The English adrift

If it is true that all politics is local, then the recent English local elections have drastically affected the British political landscape, with far-reaching consequences for Europe. The rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is not simply blowing over. UKIP is in fact an English ‘nationalist party’ which - as a driving force against the EU-membership - deeply divides the United Kingdom.

The natural leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage (49), is a member of the European Parliament and sits just a few meters away from me. When I speak on behalf of the group of European Conservatives and Reformists, I sit next to Farage, leader of an anti-European group, which also includes the Dutch SGP. He is a funny guy, speaking with humour, but also with a sharp tongue during debates, in particular when figureheads of the 'European elite' are present. He considers himself a filibuster opposing both the European and the British establishment. He perorates and ridicules. Farage puts up a show arguing for a British exit of the EU and manages to hit all the sore spots of the anonymous bureaucracy. Outside of that, everything is jolly good, as long as a pint of beer stays within arm's reach.

For years Farage was depicted as a clown. Those days are over. He is reaping the fruits from the 'Stockholm syndrome' that influenced Tory leaders. Even long after the Thatcher tenure, British Conservatives kept being haunted by the label of 'nasty party': the heartless and cold party. Political opponents and the media hammered the point home, as the newly elected leader David Cameron had to steer his party back to the political centre through a narrative of compassion and fervour. He accepted the criticism and tried to turn the British Conservatives into the 'not nasty party'. He visited polar bears on the North Pole as part of the battle against climate change. The budget for development aid was ring-fenced, despite the crisis. He took a mild stance in relation to Europe, at least for British standards. Immigration was off limits as a topic during the elections, because it would come across as 'heartless'. The conservative English countryside started to stir. Cameron was paying more attention to the leftist newspaper The Guardian and the pro-European BBC than to sound and solid core of his electorate.

Champagne socialists

When it comes to scoring own goals, European socialists are true snipers. Tomorrow, on the 1st of May, they celebrate Labour Day; a moment to praise the ideal of equality and to demonise the rich. But greed has touched socialist leaders, especially in France and Germany. In the two core countries of euro socialism they launched a rhetoric "against the rich"; a class, by the way, to which they themselves belong.

The French President Francois Hollande is in trouble. As strategist from the school of his master, former President Francois Mitterrand, he knows that socialists can only win the presidency when the left is united and the right divided. Under President Sarkozy rightist France became divided between centre right and far right. Hollande wanted to force unity among the left by means of a campaign against "the rich". During a debate on TV he said: "I do not like rich people". As presidential candidate he launched the plan to tax incomes over 1 million Euros for 75%. The far left applauded. Hollande beat Sarkozy by a minimal difference.

After that it went downhill for Hollande. Wealthy French citizens emigrated or transferred their money abroad. The announcement of the measure led to a capital flight of 52 billion Euros, while the 75% tariff was supposed to bring in 200 million to the treasury.

The uprising of German economists

After the first party congress of the Alternative für Deutschland, last Sunday in Berlin, Germany has a euro critical force that affects the core of German euro policy. The uprising is being led by economists, many of whom already published an open letter against the German euro policy in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on July 5, 2012. The professors break a taboo to which German politicians have to conform: "if the euro fails, Europe fails." The population's support is waning: the professors offer a credible voice.

The erosion process is fueled by a growing conflict between North and South in the euro zone. The Greek Ministry of Finance has produced a report in which it calculates the extent of the damages Germany inflicted on Greece during the war. Germany is requested to pay as much as 162 billion euros in reparations to Greece, 80 percent of the current Greek gross domestic product. The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, responded brusquely by saying that the Greek government should focus on reforms of the economy. Since its inception, the euro has been a political currency that has little to do with economic logic. Germany wanted the euro to have friends in Europe. Instead, it creates enemies because the monetary union is a failing construction. Politicians ignored warnings from economists.

German economists are now taking up the political gauntlet: the Hamburg Professor Dr. Bernd Lucke is the leader of the party. There is always a certain occupational hazard with professors in politics. Their starting point is pure analysis and substantiated conclusion, not haggling and political twisting. In addition, they sometimes run the risk of blowing themselves up along with their hobbyhorse. That happened to the Heidelberg Professor Paul Kirchhof, who became the preferred Finance Minister in the 2005 parliamentary elections on behalf of the CDU. Kirchhof's pet was the flat tax, a unitary fiscal rate which he promoted in the campaign, while it was not a party position. Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) recognized the opportunity and branded Kirchhof as an "advocate of the rich". The SPD campaign crucified Kirchhof upside down. He resigned and left the CDU to deal with the mess.

Tsar Vladimir I

During the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Netherlands next week, Prime Minister Rutte will not meet a leader who wants to appeal to the flattery of Europe, but a contemporary equivalent of a Russian Tsar. The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 reversed the result of centuries of Russian imperial policy. Putin called it ‘a disaster’. He is determined to restore that sphere of influence by founding the Eurasian Union (EU) with several neighboring countries in 2015. Next to the ‘Brussels EU’ a new EU emerges with Moscow as its center and with Putin as its big boss.

The European Union underestimates the scope of what Putin has in mind. Officials in Brussels look to Russia with a feeling of moral superiority, as a country of political chaos, arbitrariness, Gazprom, oligarchs and unrepentant vodka drinkers. Brussels is, after all, the center of political modernity with all its connaiseurs of the better wines. That makes Brussels blind to the strategy of Tsar Vladimir I.

Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are the hard core of the 'Moscow EU’. The three countries already have a customs union - a kind of Russian Benelux - with agreements on free trade and movement of people. Power is the cement. The Russian army and security services form a unity with the two partners. Russia may use military action in Belarus at its discretion and the bulk of the officers in the Kazakh military consist of ethnic Russians. Remarkably, the President of Armenia, Serzj Sarkisian, also attends summits of the customs union, although Armenia is not a member. However, the Armenians are in trouble with Azerbaijan and Turkey, so support from the mighty Moscow is more than welcome.

Disunited States of America

Proponents of a 'United States of Europe' received quite a slap in the face during the recent battle for the EU budget. Instead of the eternal 'more Europe' mantra, the multi annual budget for the period 2014-2020 has been reduced and European taxes are out of the question. Europe is forcing citizens to save; Europe itself should lead by example. Better results with less money: there is a change of mindset in Brussels.

After all the big words, a sense of reality finally sets in. It is time to put to rest the concept of a federal European entity - the United States of Europe. Not because its ideal is not legitimate, but because it does not work. The 'United States of Europe' is the intellectual self-delusion of a small elite.

The ideal is fed by reference to the 'United States of America'. In order to imitate the American example, Europe would have to harmonize various policies. Therefore, European federalists are staunch advocates of tax harmonization. The European Parliament recently voted in favor of the harmonization of the corporate tax base. That has to be the first step towards harmonization of the tariff. The ' unique social model' is of vital importance. Harmonization of working hours has already been arranged. The next goal is the introduction of a European minimum wage. Uniformity on a European scale is paramount.

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