Richard North, 05/03/2019  

It goes almost without saying that, when an event of any consequence occurs, someone, or even whole groups of people, will pop out of the woodwork and claim they had seen it coming.

Some of them will be entirely justified in their claims but, with any such event, there will have been a wide range of predictions, many of them wrong. But, by the law of averages, some of them will be right.

The same sort of dynamic goes for things like the creation of the European Union. There will be those who say the full objectives of the founders were openly disclosed and there was no secret about their motivations. Others will say, as do I, that the establishment was all part of The Great Deception and most people were kept in the dark.

Of course, both are right. A few people were aware of what was going on but the majority took the general drift and conformed with whatever consensus view their particular tribe was comfortable with.

Latterly, much could be said of the Brexit campaign. Currently, French president Emmanuel Macron is addressing us by way of an open letter, headed: "Dear Europe, Brexit is a lesson for all of us: it’s time for renewal".

And he asks who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future, who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market, and who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of people spoke about a lot of things relating to Brexit. But most people listened to what they wanted to believe and ignored the rest – in the same way that people listened to their preferred narrative about the foundation of the EU and ignored the rest.

Therefore, Macron is not in a particularly good position to be talking about nationalist "anger mongers" who, "backed by fake news, promise anything and everything". If the founders of what became the EU had been more open and, in particular, the UK politicians advocating European unity had been more honest, we perhaps would not have joined the EEC in the first place.

On that basis, Mr Macron's "Europe" wouldn't be in the place it is now and he wouldn't be writing tortured pieces of prose in the Guardian, packed with half-truths and delusional rhetoric.

What is so striking about the likes of Macron though, is how ready they are to claim democratic credentials, in this case arguing that the European model is based on freedom: of people, diversity of opinions and creation, the first "freedom" being "democratic freedom" – the freedom to choose our leaders.

Actually, while the French people have the luxury of choosing their own president, we in this country don't get to choose our leader. The prime minister for the moment was appointed by her party, and currently stands as the leader of a minority party, her only elected office being that of an MP for her constituency.

But what Mr Macron also skirts over is the fact that his beloved "Europe" has in the European Union its own supreme government, the leaders of which are not elected to their roles by the people.

And nor could any direct elections – should they choose to have them – actually be democratic. The essence of a valid election requires a demos, and there is no European demos that could legitimise an EU-wide vote. The process of election, in itself, does not make for a democracy.

So far out is this man, though, this president of the French Republic, that he is calling for Europe, "where social security was created", to introduce a social shield for all workers, guaranteeing the same pay for the same work, and an EU minimum wage, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year.

One can only assume that an EU minimum wage is a serious suggestion. Why should we think otherwise? And if it is, the ramifications are extraordinarily serious, representing a huge leap in power for the European Union.

But Mr Macron wants the EU to set a climate change target of zero carbon by 2050, and he wants pesticide usage halved by 2025. He wants a "European food safety force" to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health.

This imperative, he says, needs to guide all our action: from the Central Bank to the European commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe, all our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.

Progress and freedom are about being able to live from one’s work, Mr Macron adds. Therefore, he avers, Europe needs to look ahead to create jobs. This is why it needs not only to regulate the digital giants by putting in place European supervision of the major digital platforms but also to finance innovation by giving the new European Innovation Council a budget on a par with the United States in order to spearhead new technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence.

Incidentally, he also wants European rules banishing incitement to hatred and violence from the internet, "since respect for the individual is the bedrock of our civilisation and our dignity".

And, for Mr Macron, nothing of this can wait. European humanism demands action, he says. Everywhere, people are standing up to be part of that change so by the end of the year, "let's set up, with representatives of the EU institutions and the member states, a Conference for Europe in order to propose all the changes our political project needs, which is open even to amending the EU treaties".

This conference, Macron argues, will need to engage with citizens' panels, and hear from academics, business and worker representatives, as well as religious and spiritual leaders.

It will define a roadmap for the EU that translates these key priorities into concrete actions. There will be disagreement, he says, "but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different speeds, and that is open to all?"

Bizarrely though, in this "Europe", which we would have acquire so much more power, he asserts that "the people will really take back control of their future". And in this Europe, he is sure that the UK will find its true place.

The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all, says Macron. We need to escape the "trap" of lies and the irresponsibility that can destroy "Europe", as represented by these dreadful lies told during the Brexit campaign.

He thus wants to make the forthcoming European Parliament elections and "our project" meaningful. It is for you, the people of Europe "to decide whether Europe and the values of progress that it embodies are to be more than just a passing episode in history". This, he says, is the choice I put to you: that together we chart the road to European renewal.

All we can say of this, however, is here is an example of a desperate need for Mr Macron to listen to the words he is actually articulating. He is proposing a massive leap in centralisation, with the EU Member States awarding massively more powers to the anti-democratic institutions of the EU, all in the name of letting the people take back control.

Through the tortuous months since the Brexit referendum, there have been many concerns and doubts about the wisdom of leaving the EU. So here, Mr Macron – one half of the Franco-German motor of integration – has done us a huge favour.

He has reminded us that, when it comes to European political integration, there is no status quo. The ambitions for further integration are still as active as they ever were. And, most of all, no sooner is the UK set to leave than he is proposing a massive "conference of Europe", to prepare for the next round of treaty change.

In arguing that this is directed towards giving more power to the people, one could say that the French President is seeking to deceive us all, cloaking political integration in the honeyed words of democracy. But most of all – if he actually believes this guff – he is deceiving himself.

Either way, Macron embodies all the "values" and the delusions which made leaving the EU so necessary and, in the longer-term, the only sensible path that the UK can take. There is no possible way we can share these ambitions and to pretend that we have any common cause with the French president would be sheer hypocrisy. We are getting out just in time.

We can always wish the Europeans well if they are intent on pursuing these delusions. But they are not for us. However bad our leaders are, at least we will now be free as a people to focus on devising and improving our own systems of government, taking us closer to the idea of a democracy which the likes of Mr Macron want to leave behind.

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