At the end of last year the European Union delivered an ultimatum to the Polish government. It gave the administration in Warsaw three months to change some of its policies or face the loss of voting rights in the EU and a cut-off of EU funds starting from 2021.
The measures of Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party that have aroused particular distaste in Brussels are its efforts to institute greater government control over some aspects of the court system and the national broadcasting network. It is not necessary to endorse these policies, however, to think that they are matters for the elected government of the day and decisions that can be reversed if they prove sufficiently unpopular with the electorate to result in the rejection of the ruling party at the next election.
Similar sanctions have been threatened by Brussels against the government of Hungary with its Fidesz party led by Viktor Orbán. As in the case of Poland, Brussels disapproves of administration policies affecting the operations of the media. In the case of both countries there is also strong disapproval amongst EU bureaucrats of their resistance to EU positions on the volume of immigration from outside the Union. Again all these are matters for debate but debate, it might be thought, within Poland and Hungary.
That, however, is not a view held in Brussels. Jean-Claude Junker, EU president and a native of the toy town principality of Luxembourg, said publicly last year that ‘borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians’. His contempt for the opinions of electors in member countries was indicated by his statement some years ago about a French referendum on the EU constitution: ‘If it is a Yes, we will say “on we go”, and if it is a No, we will say “we continue”.’ Martin Schulz, who was at one time president of the European Parliament and last year became leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, said during the negotiations over Greece’s financial plight that it was time for a ‘government of technocrats’ to replace those who had been elected to office in Athens. No one would defend the maladministration of Greek governments over a long period of time but this kind of statement reflects the indifference of EU politicians to the role of the electorate in individual countries.
This question of national sovereignty was at the heart of the Brexit referendum in Britain. It is fashionable, of course, for the opponents of Brexit to say that those who voted to leave the EU were too ignorant to even know the meaning of the term and that their vote was the product of ill-informed prejudices. As the Sydney Morning Herald headlined its editorial of 23 June 2016: ‘A victory for hate should Brexit prevail’. The editorial went on to say that ‘too many on the Leave side have appealed to the base instincts of susceptible people’. It just may be, however, that a majority of the voters placed some value on the capacity of Britain to make decisions for itself, as it had done for centuries, rather than have them imposed by an external administrative body.
This was certainly the view of Clement Attlee, the British Labour leader, in 1950 when he rejected British participation in what was to be the first step on the way to the EU – the European Coal and Steel Community: ‘We have always been willing, and are now, to enter into… international arrangements, but the point of this plan was that it was something entirely different from the international arrangements. This was to set up a supra-national authority.’ And one, he added, that was ‘utterly undemocratic and responsible to nobody’.
Despite the hostility to immigrants that was supposedly reflected in the Brexit vote, there is a large contingent of illegal immigrants camped at Calais and demanding entry to Britain. For some reason they seem to much prefer Britain to France, although one solution would be for EU stalwart, French President Emmanuel Macron, to persuade them to stay in France. But he says that they should be given entry by the British government and is using the Brexit negotiations to exert pressure on Britain to accept these groups. Given the terrorists attacks in recent times in London, Paris, Manchester and Nice, the citizens of both countries might wonder at the price that has been paid for the EU policy that no member country can control the inflow of persons across its borders.
What the aftermath of Brexit has demonstrated in Britain is the contempt for the electorate’s vote on the part of the politically correct class who dominate almost all public and private institutions in Britain, as they do in Australia. This group spends much of its time moving across national boundaries for work and travel and places great faith in international organisations like the UN and so-called international law that would overrule domestic legislation. The idea of national sovereignty has, however, proved difficult to suppress in most parts of the world and even the EU is now experiencing resistance, in the form of Poland, Hungary and Britain, to its ideal of a world without borders.
Although for most of its members the EU is a supra-national body, it is in many ways a vehicle for the domination of Europe by Germany, as the senior partner, and France, as the junior partner. This is something of an irony, given that in 1914 Britain joined in the Great War essentially to prevent German domination of the European continent, although the decision was ostensibly taken because of treaty obligations concerning Belgium which had been invaded by the Germans at the outset of hostilities.
The British decision was only taken after some internal debate and there must be a question in retrospect as to whether the enormous loss of British lives in the war only postponed a result that Germany has now achieved by political means.
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