What Europeans want is ‘more democracy’… not ‘more Europe’

What was the reaction of the overwhelming majority of Brussels bureaucrats to a report which basically ‘weighed the EU to a nicety’ and ‘found it wanting’? I was vaguely reminded of a classic ‘Friends’ meme...

Guy Verhofstadt represents what seems to be a tiny (microscopic, even) minority among EU officials, who recognise that their precious European Project might actually be somewhat ‘less than perfect’
Guy Verhofstadt represents what seems to be a tiny (microscopic, even) minority among EU officials, who recognise that their precious European Project might actually be somewhat ‘less than perfect’

Over the past couple of days, I finally got round to reading the 300 recommendations of the ‘Conference On The Future of Europe’: in other words, the conclusions of a consultation process – representing citizens from all 27 EU member states – that lasted two whole years.

Perhaps unwisely, I followed that up by observing the European Commission’s actual response to those 300 proposals… whereupon I was vaguely reminded of that classic ‘Friends’ meme, which sometimes pops up on my Facebook feed.

You will no doubt be familiar with it, too: it’s the one where Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) sits down with Joey (Matt LeBlanc) to patiently ‘explain something’ to him; only for the latter to still somehow get it all spectacularly wrong, in spite of all her pains…

Only in this particular version, the conversation sounds a little like:

PHOEBE: Repeat after me: ‘Europe…’

JOEY: ‘Europe…’

PHOEBE: ‘… wants…’

JOEY: ‘… wants…’

PHOEBE: ‘… more democracy!’

JOEY: ‘… more democracy!’

PHOEBE: Great! Now, put it all together, and see what you get.

JOEY: ‘Europe wants… [sudden flash of inspiration] … MORE EUROPE!’


Oh, dear! It would almost be amusing, I suppose; if the general implications for the ‘future of Europe’ weren’t quite so darn SINISTER. But in any case: in the end, it seems that this conference only succeeded in wasting the last two years of its participants’ lives. There is, after all, precious little point in sitting down with EU officials, and patiently explaining to them what sort of ‘Europe’ you actually want to live in…  when those same EU officials have already made it abundantly clear, time and again, that:

a) They don’t really give a toss ‘what European citizens think’ (and, even less, what they ‘want’) to begin with;

b) They happen to have a few ideas of their own, about ‘the future of Europe’ – which, as a rule, tend to focus on ‘maximising the power of EU institutions, at the expense of individual member states’ – and therefore;

c) Very predictably, their only response will be to immediately seize on the ONE (1) single, solitary recommendation – out of a total of 300, please note – which just so happens to neatly coincide with their own ‘carefully laid plans’…

And, well, what do you know? That is EXACTLY what just happened this week…

But let’s take a look at a few of those EU citizens’ proposals, shall we? Naturally, I don’t have time or space to go into any detail on all 300 of them – though I do recommend you read the final report for yourselves (you never know: some of it might actually surprise you). What I will say for now, however, is that they are all helpfully categorised into nine ‘priority’ topics.

So here they are, the top nine concerns of EU citizens in 2022: 1) Climate change and the environment; 2) Health; 3) A stronger economy, social justice and jobs; 4) The EU in the world; 5) Values and rights, rule of law, security; 6) Digital transformation; 7) European democracy; 8) Migration; and 9) Education, culture, youth and sport.”

Meanwhile, just to give you an idea of the sheer level of detail that some of these recommendations go into… here are a few paragraphs from the ‘migration’ section, alone:

‘[We recommend measures] adopting EU common rules concerning procedures for the examination of claims for international protection in Member States, applied uniformly to all asylum seekers. These procedures will have to be respectful of human dignity and international law; [and] revisiting the Dublin system in order to guarantee solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility including the redistribution of migrants among Member States […]”

Now: if I single out just that one particular section, out of all the rest… it’s only because it adequately mirrors the general tone of the entire report: a tone which can only be described as ‘critical’ of the European Union – or some aspects thereof, at any rate – in its current form.

Not in as many words, perhaps… but even from our own experience with the same issue, we all instinctively recognise the above as a stark reminder of Europe’s failure to ever deliver on all those expectations, in the past.

I need hardly add that much the same could be said for the other proposals, too; and to be fair, this message was not exactly lost on ALL the EU officials involved, either.

For instance, Belgian MEP (and conference co-chair) Guy Verhofstadt was quoted as saying: “[…] everyone loves Europe, all the citizens believe in the European project, but most people are of the opinion that the EU doesn’t currently fulfil their dream. They may love Europe, but they are hugely critical of the working of the Union; and sometimes, I would say for good reason…”

Looking beyond a couple of over-enthusiastic generalisations, there (Erm… really, Guy? ‘Everyone believes in the European project’, huh? Does that also include the millions of Eurosceptics spread across all 27 member states, by any chance…?)

But no matter: let’s just say that Verhofstadt represents what seems to be a tiny (microscopic, even) minority among EU officials, who recognise that their precious European Project might actually be somewhat ‘less than perfect’.

What about the rest, though? What was the reaction of the overwhelming majority of Brussels bureaucrats, politicians and policy-makers… to a report which basically ‘weighed the EU to a nicety’; ‘found it wanting’; and even took the trouble to ‘write its verdict on the wall’, for all to see?’

Why, exactly the same as Joey’s, obviously! What else could you possibly have expected?

OK, let’s start with Roberta Metsola (if nothing else, on the basis that ‘charity begins at home’). In an interview with this newspaper, the President of the European Parliament made a rather big deal about the importance of ‘listening to EU citizens’.

“The worst way we could possibly respond, having received all these recommendations […] would be to do nothing about them at all,” she said. “So on behalf of the European Parliament, I said that we would establish a convention to start discussing all the necessary changes: in defence and security; in health; in energy; in the environment…”

Whoah, whoah… slow down a little there! What do you mean, ‘necessary changes… in defence and security’?! How, might I ask, did ‘defence and security’ suddenly pole-vault past ‘health, energy and the environment’ – which, in reverse order, were actually the Top Three concerns in the report – to occupy the number one priority spot, par excellence?

Reason I ask is that ‘defence’ barely even gets a mention at all, in the final recommendations: and even the small mention it DOES get, is actually quite revealing. But tell you what: here is the paragraph in full (so you can interpret it for yourselves):

“We recommend that a future ‘Joint Armed Forces of the European Union’ shall predominantly be used for self-defence purposes. Aggressive military action of any kind is precluded. Within Europe, this would entail a capacity to provide support in times of crises such as in the case of natural catastrophes. Outside European borders this would provide the capacity to be deployed in territories in exceptional circumstances and exclusively under a respective legal mandate from the United Nations Security Council and thus in compliance with international law.”

As far as I can see, that looks a whole lot more like a warning-shot, fired across the bows by European citizens, against the more overtly ‘militaristic’ approach favoured by… not just Metsola herself, of course; but the European Commission, and a clear majority of the Council of Ministers to boot.

Either way, however: it is pretty clear that Roberta Metsola’s knee-jerk response tells us a heck of a lot more about her own ‘priorities’ – and the political ideology that informs them – than about ‘what European citizens really want’.

Nonetheless, those ‘defence and security’ concerns simply pale into insignificance… when you weigh them up against the (incredibly cynical, it must be said) reaction of Commission president Ursula von der Leyen herself.

Never mind those ‘nine priorities’, identified by the report; and never mind all the other 300 recommendations too, while we’re at it. For it seems that von der Leyen only had eyes and ears for one (1) recommendation – and naturally, it’s not about EU’s abysmal human rights record, when it comes to migration; it’s not about the fact that the EU ‘free-market’ policies have literally flooded the entire continent with plastics, for instance… or that citizens feel so ignored, and neglected, that they are now demanding a permanent voice in the EU’s inner decision-making processes…

Oh no… of all the 300 demands by European citizens, the only one that in any way resonated with the Commission President, was… well, this one: “We recommend that all issues decided by way of unanimity are changed, to be decided by way of a qualified majority.”

And not only did the European Commission narrow its focus onto the only proposal that might actually serve a useful purpose, within its own ‘carefully-laid plans’ – which involve ‘‘maximising the power of EU institutions, at the expense of individual member states’, remember? – but she also fired the starter-pistol for a process to actually ‘change the Treaties’, to that effect.

Indeed, so swift – and brutal – was von der Leyen’s onslaught, that no fewer than 13 member States (including Malta, unsurprisingly) felt the need to get together, and desperately try and halt her in her tracks….

Oh well… I wish them the best of luck, of course. But then again: how can you possibly hope to convince a European Commission that – quite frankly – doesn’t even listen to its own citizens, at the end of the day?