David Blake is the author of this essay which was written for Briefings for Brexit. We republish this essay here with their kind permission.
The European Union is run by unelected power-hungry bureaucrats who have no interest in democracy but a great deal of interest in increasing and consolidating their power by issuing endless reams of red tape. This is stifling innovation and slowly strangulating Europe. But these bureaucrats do not give a damn.
European Commission bureaucrats not only have complete contempt for democracy …
There is something about bureaucrats. They know they are smarter than the rest of us. They went to the top schools and universities where they networked with what would become the future ruling class. Our own most famous example, Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon), knew full well that the people ‘only get in the way’ of sensible decision making.
So what could be more attractive to an elite bureaucrat than a job at the European Commission (EC)? Not only does the EC provide the European Union’s civil service, it also initiates all legislation in the EU.
Now, there is supposed to be ‘double democracy’ in the EU – represented by the European Council (appointed by national governments) and the European Parliament (elected by citizens). But the reality is that the EC’s bureaucrats run rings around ministers from national governments as well as EU parliamentarians.
A good example of this was given in an interview with former UK government minister Kenneth Baker by Peter Hennessy on BBC Radio 4’s Reflections programme on 23 August 2016. Lord Baker reported that it is common for EC civil servants to come up with proposals which were rejected by ministers from national governments only to come back with a virtually identical set of proposals a few months after these ministers have moved on to other responsibilities. In the EU, ministers and parliamentarians also ‘get in the way’ of sensible decision making. So what could be better than just ignoring them?
Well the answer is that it does not take long for things to turn quite sinister. A good example of this was the appointment of Martin Selmayr, former chief of staff to Jean-Claude Juncker, as secretary-general of the EC in February 2018, following an internally advertised vacancy for deputy secretary-general. There was only one other candidate for this post, Clara Martinez Alberola, Selmayr’s own deputy as chief of staff. She dropped out of the running and Selmayr was duly appointed deputy secretary-general. Within nine minutes of Selmayr’s appointment, the incumbent secretary-general, Alexander Italianer, resigned and Selmayr was promoted to secretary-general, while Clara Martinez Alberola was promoted to chief of staff, Selmayr’s old job.
There was outrage in the European parliament, with French MEP Françoise Grossetête describing Selmayr’s appointment as a ‘mystification worthy of the Chinese Communist Party’. But at a parliamentary hearing in March 2018, Günter Oettinger, the commissioner for budget and human resources, insisted that the rules were followed in ‘the supranational spirit of the European public administration’ and Juncker said he would resign as president of the EC if Selmayr’s appointment was overturned.
This is little better than authoritarianism. But then Juncker, like Sir Humphrey, is no fan of democracy: ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European Treaties’ (quoted in Le Figaro, 1 February 2015). A particularly interesting demonstration of this statement is the way in which the EU Constitutional Treaty – designed to set up a United States of Europe with a president, a foreign minister, an army, and an anthem – failed to get ratified in 2005 – when the French and Dutch rejected it in referenda – only for it to re-emerge as the Lisbon Treaty which was then ratified by member state parliaments – without a referendum – in 2007.
This complete contempt for democracy has been there since the very beginning of the EU. Jean Monnet, one of its founding fathers and a man who was never elected to public office, said in a letter to a friend on 30 April 1952: ‘Europe’s nations should be guided towards the super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation’.
….their real aim is to increase and consolidate their own power
But contempt for democracy is not enough for the elite cadre of EC bureaucrats. They also want to increase and consolidate their power.
The way to increase power is to issue more and more regulations that everyone else has to obey. Bureaucrats love red tape – it comes naturally to them. At the EC, they do this on steroids. Since the EU started, the EC has introduced more than 80,000 different laws, with millions of pages of text. Take one example, MiFID II which was designed to protect investors buying financial services. It came into force in January 2018 and has more than 1.4 million paragraphs. It is universally regarded as one of the worst pieces of financial services legislation every introduced. No problem – the EC is already planning an even longer MiFID III.
Then there are the 13,000 tariffs on imported goods set by the EC. Here are some examples: a 4.7 per cent tariff on umbrellas, 1.7 per cent on swords, cutlasses, bayonets and scabbards, 4.2 per cent on suborbital and spacecraft launch vehicles, and 15 per cent on unicycles. You are paying the salary and pension of a Brussels bureaucrat to set a 4.7 per cent tariff on imported umbrellas. Why 4.7 per cent, rather than 4.6 or 4.8 per cent? How do they justify this?
One of the key justifications that the EC uses for the regulations it introduces is the ‘precautionary principle’. This is needed to ‘protect’ consumers. You will hear a lot of people fully supporting the ‘precautionary principle’, since they do not want to see a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of product standards.
While we all welcome safe and reliable products, the ‘precautionary principle’ is also being used to stifle innovation in the science and technology sectors. Here is one example from farming reported by Owen Paterson MP. The EC has long opposed genetic modification, but it is now putting the same regulatory hurdles on gene-editing. Scientists from the University of Minnesota and Calyxt have used a gene-editing method, TALEN, to produce a wheat resistant to powdery mildew and therefore in need of less fungicide spray. Genetic technologies have reduced pesticide use by 36.9 per cent on average around the world, while increasing yields by 21.6 per cent. Yet, these technologies are banned in the EU. Mr Paterson, a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says the ‘precautionary principle’ is condemning the EU to be the ‘museum of farming’.
While bureaucrats are both incapable of and hostile to innovation, they are certainly capable of increasing their power by passing more and more regulations whatever the consequences. But increasing power is not enough if it cannot be consolidated. The two most effective ways of consolidating power are to take over control of your currency and your taxes.
[To be continued tomorrow with the concluding Part II]