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2 May 2017 Edition

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EU must change direction or risk disintegration

• Right-wing parties across Europe are exploiting people’s real concerns about the direction of the EU

More and more people struggling in low-paid, precarious work with increasingly privatised public services and declining social protections are alienated from the European Union

IT TOOK a shipping clerk on the quays of Antwerp to expose the reality that King Leopold’s ‘Belgian’ Congo, a supposedly benevolent empire built by a man lauded by anti-slavery groups, was actually a brutal colony built on slavery.

There are figures in present-day Brussels intent on building a new empire. They too use benevolent language to disguise a dangerous truth.

After the back-slapping of the recent Treaty of Rome anniversary celebrations, it’s time to take a hard look at the EU, where it is going, how it works and how it has changed.

In 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC), ostensibly a free trade organisation.  

Today the EU is a political union where many in key positions – such as EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker and senior MEP and former Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt – seek a federal state with tax-raising powers and an EU army.  

Since my election as an MEP three years ago, I have been struck by the extent to which many at senior levels within the EU are committed to creating a federal European superstate.

The huge level of corporate lobbying in Brussels would make a Washington DC insider blush.

There are 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone with lobbyists estimated to impact on over 70% of legislation.

The Brussels elite is deeply interconnected with corporate and financial interests.

ECB President Mario Draghi came to Brussels from Goldman Sachs, while former EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso went straight from Brussels to work for Goldman Sachs.  

The European Ombudsman has reopened an inquiry into Mario Draghi’s membership of ‘The Group of Thirty’, a body that includes executives from several senior private banks.

Today’s EU is wedded to neoliberal policies which even many within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) now admit are flawed.

These have created widespread hardship as austerity, deregulation and privatisation undermine the social function of states and the rights of workers.

Increasingly, people across Europe are uncomfortable with the EU’s direction. This is manifested in the growth of far-right parties who exploit people’s real concerns regarding the direction of the EU.

Such groups fill a gap created by the failure of progressive parties to defend the rights of nation states and their citizens.

The European federal project was clearly rejected when people in France and the Netherlands voted down the proposed EU Constitution in 2004.

The response of the EU establishment was to ignore democracy and reframe the constitution into a Lisbon Treaty which wasn’t put to electorates other than in Ireland (and we know how that went!).

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More and more people struggling in low-paid, precarious work with increasingly privatised public services and declining social protections are alienated from the European Union.

Some assumed that Brexit would prompt a much-needed rethink in Brussels regarding the push for further integration. But it now appears it is prompting some to demand an acceleration of this process.

Federalists see Brexit as an opportunity to reform the EU, in the words of Guy Verhofstadt, “in the model of the American federal government”.

Verhofstadt has also call for a ‘defence’ where: “The soldiers of the European Army will wear the same uniform with the same EU insignia.”

Meanwhile, Mario Monti, Chair of the EU High Level Group on Own Resources, is bringing forward proposals to enable the EU to directly raise tax revenue.

Some of Sinn Féin’s political opponents have sought to portray our opposition to Brexit as a change in policy from our previous opposition to the Lisbon Treaty. It is not.

The Lisbon Treaty was a bad deal for Ireland. Brexit is also bad for Ireland. Sinn Féin opposed both and we are to the forefront of the campaign to minimise the negative implications of Brexit.

We have demanded “Special Status for the North of Ireland Within the EU”, reflecting the democratic wishes of the voters there.

Fine Gael and their allies in Brussels see more federalism and less democracy as the answer to everything. But the people of Ireland (and indeed of Europe) don’t want an EU superstate.

Sinn Féin and the progressive Left across Europe seek a different Europe and a change of direction. 

Powers will have to be returned to states. Brussels will have to be cleaned up. The federalists will have to be reined in.

The European Union must become a co-operative union of nation states committed to working together on issues such as climate change, migration, trade and using our common strengths to improve the lives of citizens. 

If it does not, EU disintegration becomes a real possibility.

MATT CARTHYis a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committee, and the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee.

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