Alphen, Netherlands. 27 November. In 1516 Sir Thomas More wrote in Utopia: “Why do you suppose they made you king?’ I asked him. ‘Not for your benefit but for theirs. They meant you to devote your energies to making their lives more comfortable, and protecting them from injustice. So your job is to see they’re alright, not just that you are – just as a shepherd’s job is to feed his sheep, not himself’”. Pope Francis’s verbal dressing down of the European Parliament this week came straight out of the Friendly-Clinch school of blog blasting. Like me the Pope clearly believes in the ideal of Europe but has profound concerns about the monster the EU is fast becoming. Indeed, the Pope comes across as a pro-European EU-sceptic, the dystopian place where all of us who believe in democracy in Europe must reside. What the Pope said was nothing less than a papal bull on EU bull.
The Pope's main concern was the growing gap between the people and the EU super-elite due to what the Holy Father called “bureaucratic technicalities”. “In recent years, as the EU has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful”. He went on, “It is no secret that a conception of unity seen as uniformity strikes at the vitality of the democratic system, weakening the rich, fruitful and constructive interplay of organisations and political parties”. “This leads,” the Pope warned, “…to the risk of living in a world of ideas, of mere words, of sophistry, and to end up confusing the reality of democracy with a new political nominalism”. I could not have put it better myself.
The pope warned of the threat posed by "unseen empires" to democracy. In fact, such empires are not so much “unseen” as in Brussels, which is just about the same thing. The problem being that those in Europe’s More-esque Utopia so believe they are building Utopia that there prescription for peace, prosperity and indeed everything is ever more of themselves in the guise of ‘Europe’. Consequently, Brussels resembles not so much Utopia as Babel.
This past year has been full of EU Bull. In the elections to the European Parliament in May millions of Europeans protested against an out-of-touch super-elite anchored in a distant, out-of touch parliament. Did said elite listen? Certainly not! Instead, the self-same super-elite hijacked the protest by claiming that in fact the people had been voting for them in the form of so-called spitzenkandidaten.
Then, with a legitimacy-denying, credibility-crushing turnout of only 40% the self-same EU super-elite claimed the right to appoint the President of the European Commission. This was against the wishes of the vast swathe of European citizens who still see their nation-states as the true guardians of political legitimacy in Europe.
Last month the Commission announced it was imposing a retrospective tax on the citizens of a few member-states based on a model that in spite of intense effort I can still not find. Indeed, as a Dutch taxpayer I feel increasingly under siege from the EU and all too aware that a supine Dutch Government will do nothing to protect me. Sadly, the weakness of The Hague, London and the other paying capitals simply encourages Brussels to find ever more creative ways to filch money from the taxpayer’s of the eight EU member-states that actually pay for the EU whilst doing nothing to deal with the endemic corruption at the heart of the EU as identified by the Court of Auditors.
Talking of creativity last month it was also announced that as Prime Minister of Luxembourg Commission President Jean Claude Juncker had allowed major multinational corporations to use his country as a flag of tax convenience to avoid the payment of huge amounts of tax and in so doing force me to pay more. There must be something vaguely biblical here about it being easier for a corporation to pass through the gates of Brussels than a citizen to pay through the nose for a needle? Juncker denies all knowledge, which is of course nonsense. Luxembourg is so small that if a sparrow farts the prime minister knows about it.
This week Juncker announced a new €300bn European Strategic Investment Fund to get Europe back to work. First, the Fund does nothing to solve the structural problems in the European economy that condemn those of us in the Eurozone to perpetual crisis. Indeed, the Fund will probably delay such reforms. Second, whilst the EU will inject only around 10% of my money initially in the hope of 'leveraging' investment from the private sector my money will still be used to ‘guarantee’ private sector investment. In other words, I am about to be ripped off…again.
Why am I so sure? Yesterday, the Court of Auditors revealed a €300bn black-hole in the EU budget due to unfunded projects. The figure is suspiciously close to the €300bn the Commission wants to raise for new projects. Pathetically, a few member-states try to impose checks on the EU budget and David Cameron proudly announced earlier this year that he had succeeded. The problem is that with twenty of the twenty-eight member-states being happy recipients of my tax money they are equally happy to work with the European Commission and the European Parliament to ignore efforts to stem the flow.
What the Holy Father highlighted is an EU with institutions now beyond the control of emaciated and emasculated member-states and indeed beyond the checks and balances of properly representative, legitimate democracy. Indeed, far from preparing Europe for a hyper-competitive world the EU is fast becoming an enormous Ponzi scheme – taking money from some citizens to pay imaginary 'dividends' to other citizens until the entire pyramid collapses under its own essentially corrupt weight.
The EU is broken. It does not work. It is certainly no longer my EU. However, restoring ‘Europe’ to the people will be no easy task and will probably take little less than divine intervention. And yet that is precisely the challenge all of us must confront.