Any discussion of the EU by those on the right of British politics is always in danger of tipping over into the realm of the ridiculous and paranoid, participants seeing demons and plots that do not exist, and interpreting words and deeds as if they were designed for the advancement of a European super-state that does not, and is not likely to, exist any time in the next 20 to 30 years (at least).
And provoking further spasms of anguish from the right recently have been the upcoming elections to the European Parliament (EP), which will be held in May. What is also happening is that Jose Manuel Barroso, who is currently President of the European Commission, will not be seeking a third term. As a result, a number of candidates are being suggested as his replacement.
These candidates will represent political groupings in the EP: Martin Schulz for the Centre-Left, Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals and Alexis Tsipras for the Left are examples. The Centre-Right grouping will decide its nominee next month. But the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) will not be nominating a candidate, as they see the process as a step too far.
Why should this be? Step forward MEP and occasional Tory Dan, Dan The Oratory Man to denounce the whole business. “The next Euro-elections will be a step towards a United States of Europe” screams Hannan, telling “Unremarked, the EU is about to hold its first federal elections”. What happened? Did our free and fearless press miss a significant transfer of power?
Well, no it didn’t: all that has happened is that the EP’s main groupings are putting forward their preferred candidates to replace Barroso (who, along with the Commission over which he presides, may not be directly elected, but, as has been demonstrated in the past, is most certainly accountable, and can be removed by the EP). So, if anything, it’s an improvement over what happened in 2009.
What is Hannan’s key argument? “[the other groupings] are trying to establish the principle that Europe is a federation, in which pan-Continental parties, after contesting elections on a common and binding manifesto, get to choose the federal executive” he asserts. But they are not. Putting forward candidates to replace Barroso establishes no principle – other than the putting forward of candidates.
“In the absence of a European public opinion, the Brussels institutions are, in practice, answerable only to themselves” argues Hannan. But his argument is a circular one: he assumes the conclusion first, then he and his colleagues decide to take their collective bats home. They then sit on the sidelines complaining that nobody listens to them, after they excluded themselves from the process.
Then they wonder why others don’t take them seriously. Head, meet desk.