In a crowded field, Guy Verhofstadt is one of the most annoying eurofundamentalists, a hectoring boor for whom ‘more Europe’ and less democracy are almost always the answer. He’s the leader of ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, one of the EU establishment political ‘families’. Before then, he served as Belgian prime minister, but he is a man typically more interested in the supposed faults of other countries than in the catastrophe that is his own.
Writing in the Independent today, Verhofstadt argues that “EU leaders should… be locked in a room until they agree on a comprehensive and collective strategy to tackle this growing refugee crisis before it’s too late. This is about more than politics.”
A politician who claims that something “is about more than politics” is almost always a politician who is losing the argument.
The fact of the matter is that a number of the EU’s national leaders have decided that they do not want “a comprehensive and collective strategy” if that comes to be defined as bailing Angela Merkel out of the mess that she, unilaterally, has made so much worse. There are things that could perhaps be done to ease the situation that make sense (‘safe havens’ in Syria, for example, as suggested by Verhofstadt), but it’s easy to sympathize with those who do not see how they could really be made to work. Under the circumstances, all that that “locked room” would offer is more bullying by Berlin and Brussels. Under the circumstances, why go in it?
Verhofstadt accepts that it’s not easy for all the EU countries to come to an agreement:
[D]elivering change in Europe is hard work. It requires the agreement of 28 prime ministers, each one beholden to national coalitions and/or parties that too often prioritise opinion polls ratings over the collective interest.
Verhofstadt’s disdain for the national democratic process is as evident as his conviction that there is a magical ‘collective interest’ (defined by whom, Guy?) that should trump it.
The horrific assaults carried out by criminals in Cologne at New Year have provided fuel for nationalists like Ukip and galvanised their far-right bedfellows across Europe. So long as EU leaders continue to pander to these nationalist parties, instead of confronting them and doing what is right, the hopes of a united European solution become even more remote.
Strip aware the scare words (‘nationalist’, ‘far right’ and all the rest) and we see that we are reading another politician unable to concede that there are voters who have perfectly respectable reasons for dissenting from what Europe’s Verhofstadts have decided is ‘right’ for their countries. Instead of trying to address such concerns, if only by debating them, he wants to render them taboo. A democrat? Not so much.
And then Verhofstadt turns to the defense of Angela Merkel, under some pressure at home, he frets, despite having won “global acclaim” (a phrase that I’ll just leave to hang there) for her policy on refugees:
The latest polls show support for Merkel’s party could be collapsing, while there’s internal disarray in her party. The Eurosceptic and right-wing AfD party, emboldened by the financial support and political platform provided by membership of Mr Cameron’s Eurosceptic pan-EU political group, is on the rise.
Look more carefully, and those two sentences look a lot like an attempt to describe a drama that (so far) isn’t there.
The latest polls show that Merkel’s CDU/CSU stands at around 36 percent, significantly down from the 41 percent it enjoyed in the 2013 election, but rather better than the 34 percent it secured in 2009 (an election in which Merkel, albeit on the back of a different alignment of parties, also won). Growing internal dissent, yes, but a collapse? No.
As for the AfD, its current rise (to some 10 percent or so in the polls) owes next to nothing to David Cameron and just about everything to Angela Merkel. Within the EU parliament it is, like, say, the Tories, a member of the euroskeptic European Conservatives and Reformers Group. As such it is entitled to a degree of taxpayer funding (as is Verhofstadt’s ALDE).
But Verhofstadt is no fan of the level playing field. Post-democrats aren’t.