Friday 21 October 2016

EU's big boys look out for themselves - without a thought for the rest of us

Published 23/08/2016 | 02:30

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, right, French President Francois Holland, center, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Carlo Hermann/Pool Photo via AP
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, right, French President Francois Holland, center, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Carlo Hermann/Pool Photo via AP

Anyone who has ever been excluded by a group of fairweather friends will know how frustrating that can be. When the group happens to be Germany, France and Italy, we shouldn't just be frustrated, we should be worried.

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Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande joined Italian PM Matteo Renzi on the island of Ventotene yesterday to discuss the burning issues facing the European Union (EU) - and there are plenty.

According to diplomatic sources: "The meeting will... tackle the ongoing refugee crisis, Europe's economic woes and security in the wake of the string of terror attacks that hit French and German cities last month."

The fact that the summit is confined to the Big Two plus the Italians has set nerves on edge in the capitals of the other European countries that weren't invited, but a French source was quick to smooth ruffled feathers with a statement that: "The summit aims to show the unity of Europe's three biggest countries, but not to create a specific club."

I'm sure other European leaders would be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at that assertion, because this looks exactly like an effort to create a specific club.

Or, to be more precise, it looks like a summit designed to create a specific club within the wider EU organisation, an inner sanctum that will decide what is best for Europe, and, most importantly, what is best for itself.

Let's face it, the EU - as we know it - is on its last legs.

If it wasn't entirely killed by Brexit, it has been on life support ever since that result and the UK's mood of separatism is spreading through the EU - something we should all welcome.

Geert Wilders has already explicitly stated that, should he come into power in Holland, which is far from unlikely, his first act will be to start the ball rolling on a Nexit. Once that starts on mainland Europe, the contagion will quickly consume other member states, and once that cascade has begun, it will be virtually impossible to stop.

The EU has been a busted flush for years, but nobody wanted to admit such a heresy.

We were brought up to believe that the EU was the reason Western Europe hadn't seen a major war in 60 years. But the organisation that can claim most credit for that would be Nato. After all, surely it was the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and the still-vibrant memories of the horror of the Second World War that kept a stay on any itchy trigger-fingers, rather than allegiance to what would become a federal superstate.

The efforts by the Remain side to make the Brexit vote a referendum on tolerance and multiculturalism, and the inevitable counter-measures employed by the Brexit side, resulted in the whole debate descending into a rancorous row about race and immigration, but that was only ever a distracting smokescreen.

Many of those who voted to Leave did so because they were sick of an unaccountable, vast bureaucracy making decisions that seemed to have no grounding in the real world.

As we have learned to our cost in Ireland, the leaders of the EU don't care about us, so why should we care about them?

The concept of a common market with free movement for workers was always a fantastic idea, which was gleefully embraced by the average worker. The concept of an alien superstate staffed by unaccountable civil servants writing each country's laws for them? Not so much.

The reason there is such contempt for the institution that is the EU, as opposed to the sensible principle of European co-operation and a common market, is because this was dictatorship by stealth.

One of the promises given all those years ago was that the drive for increased trade, cohesion and friendship would not lead to a reduction in national sovereignty.

Now, a few years later, anyone who wants to maintain such national sovereignty, particularly in relation to how a country controls its own borders, is accused of being racist - by representatives of the very same organisation that promised such a thing would never happen anyway.

Yet now, support for the EU seems to stem primarily from a desire to open the borders and allow in as many refugees as Merkel wants - a million and counting in the last 12 months alone. This muddled thinking was perfectly exemplified in an inadvertently hilarious piece in an Irish newspaper recently in which one of those permanently tearful columnists berated the Brexit voters for abandoning Syrian refugees in their hour of need.

This is precisely the kind of delusional disconnect that exists between Europe's chattering classes and the average working stiff who has seen their prospects plummet in recent years as a direct result of EU immigration policies imposed on member states.

We live in a country that likes to pride itself on our hunger for independence, yet our history indicates otherwise. We just swapped one series of external masters for another - from London to Rome and now to Brussels.

Whatever the three amigos claim to the contrary, yesterday's meeting was obviously about damage control - but not about the damage to countries like Ireland or Greece.

No, this is the big boys looking out for themselves.

Frankly, the EU's greatest strength is the weakness of any viable alternative. No rational person wants each country to withdraw into itself and shut up shop. But if anyone isn't spooked by such open exclusion of the other countries from the Ventotene summit, then they're just not paying attention.

Irish Independent

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