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Article / 19 April 2013 at 10:01 GMT

We must re-evaluate the European Union

co-founder & CEO / Saxo Bank A/S
Denmark

I have been interested in politics since I was a kid. That is why I remember Denmark’s European Economic Community (EEC) referendum, although I was only nine years old. Election nights were always exciting and I was allowed to stay up a little longer than I otherwise would be allowed to in our home in Loegstrup, outside of the town of Viborg in the western part of Denmark. Here, we had supper at 5pm, I then did my homework and went to bed at a proper time. It was a bourgeois home; my father was, by most accounts, conservative, but voted for The Liberal Party, as did most people in the countryside.

I remember the referendum on October 2, 1972, in a positive light. Denmark stepped onto the main stage and the support of the people was absolutely clear. Voter turnout was over 90 percent and almost two out of three Danes voted for Denmark’s entry into the EEC.

Confidence in European project slowly destroyed
The EEC was perceived as something positive in our home, as it was in most of bourgeois Denmark. I stayed unconditionally positive for many years to come. Even in the Young Conservatives, we were supporters of a European union and some of us even wore blue and yellow EU socks as a symbol of this attractive, long-term plan. But despite this very positive starting point for our view of the EU, I must confess that, over time, this support and optimism evaporated. Massive central bureaucracy, European arrogance and lack of respect for the independence, history and culture of the national states slowly destroyed confidence in the project.

When I look back, I must admit that it took me too long to recognise what the European project really was. But I also have to state that this recognition came much later to many others and some of our career politicians obviously still do not get it. But the Danes, the citizens, the people have smelled the rat. From this point on, it will just be more and more uphill for the EU supporters when new measures need to be adopted, although there is no reason to believe that they will not be trying over and over again.

Why did it go so wrong for the EU?
Václav Klaus, the former Czech President, has tried to answer this question in his book Europe - The Shattering of Illusions. President Klaus - at the end of his presidential period - writes about the European co-operation's development and possible collapse. He analyses the different phases of Europe's economic and political integration from the European Economic Area (EEA) to the European Community (EC) and to the European Union (EU) - and tells it straight in a blunt criticism of our era of uncritical "eurocracy". In the Danish version of the book, Europa - Integration uden illusioner, I wrote a postscript, of which this post is an extract.

EU the problem rather than the solution
The big question raised in the book is really whether the EU is more the problem than the solution in the current crisis.

Both the EU and Denmark are in a difficult situation. The euro has shown its true colours and anyone with a rational view of the world sees the currency collaboration as a historic failure that can lead to even further fatal consequences for Europe and the continent’s competitiveness vis-à-vis the rest of the world. There is one thing, and only one thing, that can rescue the euro. That is a much more far-reaching integration between the euro countries; a common financial policy, joint debt issuing, a willingness to pay enormous transfers from the rich to the poor countries or, more specifically, from Germany to all the other member states.

That is a possible route, but not a desirable one. At least not for the citizens who in this case - like in too many other cases - seem to have fundamentally different interests than politicians. It requires a will to give up national independence to an extent that is not acceptable to the voters and, precisely because of this, can only be accomplished in an undemocratic manner.

A speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron on January 23 was extraordinarily important. It represented a strengthening of the critical debate that many Europeans are striving for. Until this moment, Václav Klaus was the only head of state who contributed to that debate. The fact that the prime minister of one of the EU’s most important countries is stepping forward as the focal point for citizens who want a different EU can turn out to be extremely important, although the initial reactions from the EU elite were as negative as they were predictable. The EU does not take criticism and debate lightly.

Lesson to be learned from Cameron
But with the UK’s forthcoming attempt to negotiate a less restrictive agreement with the EU, Pandora’s box has now been opened. Cameron’s rational reasoning will contribute to exposing the EU’s rigid insistence on more power despite the poor results. It will become increasingly difficult for both the Brits and other EU citizens to understand a firm rejection of Cameron’s five principles – competitiveness, flexibility, more power to the national states, democratic responsibility and fairness. That the EU will have to argue against such reasonable demands and as strongly as possible try to prevent referendums about them would only create more attention and more criticism not least because the Eurozone will come under further economic pressure as a possible referendum would be approaching in the UK in 2017.

It is a unique chance for the countries outside the Eurozone to create an independent forum chaired by Cameron. The Danish Prime Minister ought to have been on the first flight to London to discuss this. It did not happen, of course, but the hope for a better EU has been strengthened by Cameron’s newfound leadership.

It is hard to understand why the EU does not recognise that it has been wrong in many ways and that many European citizens suffer because of that. Instead of senselessly pushing the failed project, then using the crisis to re-evaluate the project, check the course and listen to the European populations. They want to move in a different direction, both Danes and the people of the other EU countries. It is time for the politicians to understand that they are here for the sake of their citizens and not the other way around.

Although I hope I never will experience it I still dare to predict how a strong Europe will be developing if the European Commission and the European Parliament and the Barosso’s and Van Rompuy’s of this world will gain the kind of power they dream of and are well on their way to gaining.

Higher taxes and great poverty
There will be more uniform and considerably higher tax levels than today. There will be direct EU taxes going straight to the EU Commission and the EU budget. There will be massive exit taxes, fines and other barriers for those who might want to move out of the EU. Even if you do move outside the EU, the EU will demand global taxing rights.

There will be great poverty in a string of ”regions” formerly known Spain, Italy, Greece and others. There will be huge and growing powers concentrated in the hands of the Germans (and the French in recognition of their support). There will be no veto rights for national states and smaller states will have very little influence.

EU stagnation and exodus from EU
There will be economic stagnation all over the EU. The financial sector will have moved to the U.S.A, China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Industry will have moved to Asia, The young, the talented and well educated will to an increasing extent move away. But the EU will be a leader in symbolic and irrational activities like low CO2 discharges, green companies and other costly and economically losing propositions.

There will be growing suppression of freedom of speech as far as critical expressions are concerned with regard to other cultures, religions and the EU itself, and increased attention towards suppressing deviating and asocial attitudes like scepticism towards climate projects, social “rights” etc. Political correctness will have achieved unknown heights.

On the international stage, the EU will be a weak player with low credibility and respect and will increasingly have to do exactly what the big creditor nations demand because the union will be strongly dependent on them. In the United Nations, the EU will seek collaboration with third world countries in an attempt to transfer its own system to a global institution.

Can we allow this to happen?
Actually I think that Europeans have made this decision and that they have made the right decision. In any case, I trust that they will do that when it becomes crystal clear which roads they have to choose between. But I am not so sure that European politicians will do the same. And I am not confident that they would care to ask Europeans if they could avoid it in any way. So the time has come to make it impossible for politicians not to ask Europeans.

The time has come to do everything to ensure that Europeans understand what the future perspectives of this choice are and that Europeans understand the importance of this choice; that Europeans understand the risk that perhaps they will never again get the chance to make this decision on their own.

I think we can and will succeed in warning Europeans. I think we can and will succeed in finding the right way forward for Europe.

5y
vlev vlev
Thank You Lars for sharing Your ideas!

Thinking of the alleged EU's "founding Idea' of "more safety" reminds me of Benjamin Franklin: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
5y
AOVE AOVE
Lars, there is a counter-argument that says that in the century of Chinese and Asian ascension to world power, the West must unite or become irrelevant. While I agree with some of your concerns, I have to ask what is your Plan B? Massive defaults in Southern Europe? The collapse of the Euro? The division of Europe into North and South? Where does that leave us, and where does that leave the West? For all the EU's ills, are we, the citizens of Europe, not better off together than apart? I grew up in the Cold War, so did you. We need to find a way to make this work without becoming a Bruxelles-led monolith.
5y
Juhani Huopainen Juhani Huopainen
Your article is much liked in Finland. I'd be more than happy to translate it to Finnish and post it to the general public.

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