Rethinking Europe

Boris Johnson’s Straw Man

The UK Foreign Secretary says only hard Brexit can save Britain from “Political Union” in Europe. As if the latter exists!

Credit: Prachatai www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The UK Foreign Secretary says only hard Brexit can save Britain from “Poliical Union” in Europe. As if the latter exists!
  • Boris Johnson is utterly wrong if he thinks Poland and Sweden and the Netherlands and Greece are about to fold into a single political union.
  • In the preamble to the Treaty of Rome there was reference to an “ever closer union of peoples” – not states.
  • A political union or a federal state requires three things: A budget based on tax raising power, a single executive and a law-making assembly. None of these conditions exist in Europe.
  • If we have our most senior UK cabinet members spinning myths, what chance do we have of the British public making a rational decision as Britain needs to decide how far it wants to isolate itself from Europe?

On Page 26 of his biography of Winston Churchill, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, writes of a “Gestapo-controlled Nazi EU.” This kind of hyperbole about Europe has been a Johnson stock-in-trade since his time as a legendary untruth-telling correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels three decades ago.

James Landale, now the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, a fellow Old Etonian, and a young reporter in Brussels at the time wrote this ditty:

Boris tells such dreadful lies
It makes you gasp and
Stretch your eyes.

True to form, Johnson accuses the EU founding fathers of having a teleological vision of Europe – an end game in which all Europe’s nation states folded into one political union.

Nonsense on stilts

This is nonsense on stilts. They had political ambition to bring Europe together to prevent another war or, for that matter, the return of the Gestapo.

Their method was to break down economic barriers. The EU’s French spiritus rector, Jean Monnet, after all had been a trader and a salesman, which coincidentally is why de Gaulle disliked him.

For the French president, Monnet’s idea of Europe was one about the (economic) bottom line, not about more gloire to France.

To be sure, European cooperation was a political project and involved (and involves) sharing some sovereignty. Churchill told the House of Commons after 1945 that “national sovereignty maybe resolutely diminished.”

Accordingly, Churchill was instrumental in setting up the (non-EU) European Court of Human Rights. As it happens, that body interferes far more in British ministers’ and judicial decisions than Mrs. May’s bête noire, the European Court of Justice, which is an EU institution.

In 1950, Europe was about ending the economic nationalism around the machinery of war. That was why control over steel and coal was removed from national governments and handed over to a common authority, complete with a court, a parliamentary assembly and a rule that prevented discrimination in hiring on the grounds of nationality – the origins of today’s freedom of movement.

Union of peoples – not states

In the preamble to the Treaty of Rome, which took the breaking down of barriers to trade a stage further, there was reference to an “ever closer union of peoples” – not states.

I was the UK’s Europe minister when we wrote the draft constitution for Europe which was enshrined in a new EU Treaty in 2004. This was repudiated in French and Dutch referendums in 2005. The EU returned to its old treaty language with the phrase “ever closer union of people.”

At the time not a single Tory MP raised with me the matter of its removal. But after 2007 when the 40 year old words were reinserted in the Lisbon Treaty, suddenly they are condemned as meaning the imminent arrival of a political union super state. That is the argument which Boris Johnson says is the reason why Britain should now isolate itself from Europe.

A political union or a federal state requires three things. A budget based on tax raising power. A single executive. And a law-making assembly.

None of these conditions exist in Europe. The EU budget is not only a tiny 1% of the EU’s GDP, but 85% of it is sent straight back to nation states to spend.

More centralization?

Sure, there are those who opine for more centralization/central control. For example, in London this week, the very pro-European Italian politician, Sandro Gozi, Italy’s Europe minister, was arguing for just one president elected by all the voters of Europe.

Fat chance. EU national government leaders and parties like the plethora of presidents – of the Council, Commission, Parliament, Central Bank, Eurogroup and the foreign policy High Commissioner. That arrangement has the distinct advantage to allow traditional national pork barrel politics, as jobs are traded by national political chiefs.

The European Parliament does not make laws. They are voted by 28 nation states on the basis of drafts from the Commission. MEPs can tinker with laws and do other important work holding the Commission to account, but it is the nation states of Europe that are the legislators.

President Macron of France had interesting ideas about creating a transnational list of MEP candidates to try and lift the European Parliament above its present existence as a conglomeration of nationally based politicians.

But Macron’s proposal was shot down by MEPs. Plus, the dominant center-right European People’s Party alliance of conservative parties is openly campaigning against Macron’s more pan-European ideas.

Johnson is utterly wrong if he thinks Poland and Sweden and the Netherlands and Greece are about to fold into a single political union. If anything, the EU has given birth to a springtime of nations with new countries and cultures emerging from fascistic, authoritarian, communist or Milosevic-era domination.

Johnson’s fearmongering about political centralization in Europe is about as truthful as the claims during the Brexit campaign that only a no vote would help Britain to keep hordes of Turks as EU citizens off the British Isles.

Conclusion

Far from there being a political union on the horizon, Europe is less centrally controlled than ever. Just consider the real-life evidence:

• Badly run economies like Italy and Greece were able to avoid meeting common criteria that were meant to be obeyed as part of joining the Euro.

• Ireland has dodged collecting taxes from U.S. global corporate giants.

• Poland is crudely flouting all European norms on an independent judiciary, media freedom and falsification of World War 2 history about the anti-semitic behavior of some Poles towards Jews.

• In Italy and Greece, refugees receive shelter but Hungary and the Czech Republic refuse to take in even a few dozen.

It is a shame that Johnson who is smart enough to know the truth cannot bring himself to say this.

Cynics will say that his speechifying is all about his leadership ambitions. Perhaps — but if we have our most senior UK cabinet members spinning myths and fables, what chance do we have of the British public (or even rank and file MPs) making a rational decision as Britain needs to decide how far it wants to isolate itself from Europe?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

Responses to “Boris Johnson’s Straw Man”

If you would like to comment, please visit our Facebook page.