset. With the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, which introduced the unrestricted movement of capital, goods, services and labour, things became distorted. Reducing borders had as its goal that the member states would grow closer to each other. Unfortunately, the opposite has been the case. Member states have to compete with each other on labour costs, with big corporations having the last laugh. The introduction of the euro in 2002 was forged as a crown for the emperor yet to come, because the only logical agenda after the the introduction of a common currency is a common polity, with policies formed by a Brussels elite and a European president. And that's precisely what is now being prepared.

Looking at the present, there seems little left of the European ideal of peace. Warlike language towards the east is increasing. The call for a 'necessary' EU army is being fuelled to the point where it is presented as irreversible. In fact, in the next few years €14 billion is to be spent on common armaments. It's sad to see that, while the Brussels elite is unable to solve problems between member states, the member states are increasingly under the control of Brussels.

It's equally sad to note that the Brexit has not brought the Brussels elite to any self-reflection. The suggestion that it matters at all whether Bas Eickhout, Guy Verhofdstadt, Manfred Weber or Frans Timmermans is elected is incorrect. It makes absolutely no difference, because each, along with his political current, sees Brussels as the solution to all problems, as do the heads of member state governments who at the recent EU summit in Romania showed again how tightly they are intertwined, declaring unity to be above all.

The eternal answer to strive for more unity and more direction from Brussels is in all respects the only flavour available for European cooperation. Yet in an advice note formulated by the Dutch government's official policy advisers, the WRR, it was the option of flexible cooperation which was favoured, and for two reasons: support among the population, a European solution need not be sought for everything; but also because the governments and national leaders should have to explain why in various policy areas they have handed power to the Brussels governance apparatus. The Dutch government, the WRR argues, has in the past inculpated itself too often with 'Brussels insists' arguments, when in reality they themselves wanted to adopt a policy.

A Union of now 28 member states must not be seen as a single Superstate with a single European army. We are selling ourselves and other countries too cheaply if we deny that each has its own history, language and customs, that each has fought through its own social struggles. The solution for the one is not the solution for the other. It may even present a problem. A debate on flexible cooperation is totally absent. Criticism is written off as populist and dangerous, so that you don't need to listen. This is precisely the reflex of the Brussels elite.

That the SP fights against the European elite can hardly come as a surprise. We've been doing this for a long time. We fought for a referendum on the introduction of the euro in the '90s. We led the campaign for a vote against the European Constitution in 2005. At the time we could count on a lot of popular support and widespread criticism of the established order. We were heavily criticised by political 'friends' and by journalists. Everywhere are warnings about the populist vote, but what the Brussels bubble won't admit, is that they themselves are creating it. People have the feeling that they are losing their culture and their grip on their surroundings. This is feeding the popularity of nationalism and the extreme right. For us it is not nationalism which provides the reason for our critique. That lies in the transfer of power and of competences, monetary competences, power over public services, for the choice to put people above the market. But also because we believe in democracy and we are convinced that it must be organised close to the people. and that people must be able to understand and adapt to the choices made.

This opinion article appeared, in the original Dutch, on the website Joop on 17 May 2019. Arnout Hoekstra is the lead candidate on the SP list for the European elections.

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