‘You can’t renegotiate EU membership’. Oh wait, maybe you can...

Having been given a glimpse as to Joseph Muscat’s actual vision for the future of Europe, I am no longer that certain he meets the necessary criteria for the role of Council boss

EU Council president Donald Tusk and Malta prime minister Joseph Muscat
EU Council president Donald Tusk and Malta prime minister Joseph Muscat

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about why Malta needs to unite behind a Maltese candidate for the presidency of the European Commission: a vacancy that will become open around June next year.  

As there was (and still is) only one realistic candidate for that job, the feedback I received was instantly channelled along the usual, predictable (and utterly idiotic) partisan lines we have come to expect in this politically sick country of ours.  

Fine. That was what I fully expected and intended anyway. Nonetheless, it was from the outset a gratuitous assumption that the candidate I had in mind could only have been Joseph Muscat. I made that clear enough in the original article, by specifying that it would have to be someone who is committed to defending Malta’s right to exist... which, in case, I didn’t spell it out clearly enough two weeks ago, is currently under direct threat from political forces seeking to transform the EU in to a unified, centralised State in its own right.  

This is perhaps where I made a mistake in mentioning Muscat by name. At the time I felt he met the necessary criteria for that role. Today, however - having been given a glimpse as to Muscat’s actual vision for the future of Europe - I am no longer that certain.  

This week, Malta’s Prime Minister put his name to an open letter entitled ‘Wake Up Europe!”, also signed by Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi; Guy Verhofstadt, president of ALDE Group in the European Parliament; Alexander Pechtold, leader of Democrats 66, The Netherlands; and various other representatives of (mostly liberal/centre left) European political parties.  

It was supposed to unfold not only a ‘clear vision’ for the future of the EU... but also a ‘clear method’ whereby this vision could be actuated. I guess it says something about the ‘clarity’ of both vision and method that I am none the wiser as to what these people want, and how they intend to achieve it, after reading the article than before.  

But don’t take my word for it. Take theirs. Here are a few choice excerpts: starting with the first sentence. “In 1918, Europe emerged exhausted from a bloody war that took so many lives without addressing the tensions at the heart of the conflict. In 1939, a new conflict broke out against a backdrop of crisis and the rise of fascism...”  

My, talk about potted history. Quite a lot happened between 1918 and 1939, you know... and some of it was directly relevant to the ‘rise of fascism’ in the 1920s. One rather glaring occurrence took the form of the Versailles Treaty, which was clearly aimed at weakening, demoralising and humiliating Germany: possibly to make an example for the benefit of other countries which might (as in fact some were) be toying with ‘global domination’ ambitions of their own.  

Well, you don’t need me to tell you that the Versailles Treaty failed spectacularly to prevent a second World War. And there are many people - myself included - who feel that it was instrumental in making that war inevitable. Naturally, it is impossible to tell what would have happened had the victorious nations been more forward-looking (and less vindictive) in the aftermath of WW1; but it is a dead-certainty that much of the resentment and disillusionment that fuelled Hitler’s rise to power would not have been in place, had a little more thought been given to the consequences by the architects of that historically indefensible treaty.  

From this perspective, I would propose a small change to the next sentence. The original is: “A century later, as our continent once again faces division and resistance to change, we refuse to be a complacent generation.” I would change that to: “A century later [...] we are once again making the same mistake. This time it’s called ‘Brexit’, and among the people pushing to weaken, humiliate and demoralise the United Kingdom - as punishment for its blasphemous rejection of ‘the European project’ [all genuflect, Amen] - are most of the signatories of this very article.”  

Yes, indeed: and then people wonder why history repeats itself with such alarming frequency. Brexit may yet prove to be a cause (not the only one, perhaps, but certainly the most visible) of Europe’s next major war. Not only because the rest of Europe is gleefully fanning the flames of ill-feeling against a bullied and battered individual country; but also, more worryingly, because the failure of any reasonable compromise can be lain directly at the EU’s door.  

Part of the reason is, in fact, attributable to some of the same article’s signatories. Separately though they seem to agree on precious little else - both Joseph Muscat and Guy Verhofstadt are on record saying that Britain cannot get a deal which is on a par with or, worse still, better than full EU membership.  

Last year, Verhofstadt wrote in the Guardian that: “It is an illusion to suggest that the UK will be permitted to leave the EU but then be free to opt back into the best parts of the European project, for instance by asking for zero tariffs from the single market without accepting the obligations that come with it. I hope that British people will see from the perspective of an EU taxpayer how unreasonable this would be.”  

Funny he should say that; I’m an EU taxpayer, and I don’t see it as unreasonable at all. And if Verhofstadt actually spoke to any other EU taxpayers - in Italy, for instance, or Spain, Greece, Portugal, etc. - he might realise that not everyone is as enthusiastic as he is over the present conditions of the EU that Britain has chosen to exit.  

This is not surprising, because the position he, Muscat and most of Europe’s leaders represent is in itself highly illogical. Why shouldn’t it be possible for individual countries to get a better deal out of their relationships with the EU, than membership under the present conditions? Incredibly, the only answer we’ve been given to date is that: ‘because otherwise the EU, as we know it, would fall apart’. Erm... sorry, but all that tells me is that the survival of the so-called ‘European Project’ takes precedence, in these people’s minds, over the welfare and individual prosperity of each EU citizen. It is certainly not a good enough reason to discard, a priori, the idea that ‘better relationships’ may indeed exist, apart from the existing model that these people want to defend for its own sake.  

Besides: this reasoning would be bizarre even if the conditions were as good as they are made out to be. But they’re not, are they? In some cases - Greece, for instance - they are actually reminiscent of the post-WW1 depression era referred to in the opening paragraph: you know, the very scenario the EU was supposed to avoid at all costs.  

Small wonder individual countries might be interested to hear about the possibility of revising the terms of their own membership, for the good of their own citizens. But... sorry, folks! The great reformists of the EU are not interested in improving the standard of living of the average man in the European street. Not if it comes at the cost of their cherished ‘European project’... which, funnily enough, not a single author of this article has ever been able to properly define.  

This is the closest we get to a definition in the same article: “Instead of a divided and weakened Europe which is at the mercy of world powers, we want a sovereign Europe that acts robustly at all times where the action of isolated countries is unyielding especially when it comes to economic and monetary policy, security and defence, social policy, ecological and agricultural transition, immigration and integration, plus digital change.”  

Leaving aside that they don’t seem to know the meaning of the word ‘unyielding’ it doesn’t mean ‘fruitless’, if that’s what they thought well, there’s a sort of giant irony staring us in the face here. The same people who argue that the UK - or any other member state, for that matter - cannot ‘pick and choose’ their own preferred relations with the EU, go on to suggest changing the very nature of the 27-member bloc in a way they have ‘picked and chosen’ themselves: unilaterally, of course, with no apparent care about whether their plans are shared or approved by the rest of the EU’s 500 million citizens.  

Once again, they helpfully spell it out for us themselves: “We are not scared of change. We are ready to reform treaties if that is what is needed. We are determined to move forward, despite obstacles and each member state needing a different pace to embrace change. We want a stronger Europe, one we can reinforce [sic] together. And we remain open to others wanting to join us in this quest...” Oh dear. Coming from people who howled so loudly when an individual member state dared to suggest ‘reforming’ its own accession treaty, according to its own wishes and exigencies... well, what could we have expected, but a proposal to do exactly the same thing themselves? Only this time it’s not a case of an individual country trying to get a better deal for its citizens - perish the thought! - but a proposal to reform the EU itself from the centre outwards.  

And while the British government can always point towards the referendum result to prove that it is negotiating on behalf of its citizens... on whose behalf are these people putting forward their proposals, anyway?  

It can’t be on behalf of Europe’s citizens - because as they freely admit, above - they haven’t actually consulted any yet. Instead, they merely invite us to join their cause almost as an afterthought... not because it’s necessary, but just because it ‘would be nice’.  

Even so, however: this pales to insignificance compared to the broader irony implicit in that sentence. As I recall, the last person who proposed replacing Europe’s existing ‘nation state’ model with a ‘sovereign Europe’ - i.e., an economic and military powerhouse, capable of taking its own place on the world stage, under the illuminated leadership of a central, pan-European government - was a certain ‘Hitler, Adolf.’ And we all know how that turned out in the end...  

In any case: I won’t be scrambling to join the crusade of people who seem to be hell-bent on repeating the mistakes of history. But that’s just little me: and I will certainly not presume to speak on behalf of an entire continent’s population... without even bothering to ask what it thinks. 

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