This morning, I woke early and finished The Great European Rip-off: How the Corrupt, Wasteful EU is Taking Control of Our Lives.  I then discovered this article in the Telegraph:

The global financial crisis has inflicted such damage to free market principles that it risks undermining the core function of Brussels and triggering the disintegration of the European Union, according to the EU’s most revered economic figure.

Former Italian premier Massimo D’Alema said the EU’s modernisation drive sketched at Lisbon in 2000 was fantasy. “We are prisoners of our rhetoric,” he said. “It is an illusion to think that once crisis is over we will return to where we were. The US and China will emerge stronger: we will be left ever further behind. Within 15 years not a single country in the EU will qualify for the G7, except perhaps Germany.”

via EU faces ‘existential’ danger from economic crisis – Telegraph.

In this context, it is vitally important to form a strictly pragmatic view of the EU and whether it will help or hinder our recovery.

Craig and Elliott wrestle courageously to deliver just that in The Great European Rip-off, though the title rather gives away their conclusions. It seems to me any objective review of the EU would conclude that it is an exorbitantly expensive threat to our prosperity and freedom.

The book includes:

  • Let us take you to your leaders: a thorough exploration of the gravy train that is being a member of the EU elite.
  • The unstoppable superstate: a demonstration of the undemocratic, deceptive nature of “the project”.
  • Waste and destruction: how the EU nurtures corruption, makes crime pay, sustains frankly stupid policies, destroys the environment and creates spectacular waste.
  • What now? The need for fundamental reform: what to do about it.

The book is packed with facts and analysis. We pay over €50 billion a year more for food than we would at world prices, while simultaneously suppressing agriculture in the developing world: Oxfam has estimated that if Africa could capture just 1% more of world trade, 128 million people would be lifted out of poverty. Brussels insiders now talk openly about a “post-democratic age”, since they believe the world is too complex for individuals to have a say in how they are governed ((This is an old story of course. From Reagan’s first Inaugural Address, January 20th 1981:

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”

)). While there are good reasons for regulating, for providing fixed rules known well in advance, we find that the EU has made around 103,000 new decisions, laws and regulations: ten for every working day of the last fifty years.

Considering the environment, Craig and Elliott explore fisheries policy, emissions trading and biofuels, in each case demonstrating the pattern of EU environmental regulation:

  • The stupid idea
  • The ghastly consequences
  • We’re never wrong

That is, bad policies are implemented with horribly counterproductive results but the Brussels bureaucrats fail to reverse their decisions.

An egregious example of waste and bureaucracy is the well-known madness of decamping the supine European Parliament to Strasbourg every month. Apart from the cost and the now futile gesture, the exercise generates around 20,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. As the authors put it:

Our self-serving, hypocritical MEPs cannot claim any credibility when they grab more of our money for themselves and lecture us about the perils of global warming as long as they continue with this economic and environmental insult to voters’ intelligence.

This is just a taste. If you think it biased, untrue or overblown, please read the book.

Finally, the authors provide a model for EU reform, enabling it to focus on democracy and pan-European statistics and to improve the European Parliament, the single market and regulation. They propose taking away the CAP, fisheries, propaganda and financial control. They suggest stopping EU action on the superstate, the euro-army, healthcare, education, asylum, immigration, tax and social security. I admire their optimism and their attempt to shape a compromise solution, but it seems unrealistic.

If the Lisbon agenda of 2000 was “fantasy” and the Lisbon Treaty the best effort at institutional reform, then it is not practical to expect this programme of reform to succeed:

  • The EU has a large democratic deficit, so it seems inappropriate that it should lecture on democracy.
  • Pan-European statistics cannot be meaningfully collected without pan-European harmonisation of statistical information. That requires pan-European regulatory control, which is one of the bigger problems.
  • The proposed reform makes the European Parliament a council of national representatives, but what should it have the power to decide? And isn’t this the existing Council of Europe?
  • The EU has singularly failed over many years to reform its regulatory activity. The amount of regulation has grown inexorably in the face of sustained efforts to cut it.

There’s no doubt that the EU has achieved some good — no one wants to go back to sewage on the beaches or tap water you cannot drink — but it is time in this crisis for a serious reappraisal of what we want from government. I suggest it is honest money, free trade and peace in an environment of a small number of fixed laws to which we consent. As David Cameron has said of the EU:

It is the last gasp of an outdated ideology, a philosophy that has no place in our new world of freedom, a world which demands that we fight this bureaucratic over-reach and lead Europe into the hope and potential of a new, post-bureaucratic age.

We should reform the European Union by abolishing it in favour of a treaty guaranteeing unrestricted free trade and peace through arbitration under the umbrella of, say, the Council of Europe. We could bank such gains as the EU has given us and each country could repeal or reform inherited EU law as it saw fit. This would deliver a genuinely competitive Europe whose diversity would deliver progress.

If Massimo D’Alema is right, we should be careful to ensure the EU disintegrates in a helpful direction. That direction would advance opportunity, nurture responsibility and protect security.

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