11 April 2022

The progressive case against the EU is becoming clearer by the day

By Phil Craig

A billion euros in aid to Ukraine, €35bn to Putin for his gas and oil. The insta-audit of the EU’s 2022 spending priorities raced around Twitter, last week and made even some die-hard Remainers see Brussels and Berlin in a very different way.

Remember that tearful ‘This is our star, look after it for us’ video from the merry prankster at LedByDonkeys? It perfectly captured what most of my friends had come to believe: that Britain was foolishly abandoning something precious, decent and progressive. But it made me fume.

Then again, I was in a peculiar and lonely part of the political Venn diagram back then: a Labour member who’d campaigned for Brexit, sympathetic to Theresa May’s attempt to forge a compromise deal, sickened to see the Brexit vote and Brexit voters dismissed, demeaned and de-legitimised, wary of Boris Johnson’s promises, but determined to see the referendum result honoured.

More than anything, I was trying to make the case that the EU was never the caring, sharing nirvana of the Donkey boys’ imagination. And trying to remind people – well, my few hundred Twitter followers – what most of us on the left had believed about the EEC and EU for decades before 2016. That it was a mean, stern trade cartel that froze out the developing world, prioritised the interests of capital against labour and primarily served the interests of German car makers and French landowners.

This analysis had served me well for many years. It informed Panoramas I produced and a C4 series I made in the mid-90s written by my friend Bryan Gould – perhaps the most brilliant economist ever to sit on the Labour front bench and a fierce critic of Berlaymont and all its works. ‘The political wing of VW’ was how he described it. Yup.

But as euroscepticism came to be defined by Ukip, Farage and the Tory right, the anti-EU arguments that Bryan, Peter Shore and many other great Labour thinkers made faded into the background and a lot of younger, cooler socialists began to see euroscepticism as something ugly and xenophobic.

But that feels a lot harder now. The war in Ukraine has galvanised people from all sides of politics and made them look at its deeper causes – and one of them is the long-term selfishness and moral delinquency of the EU in general and Germany in particular.

Consider the last 25 years:

Dieselgate Who in Britain knows much about this, perhaps the greatest industrial scandal of our age? And at its heart is the immense power of the car lobby. The famously incurious (and well lunched) regulators in Brussels and Strasbourg somehow managed to look the other way while the German car makers practiced a vast fraud on their customers and the environment. But, you see, real power in Europe has always revolved around cars – making them cheaply and exporting them widely.

The Euro As Bryan Gould (and, to be fair, Jeremy Corbyn too) predicted back in the 90s, the common currency served as a vast wealth transfer system from poor to rich and weak to strong, generating mass unemployment in places that were already struggling. It’s hard to exaggerate just how much money has been leveraged from south to north by this, but it’s unlikely to have ever been matched outside a war of conquest. Journalists from DW reported this audit in 2019. And yes it was largely about car exports.

China You maybe seeing a theme here. The German auto giants have made a huge bet on the Chinese market and human rights be damned. Does it matter? Well it turns out that it does.

Russian gas Cheap gas to fuel the German economy, courtesy of countless deals and jobs-for-the-boys of which Gerhard Schroeder’s is only the most famous.

I mentioned moral delinquency above and you may have thought it was polemically over the top. But how else do you describe a series of linked policies that a) ran down nuclear energy, b) took a massive gamble on cheap Russian gas, c) ignored that said gas was controlled by a tryant who was already running rampage across Europe (and shooting down airliners carrying your own citizens), d) coasted on your Nato defence spending and d) refused to dip into its vast reserves of wealth to help the victim societies of the Euro (see Greece 2015).

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has now apologised and Chancellor Scholz has finally boosted defence spending. But there is still huge reluctance in Germany to face a short recession (at worst maybe a 2% GDP dip for a year) to undo some of the terrible harm that their leadership of Europe has directly caused.

And, yes, I know about oligarchs and the London Laundromat. Britain’s hands are far from clean. But doesn’t it make even a Remainer heart swell with something close to national pride to see Johnson and Zelensky walking the streets of a city that British weapons helped to save…from bombs paid for by the keepers of our ‘star’?

If a tiny percentage of the UK journalistic effort that went into the always tenuous ‘Russia funded Brexit’ theory – now collapsing in a court near you – had gone into examining Germany, the EU and a two decades courting of literally the worst tyrants in the world, then we might have seen this one coming.  

Perhaps LedByDonkeys can make a new video? Working Title: ‘You know what… just keep the fu**ing star.’

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Phil Craig is a writer and TV producer.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.