In the English-speaking, Anglosphere world, it is the economics that normally drive politics. Politicians conceive their main task traditionally as being to create the conditions in which business, the economy, the people, may prosper. Where there is corruption (and there is some), it consists typically of a businessman giving a brown envelope to an official in order to obtain an undeserved advantage.
On the continent – not just of Europe, but Eurasia, Africa, and elsewhere – it often tends to be the other way round: politics controls the economics. Nowadays not in the Soviet sense, where the State owned and directly controlled the entire economy, but in the sense that politicians and bureaucrats have a say in the management of economic affairs in an all-pervasive way that we in Britain would not imagine.
It is the hyper-regulations that give the politicians the leverage they need in order to control business minutely, and to extract their own slice of wealth from it. Of course there are private entrepreneurs. But they soon find that, thanks to the plethora of regulations that impede their activities at every step, they need to become friends with the officials responsible for enforcing the regulations, or better, make friends with the politicians who control the officials, in order to get anything done. This is because the officials will follow a policy of selective enforcement. As an Italian Prime Minister of 100 years ago put it, “The law is something we apply to our enemies; for our friends we interpret it.”
One way to make friends with an official is to contribute funds to his upkeep, and/or to the political party that nominated him to his post. Of course this behaviour is against the law, but the attitude of the public is very lax, more so than in Anglosphere countries. It is usually connived at, even by the law-enforcers. For example, there was a EU Commissioner, the Frenchman M. Jacques Barrot, convicted in France of embezzlement of several million euros, as UKIP’s Nigel Farage revealed to a stunned European Parliament – stunned not at what he revealed, but at his audacity in revealing it. Barrot had been pardoned by President Chirac, so that not only was his criminal record expunged, but it had become a criminal offence to even reveal it (!), and Mr Farage only escaped prosecution thanks to his Parliamentary immunity. M Barrot later became Commissioner for ‘Justice, Freedom and Security.
The stranglehold of politics and politicians over the world of business is such that when a businessman gives a brown envelope to an official, he often does so not in order to obtain an undeserved advantage, for instance to win a public works contract, but simply in order to obtain something to which he is perfectly entitled, such as a permit to open a shop, or even, in some documented cases, just to get his invoice paid for work he has already done. This is therefore not just “corruption”, it is “extortion”, or blackmail.
In Britain, in contrast, business has traditionally been fairly free of such invasive government intrusiveness. The ‘Red Tape’ also has been less onerous. For instance, one can start a company in a few days for under £100, in the USA for a few dollars. In most European continental countries the paperwork takes months and costs thousands. This protects existing operators from the competition of too many start-ups. But it slows down innovation and dynamism.
Since joining the EU, we in Britain have seen the incoming tide of regulations from Brussels, entering our estuaries and rivers and flooding our fields and streets, as Lord Denning said. Hitherto they have been enforced by our own British civil servants, who have often “gold-plated” the directives and enforced them with obtuseness, but so far, it seems, evenly across the board, showing little or no favouritism in their application.
However favouritism is implicit. Already the directives and regulations are designed to favour the companies that lobbied hardest (with their own offices in Brussels, and their representatives surely buying the regulators expensive “lunches”), so that we find that there are new specifications for the construction of – say – hot-air balloons, and they happen (surprise!) to fit the balloons already being built by a firm in Germany or France, while the British manufacturer finds that his product has all of a sudden become illegal. Thus they conceive of “competition” in Europe – not so much to please the customer by making a better widget at a keener price, but to please the regulator by buying him a bigger and better “lunch” (or whatever… ).
We have been and are being “harmonised”, and have learned that to do business it is necessary to compete politically. Business decisions have a decisive political component. You need the politicians on your side, or you go under.
What we still haven’t learned is the art of selective enforcement of the rules. In other words, when the enforcement officials or the tax police come round to inspect your business, you have to be ready to make friends with them, by providing them with what they want: favours, money, political support, whatever, or face the risk of being treated as an “enemy”. Remember the U-turn of RyanAir’s CEO, O’Leary? He was at loggerheads with the EU for years. And then during the second Irish referendum campaign, the EU transport commissioner Tajani flew to Dublin – and, lo and behold, O’Leary campaigned for a Yes vote. They had him over a barrel – all his business in in the EU, and unless he played ball they were actually in a position to close him down. The ultimate power in the EU is not economical, but political.
Like any self-respecting State, the EU is aiming to build its own civil service, including of course tax inspectors (if Mr Schaeuble has his way!), and so we will see that the enforcers of EU regulations in Britain will no longer be British, with our tradition of respecting and applying rules evenly to all comers. They will be from other nations, where the tradition is …. somewhat different, and so local shopkeepers and business people at all levels will have to learn to keep the enforcers “sweet”, or face the consequences.
The economic consequences of this system are of course fatal for growth. It rewards not just those who satisfy their customers, but those who please the politicians. For years the movers and shakers of British boardrooms have been supporting our ever deeper integration into the EU. In particular they have backed the EUrophiles in the Tory party. The owners of most of the media have denied the EUrosceptic viewpoint a proper platform. Perhaps they think that their position in the EU will be cosy, that they’ll have a nice big sandpit to play mergers and acquisitions in.
But they are accustomed to being the ones who call the shots. Unless they wake up soon, they will find, once the EU roof closes over our heads, as it will if we vote to Remain, and the escape hatch is sealed for good, that they have become the playthings of the politicians: European, not British politicians, who will control their destiny, and to whose tune they will have to dance.
[Ed: This article is a revised part of the pamphlet “The Coming Tsunami”, written by Torquil Dick-Erikson and published by and for UKIP in 2010. Not only have things not changed since then, they have become worse and will get even more so if we remain.]