Belfast Telegraph

Dennis Kennedy: No, the EU is not profoundly undemocratic, secretive and expansionist

By Dennis Kennedy

Yet again we have the debate on Brexit diverted off the path of rational argument into the back alleys of mud-slinging.

Ruth Dudley Edwards is an experienced and respected columnist, who has been much praised for her insightful commenting, not least on matters relating to the island of Ireland.

She is fully entitled to support Brexit, to vote for it and to argue for it. She quite rightly reminds us that to do so does not make her a racist, or a bigoted nationalist.

But what hope is there of rational debate when she lobs in verbal misguided missiles such as “the profoundly undemocratic EU Commission”, or “the unreformed arrogant, expansionist, bullying and inept EU”, or her presumably considered opinion that the EU is a “sprawling, sclerotic, dysfunctional, bureaucratic hell-hole” incapable of meeting the challenges Europe faces today (Comment, August 21).

Why does she call the EU Commission profoundly undemocratic? As part of its function is to be the central administration of the EU, it is a permanent bureaucracy, but it is not the governing body of the EU.

It is also, in part, a political think-tank, but within the legislative process of the EU its role is subsidiary to the democratically elected governments of the member states and of the democratically elected members of the European Parliament.

Where does Ms Dudley Edwards see this “sprawling, sclerotic, dysfunctional, bureaucratic hell-hole”? Sprawling one can accept, as important elements of what is the EU are not just in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, but in each and every one of the 28 capitals of the member states in the form of their democratically elected governments.

Calling the EU secretive and protectionist because it “prevents” member states from making bilateral trade deals is a bit rich. The customs union, within which member states trade without restriction, and as one unit with the outside world, is a fundamental building-block of the EU and one signed up to by every state and there is nothing secretive about it.

A degree of uniformity of rules within a customs union and a common market is obviously essential, but the vast bulk of EU legislation is created by means of laws drafted and adopted at national state level to take account of varying national conditions in order to avoid “imposed uniformity”. It is known as subsidiarity.

Calling the EU “arrogant, expansionist, bullying and inept” is just vulgar abuse. The EU is the member states, the European Parliament, the Court of Justice, and the European Commission. Are they all arrogant, expansionist etc.?

European states have been queuing up to join the EU, but that does not make the EU expansionist. As an entity, it could be accused of ineptness in handling major problems such as the refugee crisis, but then all the member state governments could also be so accused.

Can an organisation be both “sclerotic” and expansionist? Hardly; not if it is growing vigorously, thinking ahead to such adventurous projects as a European Army.

But, of course, Ms Dudley Edwards goes much too far in saying that the EU is “demanding a European army”. There is no such demand, no such proposal at EU level.

Several member states have indicated their concern for more provision at EU level for European defence and security. Italy produced an informal paper last year outlining the idea of a “powerful and useable European force” to be formed by member states willing to share forces.

The paper did not envisage this as a rival to NATO, but as a force that could be used in support of NATO and UN operations. France and Germany have produced an informal paper on similar lines.

Last November, the European Commission produced a proposal for a Joint EU Defence Action Plan, including the creation of a European Defence Fund to support member states’ more efficient spending on joint defence capabilities.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said European security required more co-operation between member states and greater pooling of national resources.

He added: “If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us. A strong, competitive and innovative defence industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy.”

All this is a far cry from a call for the creation of a European Army. The informal papers from member states are just that: informal papers.

The limited proposal from the European Commission, to be acted upon, would have to get the approval of the European Parliament and of the Council, representing the member states. Cumbersome, maybe, but that is how democracy works.

A European Army in any form would need approval by every member state and could be vetoed by any one state.

Ms Dudley Edwards signs off with the advice to Dublin that it should work with London to find solutions to the desperate problems Brexit may cause Ireland, because “few will care much about it in Brussels”.

She forgets that it was Brussels, not London, who insisted the Irish border be a top priority issue in the negotiations.

Nor was there much evidence of any consideration at all in London, in the rush to Brexit, of the impact on the island of Ireland.

** Dennis Kennedy is a former deputy editor of The Irish Times. He served as European Commission representative in Northern Ireland from 1985 to 1991.

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