Coulrophobia, apparently, is the new name for an old condition –fear of clowns. Those of us who remember the brilliantly scary portrayal by Jack Nicholson of the Joker in the 1989 Batman movie or by Heath Ledger in the 2008 Dark Knight movie didn’t need a new fancy word to describe the feeling.
We have our own creepy clowns now. There was a definite aspect of a circus ring populated by prominent clowns in the circular European Parliament chamber when Jean Claude Juncker made his pretentious State of the Union address to MEPs including Guy Verhofstadt and Nigel Farage this week.
Juncker, a veteran at photo-shoot clowning sessions, wanted to re-ignite the federalist project with up-beat, idealistic rhetoric intended to pave the way for further decisive steps towards European integration. He famously claimed that the time for such steps was now - when the “wind was at our backs”. Well there was wind, all right – and a lot of it. If you get my drift.
But the prevailing wind is not blowing in the sails of the federalist project.
His proposal to abandon unanimity and to adopt QMV on EU corporate tax and Vat decisions is simply not going to be accepted. No Irish government would get parliamentary or popular support for such a move. And many other member states would recognise it for what it is – a means of allowing Germany and France to dictate the taxation policies of all the member states.
But it is a warning call to all those in Iveagh House. The French are taking their gloves off on the CCCTB issue. We must do the same – and don our knuckledusters - to punch well above our weight. As I said here before, patting ourselves on the back and bragging about “punching well above our weight in Europe” is meaningless - if we aren’t willing to throw the odd punch.
We have to recall that our partners in Europe, especially Germany, forced us to shoulder a multi-billion debt burden to pay up their Anglo senior bondholders. And the somewhat politically vicious and opportunistic French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, tried to force us into capitulation on our corporate tax sovereignty at the height of our financial crisis. They haven’t all gone away you know.
Ireland’s capacity to work off our EU-imposed debt burden would be hopelessly compromised if we were to surrender our freedom to determine our own corporate tax regime within the overall OECD consensus. Doing so would be suicidal; agreeing to do so would be treachery. Equivocating on the issue is out of the question. Juncker also sought the end of our veto on a European Financial Transactions Tax. Such a loss might well see the financial services sector decamp back to the UK.We are not going to be forced out of the EU for holding our ground on tax.
Juncker’s broader federalist wish-list was equally unrealistic. He wanted to merge the presidencies of the Council and the Commission into one post. This of course is the super-dream of the federalists, involving as it does the reduction of the Council’s role while aggrandising the role of the Commission. The federalists loath the inter-governmental nature of the present Union. He also demanded the creation of a EU Finance Minister accountable to the European Parliament
Juncker demanded an abandonment of unanimity and introduction of QMV on foreign policy, the creation of an EU anti-terrorism public prosecutor, and “fully fledged EU Defence Union” by 2025.
Happily, Ireland is constitutionally prohibited from participating in an EU Defence Union. There is nothing stopping those member states who want a common Defence Union or a common army from doing so. But most intelligent people fear the idea of the EU as such going to war.
Juncker proposed that all of this and much more be agreed at a special summit to be held in in Sibiu in Romania (“or Hermannstadt as I know it”, he said) on 30th March 2019, the day after the UK departs the Union.
Predictably, Farage said: “Thank God we are leaving”. The Danish PM rejected some of Juncker’s proposals.
Verhofstadt, possibly a rival with Juncker for the title of Europe’s Greatest Clown, was greatly encouraged by Juncker. He called for a single European government, a “single democracy”, an EU FBI, claiming 75% of Europeans want an EU army. In short he was back to his demand for a federal super-state.
Ridiculously, he claimed that the defeat of the far-right candidates in France and Holland meant that there is now a mandate for the EU federal super-state.
Macron, who is using similar rhetoric, is already in difficulty. His recent speech in Athens was an extraordinary exercise in simultaneous double-talk, fawning and cajoling. While sympathising with the Greeks for whom the French did no favours a couple of years ago, he is sharpening his flick-knife for Ireland. He will use foreign policy initiatives as the great distraction in his domestic struggles. That bodes badly for us in Ireland.
The sad thing is that sensible, moderate Europeans who know that the EU is not a super-state and that there is no single demos in Europe that could ever justify a single European democracy, and that the EU is and will remain a partnership of nation states represented mainly by their own democratically elected governments, must simply watch as these clowns strut their stuff in their own parliamentary big top.
The notion of a truly democratic single European state in 2019 is about as risible as a democratic Austro-Hungarian empire was in 1914 – and as unsustainable, except as an equally undemocratic, unstable centralised imperial power.
Having driven the UK out by their federalist ambitions, the painted clowns hope that the wind will fill their federalist sails. If Verhofstadt has his way there will be no deal with the UK. There lies a big danger for Ireland.
If they try for a major integrationist drive at Sibiu in March 2019 of the kind outlined by Juncker, they will be rebuffed not just here but across northern and east-central Europe.
From the Irish perspective, the dark clouds are gathering and the period between now and 29th March, 2019, will be fraught with danger. We should be wary of the painted smiles on the faces who like to appear as our friends on Brexit. Under the greasepaint, things are often not as they seem.