hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Sunday, 3 July 2011

What Has the Onion Ever Done for Us?

There is nothing as strategic as money. Reg, leader of the People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, asks his followers, “…apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?" With the battle now under way over the European Onion’s 2014-2020 budget a similar question is now being asked by western European taxpayers. What has the Onion ever done for us?

For western Europeans it is indeed a hard question to answer. Of course, trite politicians in the main net payers Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland (yes, Finland) trot out the same trite answers – free movement of trade and peoples is in everyone’s interest, as is the transfer of billions of western Europe’s money to invest in central, eastern and southern European economies.

Certainly, western European leaders never give straight answers to the questions that really matter to their respective electorates – be it the cost of underpinning central, eastern and southern European economies or, indeed, immigration and its impact on our societies – both good and bad. Indeed, it is a mark of the loss of national sovereignty over both money and borders that said politicos have become so evasive and so economical with the truth.

And, during the boom years of largesse prior to 2008 there was an argument to be had that there was sufficient to go round. But not any more. The inability of Onion leaders to properly address the Greek debt crisis almost certainly means a) more western European taxpayer's money will vanish down the Athenian black hole; and b) Europe will become even more in hock to the Chinese, who at some point when Europeans are suitably hooked will demand a price – a big strategic price.

So, a divide is emerging between the ‘have not but must give’ western European taxpayer and the ‘increasingly have and want more’ central, eastern and southern European beneficiaries. It is no surprise that the spendthrift European Parliament, dominated as it is by central, eastern and southern European politicians, is demanding a 5% increase in the Onion's budget as a share of European states (i.e. western European states) national income. At a time of acute austerity across the Onion such demands border on the obscence and simply help to further undermine the credibility of an already out-of-touch European Parliament.

The depth of this divide has been brought home to me by two very different but linked experiences. My recent visits to Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland and Tallinn in Estonia left me deeply impressed by the progress being made in life quality therein. The fabric of all three cities had hugely improved according to the locals. Everywhere I went there were big signs with the Onion’s flag proudly displaying ‘its’ largesse. Or, to be more accurate, my largesse, being a British citizen paying tax in the Netherlands. Naturally, I pointed this out, as is my Yorkshire way, and whilst thanks were offered there was much mumbling by my hosts about ‘historic duty’ and all that. It is an historic duty that has long been paid by our fighting and winning both World War Two and the Cold War. Shortly thereafter I went back to my own home city, Sheffield, in the north of England, which was tired and shabby by comparison.

Being a freelancing professor I am often approached by young researchers keen to have me supervise their PhDs. The divide is ever apparent. The western Europeans almost invariably have a question as a sub-text – is the Onion a good thing? The central, eastern and southern Europeans, on the other hand, invariably take it as read that the Onion is a good thing, and simply want to know how to get more of it. There are of course variations, but that is by and large the message.

Now, what western European leaders are not telling ‘we’ the taxpayer is that the very purpose of the Onion is to transfer money from ‘us’ to ‘them’. What they are particularly keen to avoid telling us is that the Greek debt crisis was caused primarily because Greeks took it as their right to have western European taxpayers subsidise them, and indeed still expect it. As do millions of their fellow Europeans.

As a western European taxpayer let me make this clear to our frankly appalling political leaders; I am prepared to do my bit for ‘Europe’, but I am not prepared to be fleeced indefinitely to fund countries and societies that simply refuse to reform or modernise. In the past it may well have been the case that transfers of wealth from we few western Europeans to everyone else acted as ‘structural’ investment in the European economy for the benefit of all. Today, I am seeing with my own eyes that the propping up by the west of the rest is leading directly to the impoverishment of western Europeans, together with their countries and societies. As austerity bites deep both our life quality and security are being profoundly undermined.

I have spent much of my adult life believing in ‘Europe’, and deep down I still believe in an ideal. But I do not believe in this corrupted Europe, with leaders all too willing to give my hard-earned money away and yet give me nothing in return but meaningless and costly platitudes.

Therefore, as the Onion’s budget negotiations get underway those charged with leading the Onion, together with their weasel-worded fellow travellers in national chancelleries, must remember that we, the eternally ignored peoples of western Europe, will only up put with so much.

What has the Onion ever done for us? Certainly not sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health...we pay for all of that on top!

Julian Lindley-French

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