Reading the German publication Spiegel is often instructive. Today’s offering is no less illuminating for what it reveals about the perception on the continent of the EU debate here in the UK.
Spiegel makes us aware of the latest foreign political figure to deign to the UK what is best for us, German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle. Never short of a comment for the media, Westerwelle sticks to the internationally rehearsed script:
With a view to the current debate over Great Britain’s role in the EU, I would say: Germany desires a Great Britain that will remain a constructive and active partner in the EU.
As has been the case so far, the European house will also have different levels of integration, but we would like a deeper and better EU of 27, with Great Britain.
But what really stands out about the Spiegel piece is what the paper doesn’t refer to. While it says of David Cameron that the euroskeptic (sic) wing of his Conservative Party would prefer to bolt the European Union (clearly they haven’t looked at their voting record or repeated statements about staying in the EU) at no point does Spiegel inform readers that a majority of British voters polled on the subject of an in-out referendum say they would vote for the UK to leave. Spiegel deliberately lays the uncertainty about the UK’s future down to a section of one political party, with the subtext that if they can be seen off all will be well and the project can continue.
To view the debate through the prism of party politics in the way Spiegel is doing is a deliberate effort to portray the issue as the grumbling of a few politicians being strongly countered by a small number of vocal business leaders. It is contemptuous in the extreme of the wishes of British voters, treating them and their views as a complete irrelevance.
Spiegel is deluding itself and the German people if it thinks marginalising the views of the British people in this way will cancel them out. As this arrogance continues so will British attitudes harden. After all these years our continental cousins still do not understand the culture of the British people.
But the Spiegel piece is useful as a classic example of the EU modus operandii. The EU is a creature of and for the political elite. The people and their wishes do not matter. The establishment thinks it knows best and it acts in its own interest. The media on both sides of the channel knows its interest lays in cosying up to the establishment for precious ‘access’ and a share of ‘exclusives’ as a reward for the sycophancy.
What all this tells us is that grassroots pressure outside of party politics, and setting aside the untrustworthy / incompetent / unreliable parties and their empty pledges, is the way to force this issue. The one weakness political parties have is the need to attract support. Without support their mandate evaporates and their legitimacy is called into question. It’s the only real leverage the electorate has. If the parties lack support they are forced to change to try to attract it. This is why the EU strives to reduce accountability to voters and have all parties offering the same outlook. Cutting the parties out of the loop will ultimately neuter the EU approach.