Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: All across Europe, the old order is changing and the only certainty is uncertainty

Belgium, France, Italy... when you see basket case EU is becoming, we’re lucky to be getting out of it

When anyone mentions Europe, the focus is almost always on the UK and Brexit. That is true whether it be in day-to-day conversation, on television and radio programmes, or in newspapers. It has been true since the people’s vote in 2016 and it is certainly true today, with Parliament debating Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

In contrast to the detailed scrutiny of Brexit and the endless talk about uncertainty, there is very little discussion about the state of the structure we have voted to leave, or the uncertainty surrounding it. Those receive scant attention.

The false impression peddled by Europhiles, assisted by a generally compliant media, is that the choice is between uncertainty outside the EU and certainty inside the EU.

You would almost think that all was well within the EU, but that is far from the case.

In November, 100,000 workers marched through Brussels to protest against austerity measures.

Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but it is also the de facto capital of the EU and home to the European Commission.

Last week, Belgian police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters, who wore distinctive yellow jackets, and there will be a nationwide strike on December 15.

In France, the old political party system went into meltdown and Emmanuel Macron was elected president in May 2017, as leader of a new party, La Republique en Marche.

He had an overwhelming mandate but, 18 months later, there are demonstrations on the streets and demands for Macron to resign.

Nearly 300,000 people took part in the first demonstration last month, with grievances around rising taxes, rising prices and falling standards of living.

Now Macron has had to capitulate to the protesters, with a promise to delay increases in fuel tax and electricity and gas prices. He has bought time, but his problems have only been postponed.

Italy has also experienced turmoil, with the general election in March transforming the political landscape.

Two parties had dominated Italian politics for 25 years, but together they did not even get one-third of the votes.

Instead, voters turned to the Right and to the Left, with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement gaining the largest number of votes and forming a coalition with a Right-wing alliance led by the Northern League.

‘Italy is pushing Europe to the brink of another economic crisis.’ Those aren’t my words, but the headline over an article in the thoroughly pro-EU Independent.

Uncertainty over the economy was also highlighted in October, when the Moody’s credit rating agency warned that Europe remained highly vulnerable to a fresh economic downturn.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel is on the exit route in Germany. In the federal election in 2017, the share of the vote between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats was barely above 50%. If we look at recent polls and the results of the Bavarian election, their support is now even lower.

During the same period, the AfD became the first far-Right party to enter the Bundestag in more than six decades, taking 94 seats.

There has also been a rise in Euroscepticism across the EU. Greece is actually the second most Eurosceptic country in the bloc, after the United Kingdom.

The old order is changing fast and there is much uncertainty about the direction of the EU, politically, socially and economically.

The truth is that there is instability across Europe and uncertainty within the EU.

Meanwhile, the juggernaut of EU integration just keeps on going, with renewed talk of a European army, which would be a major step towards a United States of Europe.

Among those who really run the EU, the natural response to any problem, or any issue, including Euroscepticism, is ‘more Europe, more Europe’.

Their strategy seems to be one of binding countries ever more tightly together with more integration and more centralisation, so that it becomes impossible, rather than merely difficult, to leave the bloc.

If you are looking for certainty, that is about the only certainty you will get with the EU.

Belfast Telegraph

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