EU’s future ‘hard to imagine democratic’ as reason for bloc’s existence questioned

Ursula von der Leyen calls EU ‘team Europe’

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today admitted that the EU had fallen short of the mark in its bid to inoculate citizens of member states against the coronavirus. In a speech to the European Parliament, she said the bloc was “still not where we want to be”. Last year, member states handed the EU control to order coronavirus vaccines on their behalf.

Brussels sold the procurement programme as a way for states to save money on doses and prevent being forced into competition with one another.

It has been widely regarded as a failure as people across Europe wait to be vaccinated, while the UK paves the way as a global vaccine leader.

Ms von der Leyen refused to acknowledge that the bloc’s method was flawed, however, and said she was adamant that the decision to order vaccines collectively was “the right thing to do”.

Frustration boiled over last week when vaccines made by AstraZeneca – whose doses are manufactured in Belgium and the Netherlands – left the continent for Britain.

The EU threatened to block vaccine supplies leaving Europe, while triggering Article 16 of the Brexit deal which effectively erected a hard border on the island of Ireland – both of which Ms von der Leyen has since reversed.

Member states did not agree to this, which was quickly passed through Brussels, a point that the renowned British historian Robert Tombs told highlights the bloc’s aversion to democracy.

Describing the EU Parliament as a “facade” of democratic governance, Professor Tombs said it was “hard to imagine” democracy ever befalling the EU.

He explained: “While the future is always a mystery, there’s nothing on the horizon at the moment that suggests the EU will become democratic.

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“It’s always been run primarily by France and Germany, and you could say more and more by Germany.

“I find it very hard to imagine a democratic EU, or an EU in which all countries would have not an equal say but at least genuine influence on policy rather than it being in effect imposed on them by the bigger countries.”

Many pro-EU figures argue that a bloc governing 27 countries would struggle to practice democracy in its most pure form.

In response to this, Prof Tombs said: “To me that seems a reason for not having it.”


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Talking about the bloc’s intentions, he added: “If you had a looser association of independent states, a bit like NATO or EFTA, you wouldn’t have the problems the EU has.

“Those issues seem to me to have come from the ambition to make the EU something like a big state with its own currency, its own flag, its own bank, its own diplomatic service – maybe even its own defence system.

“They want to make this a big unit, but most people in Europe don’t really want that.

“Therefore the only way you can do that is by making it not very democratic, or not democratic at all.”

Euroscepticism haș been prominent on the continent even before the Brexit vote.

Anger became most prevalent following the 2008 financial crash when many southern European countries were devastated by failing banks in Northern Europe.

Greece especially came under pressure, and was forced to accept loans with interest rates from the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order not to default.

The country was granted €110billion (96.7bn) in loans, the largest sum provided by Germany at around €22bn (£19bn).

Greece was from that point subject to strict rules established by the EU, forced to roll-out crippling austerity measures and cuts to public funding.

Yanis Varoufakis, speaking during a TED talk in 2015, described his time as the country’s Minister of Finance, and said: “I was told in no uncertain terms that our nation’s democratic process – our elections – could not be allowed to interfere with economic policies that were being implemented in Greece.”

The EU is now slowly rolling-out a similar crisis recovery package to help member states deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Southern European countries have been hit the worst, with the likes of Italy, Spain and Greece set to receive large amounts of money with interest rates slapped on top.

Many eurosceptic groups in Europe now fear that the stimulus package will tether them to the EU and eurozone for the foreseeable future, like Sergio Montanaro, Italexit Party spokesman, who told that the recovery fund “binds countries to the EU”.

Italy in particular will receive some of the biggest funds from the EU: €222billion (£194bn), €85bn (£74bn) of which is a grant, while €124bn (£108bn) will be given in low-interest loans.

Just like the EU’s vaccine roll-out, the recovery fund has been slow to start.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have criticised Brussels for not getting the money out fast enough.

While the EU Parliament yesterday gave the recovery fund the green-light, money will not be distributed this side of summer.

Robert Tombs’ ‘This Sovereign Isle’, published by Allen Lane, is out now.

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