The debate surrounding “Brexit” makes it clear: The EU is being idealised. Positive attributes are being ascribed to the EU, this organisation simply does not have. Below we take up four of the most common populist statements being made about the EU.
First populist EU-statement: “The EU is the greatest project of civilisation of the last decades.” So said Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament. The EU itself commits itself officially to uphold “the principles of freedom, democracy and the respect for human rights.” This is stated in the prelude to the treaty of the European Union (also called “Maastricht Treaty”).
Answer FCE: In reality the EU-institutions are incredibly undemocratic. European parliament is only given a few rights; EU-institutions like the commission or the the council who in parts act like a government on a European level are not elected by the European parliament. Their representatives are not subject to recall. They do not have to submit to any parliamentary control. Parliament does not have the right to put forward any legislative initiatives of its own. But that is not all. Even the EU-Commision and the European Council have got fewer powers than an informal group called Eurogroup, set up after the Euro was introduced. These are meetings held by finance ministers of those countries who have introduced the Euro. Greek former finance minister Jannis Varoufakis described this institution as follows: “There is no treaty governing the meetings of this group. What we have is a non-existent group exercising the highest amount of power […]. It is accountable to no one as it does not exist in any legal meaning of the word. There are no minutes of its meetings and all members are sworn to confidence. But they are making decisions concerning life and death.” Even more remote and far removed from any parliamentary control acts the European Central Bank. Its decisions affect the lives of millions of people. And what about “respecting human rights”: The policy of fortress Europe tramples on human rights every day. Or they drown into the sea: The EU tolerates the drowning of thousands of people in “mare nostrum”, our Mediterranean sea, every year.
Second populist EU-statement: The European Union aims to continuously “improve the living and working conditions of workers”, “raise living standards” and “lower the gap between different regions” and the “backwardness of less fortunate regions”. This is stated in the EU-treaty of 1992 (Maastricht treaty, Article 117, 113, and preamble).
Answer FCE: In reality, there has been a massive social and regional slope within the EWG/EG/EU for decades. It could only temporarily be reduced. But it never went away. There have not been any comprehensive measures to make the gap disappear. Since 2009 the social slope has increased due to the crisis in the countries of the periphery. Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus are stuck in a dead end road. The EU makes this worse by imposing “austerity” – cuts on the backs of ordinary people – on these countries. For big business and the banks, this slope has got positive effects: They can take over whole sections of industry within the periphery. Fraport, the owners of Frankfurt Airport, were able to purchase most of the Greek regional airports for a penny and a dime. In richer regions, corporations use workers from economically weaker countries to keep wages low and profits high.
Third populist EU-statement: The EU claims about itself: “The EU`s environmental norms are some of the strongest in the world. EU environmental policies contribute towards a more environmentally friendly economy, the safeguarding of nature and the securing of the health and quality of life for the people within the EU.”
FCE-answer: Some say that among the blind the one-eyed person is king. This may also be true where environmental and climate policies are concerned. That the USA have got even worse policies than the EU is without doubt. But even this is not true everywhere. The VW-scandal – by now a scandal involving the entire car-making industry world wide – could only be exposed due to independent environment agencies in the US, both on a federal level and in California. In the EU, all car-models with manipulated software were admitted into the market. The use of Glyphosat is allowed in the US, but also within the EU. And the current tortuous manoeuvring conducted by the EU points to an extension of this arrangement, although the danger of this substance causing cancer cannot be excluded from an EU-point of view. Independent consumer organisations assume that the danger is real. On the railways, the EU pursues a policy of systematically destroying unified railway companies (demanding the separation of rail network and operations as well as demanding an “opening up of the rail-market”). When the troika took power in Greece one of its first aims was to privatise the railways. This will lead to huge parts of the remaining rail-network being abandoned. The referendum-decision made in Switzerland demanding the transfer of all road-haulage transport onto the railways could not have been taken in any EU-member state. The European Court of Justice would have blocked such a decision in any case. Freedom of transport has got higher priority within the EU than noise-protection or protection for the environment and climate.
Fourth populist claim: “The European Union is the largest project for freedom and peace of all times.” So said Peter Huth, leading editor of Berlin based tabloid newspaper BZ. EU-commission president Jean-Claude Juncker argued in a similar vain in the Bild-tabloid: “The European family is best for people living in peace.”
Answer FCE: The European Economic Community, (later EC, then EU) already had a military element. The 1992 Maastricht treaty explicitly built on this, calling for the aim of a “unified defence policy”. A European defence industry has been developed ever since (with EADS and Airbus at its centre). Since then military units have sprung into existence in which EU-countries are participating. These units are being developed to conduct missions abroad. In 1999, important EU-countries, Germany among them, participated in the aggression war against the federal republic of Yugoslavia. EU-economic policy has become increasingly aggressive as well. This became clear during the Ukraine-crisis of 2014/15. The EU forced the Kiev government into an either-or decision: Either an association with the EU or the continuation of developed economic treaties and connections with Russia. After the ejection of the corrupt but legally elected government under Wiktor Janukowytsch, after the installation of a new and equally corrupt government under Petro Poroschenko and after the decision made by said government to stop accepting Russian as a second official language, escalation was inevitable: Eastern-Ukraine split. The Crimea region was taken over by Russia (after a positive referendum result). A war between Western-Ukraine and Eastern-Ukraine began. On Balance, the EU is carrying out policies of military build-up and warmongering.