Cameron Junckered on Europe

I was away in Ireland the other week, in Cork. On the south west side of the city is the Wilton roundabout (notable for its big blue modern art sculpture in the centre), one of the first large roundabouts in the city and one of the town’s busiest road junctions. Cork lore has it that back in the 70’s when it was first put in a farmer from the countryside, who had never seen a roundabout before, went and drove his tractor around it…going the wrong way and beeping everyone out of his way!

One could draw an analogy between this incident and the problems the UK has with the EU. They don’t really understand how European politics or its institutions work, so they go against the flow of traffic and hope everyone will either get out of the way, or turn around and follow them.

The Irish media were covering Cameron’s actions in attempting to block Juncker’s appointment, however the tone was less criticism of Cameron’s actions but more bafflement about how he was going about trying to achieve it…I mean it did look like he didn’t really know what he was doing. In the end only one other European head of government, the Hungarian PM, sided with Cameron. This is despite strong criticism of Juncker from several of those who voted for him, notably the Polish leader (an ex-Bullingdon club chum of Cameron). A vote in the European Parliament is due, but the balance of probability is that Juncker will almost certainly win this one too.

In the end the strong performance of anti-EU parties such as UKIP, aka the UK Tea party or the Communists in Greece and Le Pen’s National front led to much circling of the wagons by the pro-EU parties of both right and left. Cameron’s attics aided by Farage’s buffoonery were the best advert one could construct for the virtues of Juncker’s candidacy. As so often is the case in politics, a lot of very dumb and naive people who don’t really understand politics and read too much of the Daily Mail, voted one way, but ended up getting the complete opposite of what they wanted! Had they voted Tory or Labour, there’s a good chance Juncker’s appointment might have been stopped.

I would also note that if indeed Cameron is correct that it pushes the UK closer to the exit door, then the UK should expect the EU to drive a hard bargain on such an exit, something which as I’ve discussed before would likely lead to a scenario where the EU continues to pass most of the UK’s laws (via the UK’s free trade pact with them) which Parliament has no choice but to rubber stamp, having lost its right to veto anything, the UK border stays open (contrary to UKIP the EU has little to do with migration into the UK hence a pull out won’t really change anything)…oh and the UK ends up paying for some eurocrats to come over to the UK and check the country is complying with everything!

Certainly there is I would argue a need for some reform of the EU. But the way to do that is from within, not hurling rocks from the back benches of the EU’s glass house (as Farage frequently does) and certainly not by withdrawing from the EU altogether. Indeed in a week which has seen the Tour de France pass through the UK to enormous crowds should show anyone the benefits of European co-operation.

For example, one area of reform I would point too is the idea of having a democratically elected EU commission president. I doubt Juncker would win such a vote, although there are plenty of good candidates who would stand chance such as Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, ex-Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt (who gave Farage a wonderful telling off a few years back for wasting taxpayers money…he’s got my vote for that one!) or ex-Irish President and former head of the UNHCR Mary Robinson.

Such an election would also get around what I’ve always felt is the big problem with the EU – that many countries (including the UK) send their political B team off to Europe. Look at the profile of many of the EU’s commissioners and you’ll find they are minsters who lost their seat or failed PM’s who were put out to pasture. It’s a bit like Manchester United sending the B team off to play Barcelona’s B team for the European cup final. By making the post of not just president of the EU a voted position, but all commissioners (say one per country, although that would mean some end up without a portfolio) would probably mean we get a better class of politician in the job, and thus hopefully better policies.

Unfortunately the bad news for Cameron or Farage is that none of these candidates I mentioned would likely be much better than Juncker from the point of view of any Euroskeptic. Indeed, by giving the head of the EU a democratic mandate in the form of the votes of several hundred million people, and worse voting in someone who actually knows what they are doing, it would make for a much more powerful EU president. This explains why Euroskeptics such as Farage are generally against such democratic ideas, while EU Federalists are generally in favour.

Indeed by forcing a vote on Juncker, Cameron has inadvertently strengthened the hand of the Federalists, by meaning that Juncker can now claim a stronger level of democratic legitimacy.

As for the Wilton roundabout, Cork City council seem to think traffic flows have changed in the area and there’s a need to replace it with traffic lights. An apt metaphor for what we need to do with the EU. We can’t get rid of it (where else will the traffic go?) so it needs to be reformed from within.


2 thoughts on “Cameron Junckered on Europe

  1. Like it. I noted Angela Merkel made a comment which suggested that Cameron only knows how to compete and pressurise, he doesn’t know how to work relationally. The playing fields of Eton strike again.


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