EUHQ napping as UK eurosceptics rampage
Britain’s vociferous army of ranti-EU figures is making large, fresh, fragrant mountains of hay in this glorious summer sunshine.
You can barely turn a page in the Mail, Express or Telegraph in recent weeks without seeing the pate of UKIP’s the Tories’ eurosceptic-in-chief Daniel Hannan glinting at you.
And leading Ukippers, Tories, and their spin doctors are making the most of the summer lull to feed the indignation with quotes to add credence to each latest ‘barmy eurocrat’ story to hit the pages.
The Express alone numbers around 15 ranti-EU items in August.
And they range from the run-of-the-mill fulminatory desk-thumper to the several, ahem, ‘news’ items with a questionable grasp on fact.
But then, it wasted all its EU facts in its “60 reasons to loathe the EU” two weeks ago.
The way the list is couched is somewhat predictable, and whether some or indeed any of the items are reasons to ‘loathe’ the EU depends on your predisposition. Also, the paper can’t take the credit for any exercise of journalistic rigour in compiling the list, as it’s basically a distillation from – and advert for – a book on the EU by another leading Tory Eurosceptic.
But what it usefully does is lay bare, in most cases, some of the costs of the EU.
It’s absolutely right that these figures should be put into the mix. Not, however, to be presented as a prima facie case against the EU institutions: nothing is intrinsically ‘wrong’ by dint of its price tag.
But to have a proper reasoned chat about the whole sorry affair.
One of the biggest failings of the EU institutions is their inability to make their case.
Too often it boils down to ‘mobile roaming’ (change the record), and ‘peace’ (‘Oh peace?! Shut up!’).
What the eurosceptics do well is specificity. They have numbers. Some of them true. Some of them stretching the norms of statistical interpretation (see a recent dissection of some of the eurosceptic claims here). But specific numbers and claims nonetheless.
The folks, both elected and anointed, running the EU have nothing prepared in return.
In part, they view their constructs as inviolable. The costly monthly trek to Strasbourg happens because it does. Fonctionnaire payrises happen because they do.
There’s a paucity of creative, substantive reflection on what might be done better which leaves the European Commission, in particular, reverse engineering somewhat hazy justifications for the status quo.
But the woolly half-arsed reasoning for some of the weaker aspects of the EU’s work spills over into woolly half-arsed reasoning across the board.
There’s no one even trying to match or counter the work of the EU bashers, unless you count a lonely rear-guard action by former Labour Europe minister Denis MacShane.
Other Labour figures are unwilling to come forward, perhaps conscious of the prevailing view in the UK, and many also aware that during their time in government, the Labour administration’s take on Europe – say it ever so softly – *was practically identical to that of the Tories.*
The ranks of other commentators, bloggers and tweeps who grind a broadly pro-EU axe are barely into the double figures, and are medium-sized fish only in their own pond (a pond in which BM also swims, a tadpole by comparison and hardly a defender of the cause).
And none of these figures are actually in the EU institutions.
The commission’s UK office maintains a ‘Euromyths‘ site, which makes a passing effort to put right tabloid wrongs.
But it’s hardly the most robust rebuttal machine, and struggles to keep up, particularly now with the ranti-europeans in overdrive and the commission itself largely on holiday.
Why is there no one standing by to shame the Express for its ‘news’ that “The European Union has tried to claim Britain’s entire Olympics medal haul for itself”, ready with a response that says, “No, no it hasn’t, that’s a lie, kuñardocz.”
Why, when the world’s focus is on whether the European institutions have the guile to get the bloc out of its economic crisis, does the European Commission wheel out a spokesman – albeit a good one – to defend its policies on the UK’s flagship Newsnight program?
Where are the political masters and architects?
Where’s the man who put his name to the policies, Olli Rehn?
Where’s the man who last month made such a spirited defence of the EU in the face of yet another UKIP/Tory sneering in the European Parliament, commission pomme de terre Jose Manuel Barroso?
There seems to be an attitude in Brussels that the, particularly, British EU critics will ‘always be like that’, and that it’s best just to take the blows on the chin. It may be, too, that officials fear it doesn’t wash well with UK viewers to put an unelected foreigner who is already a Telegraph/Mail/Express bogeyman in front of the cameras, with his funny accent and euro-jargon peppered syntax.
That may be true, but without any such effort, the facts, stats and opinions currently being uttered forth with such conviction – and mingling everything from truth to lie via ingenious and disingenuous misinterpretation – will stand as a matter of record, and become the incumbent national view on the matter.
With a possible referendum in the UK’s EU membership coming up, the eurosceptics’ hay bales are mounting, while those who should be defending the EU doze.