Australian Notes

Australian notes

13 November 2021

9:00 AM

13 November 2021

9:00 AM

Zut alors!

The French have not forgiven the English for Brexit. As Clément Beaune, France’s Minister for European Affairs, said recently about Britain: ‘Stop telling us you do not need us anymore, stop being obsessed with us, stop believing we will solve your problems. They made a mess of Brexit. It’s their choice and their failure, not ours’. And earlier in the year President Macron complained: ‘The Brexit campaign was made up of lies, exaggerations and simplifications. We must remember at every moment what lies can lead to in our democracies’.

These passionate comments reflect the fact that, for many French administrators and their European Union counterparts in Brussels, the EU is in many ways a theological concept. They see the 27 member states as subject to a supra-national regime that can admit of no individuality. What began as an economic experiment in free trade between member nations has become a centralised system of political and legal rule. The ultimate treachery, of course, was to do as Britain did, to leave the system behind and strike out on its own. The French enthusiasm for the EU is no doubt enhanced by the fact that, together with the Germans, they are not just two member states but the dominant forces in the organisation.

The latest challenge to the domination of Brussels has come from Poland’s highest court which ruled in early October that Polish laws take precedence over those of the EU in areas where they are inconsistent. This ruling came after the European Court of Justice held earlier this year that Poland’s regulations for appointing judges to its highest court could contravene EU law. Brussels responded to the rulings with a typically heavy-handed statement: ‘EU law has primacy over national law… the EU Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the treaties to safeguard the uniform application and integrity of Union law’. In accordance with this threat the European Court of Justice has imposed a daily penalty of one million euros on Poland with these penalties to be paid to the EU Commission until the Polish court reverses its decision.

In keeping with the layers of administration in which the EU specialises, the European Court of Justice, located in Luxembourg, is separate from the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg. The former is the supreme court of the EU in matters of EU law, whereas the latter interprets the European Convention on Human Rights and hears cases as to whether one of the member states has breached the human rights set out in the Convention. According to Brussels, the rulings of both bodies are binding on the governments of member states.

This is not the first time that Poland has provoked the hostility of Brussels. Both Poland and Hungary complained in the past about the EU’s apparent encouragement of the waves of illegal immigrants arriving in Europe from the Middle East in general and Syria in particular. They were both treated to lectures about their callous attitudes, although the EU at some point realised that the sheer numbers of immigrants could not be absorbed and it has paid the Turkish government huge amounts to act as a barrier to immigrants from the Middle East moving on from Turkey to Europe.

One of the key tenets of EU theology is the notion of the single market, that is, absolute uniformity of laws relating to goods and services inside the Union. This is the source of the bizarre dispute between Britain and the EU over Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit. Under the so-called Northern Ireland protocol agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom eggs, for example, destined for Northern Ireland from England, Scotland or Wales are the subject of customs checks at Northern Ireland ports to ensure that they comply with EU product standards. This is presumably designed to prevent any of those eggs finding their way to the Irish Republic – an EU member – and so violating the single market concept. The British government maintains this system has proved to be unworkable and wants the protocol to be rescinded.

Over the five years of negotiations that followed the Brexit vote in 2016 the EU used the case of Northern Ireland as one of its chief means of obstructing the reaching of a final agreement, perhaps still hoping that Britain would come to its senses and remain within the Union. The EU negotiators insisted that Northern Ireland, although part of the UK, would have to remain part of the EU single market to prevent the possibility of goods from England, Scotland and Wales making their way into the Irish Republic.

There is, of course, a land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and this could be the subject of customs procedures that would result in this possibility being avoided. But it seems to have been accepted as conventional wisdom that the establishment of any such customs procedures on that border might spark a resurgence of the violence that plagued Northern Ireland between the 1970s and the 1990s. Quite why customs posts would provoke this outcome has never really been explained but it enabled the EU to demand that the UK agree to the protocol.

The dictatorship of Brussels eventually proved too much for the British but the EU intends to expand its membership and to tighten its control over existing and future members. It is a one-world model that is designed to undermine the idea of the nation’s state. As its last president said in 2016: ‘Borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians’. Britain had a narrow escape but it is doubtful whether some other members, such as Poland and Hungary, might be so lucky. The great benefit of the Union for most EU members is the financial support, much of it originating from Germany, that it provides to them and they seem prepared, if not always happy, to trade national sovereignty for money.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments