Gawd, they even have a State of the Union address in Strasbourg, delivered by President Jean-Claude Juncker. The American version was bad enough as far back as Bill Clinton’s presidency, with Hillary smirking and pointing at a supposed friend she had recognised in the audience and no cameraman brave enough to swivel round and show the empty seat with which she was in dialogue. The EU parody was even more embarrassing, except for us Brexiteers who enjoy a good laugh.
The assembled Eurocrats determinedly maintained the pretence that this was a portentous occasion: Guy Verhofstadt had even gone so far as to comb his hair. Juncker began by thanking the leaders of the 27 fiefdoms still under his rule: “They chose unity. They chose to rally around our common ground. Together we showed Europe can deliver.” Precisely what Europe can deliver he did not specify. It should also be clearly understood that ‘They’ who preserved EU unity were, of course, European governments and not electorates. Perish the thought.
“European banks have the firepower,” declared Juncker, “to lend to companies so they can grow.” In the case of Italian and some German banks, as City investment managers with nervous tics will confirm, they also have the firepower to transport us back in time to 2008.
Then the President related one of those curious coincidences that afford an insight into just who is on the wrong side of history. “Europe has always been an attractive economic space but since last year I see our partners all over the world are knocking at our door to sign trade agreements with us.” Hmm. Interesting. Now, what happened last year? Of course – Perfidious Albion voted to sling its hook, leaving Europe as an attractive economic space for aspiring global trade partners.
Then came the momentous news that the European Commission will begin negotiations for new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. Hang on, that rings a bell. Isn’t somebody else about to initiate trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand? Oh yes, of course: the United Kingdom. Well, again, isn’t that a coincidence? Nothing infantile or petty about the EU when it suffers a setback, no petulant, pathetic efforts to queer pitches or anything like that. It is common knowledge Australia and New Zealand have been at the top of the Commission’s to-do list for ages.
“We are going to produce a new industrial strategy for Europe,” announced Juncker. That sounded promising. Then he spelled it out. “I want Europe to be a vanguard in the fight against climate change.” Look out for an EU directive regulating the activity of the Sun.
There was reassurance in his speech too: “Migration remains on our radar.” Hardly surprising, with half the population of the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa responding generously to Angela Merkel’s pressing invitation. Certain EU countries, however, are not team players, since “it saddens me that not all of our member states show the same solidarity”. But, Mr President, that contradicts what you said in your opening remarks.
The blame clearly resides, as Juncker was pointing out, with Hungary and Poland, taking a negative attitude to unlimited immigration. One could spend a long time enumerating the many things that, in Mr Juncker’s worldview, are wrong with Hungary and Poland, but they can be summarized in one gross fault: an addiction to the ballot box. In the EU perception the appropriate place for a ballot box is in a museum.
Those outdated vessels have retarded progress towards Utopia by elevating the untutored opinions of the Great Unwashed to equivalence – or worse – with those of Gina Miller. We may be confident, therefore, there will be no more referenda on EU membership after the disgraceful way in which the United Kingdom electorate proved itself unfit to exercise its suffrage. Brussels experts are already working on a scheme for EU-wide elections that would eliminate the influence of “populist” parties.
Jean-Claude Juncker grew rhapsodic as his oration progressed. In a style reminiscent of an earlier Eurofederalist megalomaniac enthusing the grognards of his Imperial Guard, Juncker recited his own battle honours in Napoleonic vein: “I was there at Maastricht, at Amsterdam, at Nice and Lisbon…” (“Marengo, Austerlitz, Wagram, Waterloo – Ooops!”) Yes, at every shameful despoliation of nations of their sovereign rights, at every furtive subversion of freedoms for which millions died in two World Wars – Juncker was there. Nobody can take that away from him.
Shamelessly, unselfconsciously, he told his subjects: “Freedom is not something handed down to us [Sorry, Mr Juncker, in Britain it is], we have to fight for it, in Europe and the rest of the world.” While launching the most ambitiously totalitarian programme the EU has so far attempted, its President invoked freedom. Goebbels would have loved it. According to his proposals, EU “freedom” now encompasses universal membership of the Schengen Area (which therefore requires a “hard” Irish border), a European Minister for Economy and Finance, EU-wide taxes without previous treaty change or voting, a European Defence Union (i.e. EU army) by 2025, and a single president for both the EU and the European Council.
All this was announced in the Gracious Speech from the European throne. The majesty of the occasion and the transcendence of the European vision was worthily expressed by President Juncker when he was moved to proclaim the indispensability of the European Court of Justice, in lyrical terms: “A Slovak deserves as much fish in fish fingers as anyone else.”
Suddenly the petty aspirations of George Washington, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King shrivelled into insignificance before the grandeur of that vision. There, surely, was a message for those selfish British fishermen famously rebuked by Sir Bob Geldof, an insight for them into the small-mindedness of their resistance to progress. Long after the dancing in the streets of Bratislava has subsided, those memorable words will remain engraved on the hearts of all enthusiasts for the European Project. Could they be adapted as lyrics to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy? Not in English obviously – but who cares – perhaps in Slovak? Alternatively, they would make an impressive inscription on the pedestal of a statue of President Juncker.
There is a wonderful sense of amused detachment, post-Brexit, about watching the buffoonery in the Brussels bunker. In what may be the European parliamentary equivalent of the Speaker at Westminster being dragged to his chair, Jean-Claude Juncker kissed the balding pate of the Vice-President of the European Commission and open borders fanatic Frans Timmermans. The President’s message for Britain, his strayed sheep, was: “We will always regret this [Brexit] and I think you will regret it soon, if I may say.” Don’t bet the farm on it, Mr President.