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Non-believer among diehard Europhiles

Derk Jan Eppink (54) became involved in the Brussels' scene at age 26. He has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009. As opposed to many of his colleagues, he is not a supporter of a federal Europe. A day with the euro-critical insider. "In Brussels you do not ask how long someone has been here, but how many kilos he has put on".

Joining Member of European Parliament Derk Jan Eppink

No round of swimming for Derk Jan Eppink this morning. Angry dairy-farmers have blocked the European quarter in Brussels. This member of the European Parliament is happy he reached the Parliament at all.

Eppink has a subscription at sports club Aspria, where he arrives from his pied-a-terre around seven in the morning on the days he is in Brussels. "It's pretty expensive, swimming fifty times for €1,000, but the water is nice and warm there", he says.

The popular Brussels' activity of networking starts early in the morning at Aspria. High ranking officials, lobbyists and politicians exchange gossip and news while swimming. Eppink considers this healthy start to the day a necessity. "In Brussels you don't ask how long someone has been here, but how many kilos they have put on."

How great will Great Britain remain?

Both the UK and the EU have rough times ahead. Neither one knows in what form they will exist in several years. In the UK there is a growing group of citizens wanting to leave the EU, while in Scotland more and more voices are calling for leaving the UK and then joining the EU. There is a growing sense of feeling in France that the obstructive Great Britain should rather leave the EU so France, together with Germany, can dominate a continental European system.

"I wished to found a European system, a European Code of Laws, a European judiciary: there would be but one people in Europe." These words, spoken by Napoleon, can simply be repeated 200 years later by the advocates of a 'United States of Europe'. Napoleon saw himself as a protagonist of the idea, but was unable to subjugate Great Britain. That is why he then set up a trade blockade in order to weaken the Brits. The British government once again learned that a united continent will turn against Great Britain. Napoleon eventually dug his own grave with his march against Moscow. On the Congress of Vienna the British diplomats were guided by only one thing: involvement with Europe, to avoid unity of the continent. In other words: in Europe, not run by Europe!

This continental unity seems to occur 200 years later, not through Napoleonic wars, but through a peaceful process of European legislation. The Euro zone in particular is becoming more and more a Brussels-dominated continental system - call it a fiscal union - which is threatening to marginalise the UK. The British are seizing the euro crisis to pry themselves loose from Brussels regulations and to aim for looser ties. The European Union is by far the largest market for British export. The political and economic elites in London want to keep it that way. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is the most pro European organisation and the financial centre of the City lies outside the Euro zone, but is the largest trade centre in Euros.

Who is alienating whom?

Driving into the European quarter of Brussels, one does not see crisis. Construction cranes are everywhere. The new headquarters of EU President Herman Van Rompuy, estimated to cost 240mln euro, is slowly but surely being completed. This construction frenzy cannot cover up the EU's fragile foundations. The budget crisis is the next chapter in the permanent quarrel over money. The EU is trying to decide on a multiannual budget for 2014-2020, but leaders of governments are divided on the topic. At the same time, several correspondents in Brussels criticize the culture of spending of the European institutions.

The article by Nikolas Busse in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (26-11-2012) called 'Spaceship Brussels' was right on the mark. 'No less than 21 of the 27 Member States have to reduce their budget deficit. The European Commission ordered Greece, Portugal and Ireland to lower the salaries of public servants or even had them fired. In these dire times Brussels in all seriousness demands a bigger budget for itself.' The Commission and the Parliament demand an increase of the multiannual budget of 5%. Busse: 'In a certain way British Prime Minister Cameron is right: Brussels is living in a parallel universe'.

The Budget Committee responded in disbelief. The German MEP Helga Trüpel, member of the Greens, called the European correspondents 'court writers'. 'They look to the European Council because that is where the power is. They are court writers who turn against us. The outside world isolates itself from us.' The Bulgarian socialist Ivailo Kalfin said: 'there is a political consensus emerging on the budget independent of us. It is the wrong consensus, but the public believes it. The public is wrong'.

What went wrong?

Intellectual honesty forces me to reflect on the question why my prediction - Romney wins the presidential election - did not become reality. Instead of an "on the one hand, on the other hand" type of story on election night I took the risk of coming up with a prediction. But I was wrong, and I adMitt it.

I favoured Romney. The wish might have been the father to the thought. Siding with Romney however was democratic and legitimate. In 2008 I favoured Obama, but I find his economical policy mediocre. He tries to turn the US into a European welfare state, while those welfare states are sinking away into a permanent crisis. Europe does not gain anything from an America repeating European mistakes. Romney is a moderate Republican and an experienced businessman and governor. More than 58 million Americans agreed.

Sometimes I got the impression that in Europe support for Romney was considered to be indecent and criminal. Thomas von der Dunk, in the Volkskrant (11.11.2012) called me 'The Dutch Donald Trump' because the property magnate supported Romney. I lack both the haircut and wealth of Trump necessary in order to claim that title. In Belgium it was even worse. On election night I appeared on the Flemish television and turned out to be the only politician in favour of Romney. There was none among the guests; neither in the studio. Ah yes, a journalist made some phone calls and came up with someone: Filip Dewinter of the Vlaams Belang. This gave me the impression of having ended up at a Neurenberg Tribunal. The Belgian support for Obama was 99.9 per cent. The 'pro-Romney one man lobby' was a lonely road through a sea of Obama groupies.

The 'reality' of The Hague versus the 'distant sights' of Brussels

The formation of the government in The Hague always runs the risk of cementing domestic navel gazing in the coalition, with no regard for the rest of the world. On November 7th, 1989, the Lubbers III government was formed. The coalition agreement codified compromises made in The Hague. Two days later, the Berlin Wall came down. Communism collapsed, Germany reunited. The Hague was not prepared for anything; the agenda of the House of Representatives was dominated by the prohibition of pit bull terriers. Lubbers completely missed the boat on German reunification, causing him to miss out on a top job in the EU later on. The world was turning in high gear; The Hague was standing still.

A delegation from the House of Representatives recently visited European President Van Rompuy, the author of the so-called 'distant sights' of Brussels. He advocates everything that ends with 'union': a political, monetary, military and banking union. In politics there is no goal; there is only process. Van Rompuy deals with process in which all participants are trapped before they even realise it.

Before the summer, the banking union seemed to be far away. Initially the recapitalisation of ailing banks was to take place through the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), after 'effective and operational banking supervision' had been created. The latter will take years, because the European Central Bank (ECB) lacks the human resources and expertise to supervise 6,000 banks. Last week, during the 26th euro rescue summit, it was decided that recapitalisation is possible from the 1st of January 2013. Effective supervision has not been established, but is instead presupposed: a legal myth. Mediterranean Europe needs fresh money now. The distant sight appears not to be that distant after all.

Premier Rutte to 't Schoon Verdiep: Antwerp Mayor's Office

The sound victory of Bart de Wever, President of the 'Nieuwe Vlaamse Alliantie' (N-VA) did not only end 90 years of socialist dominance in the city on the banks of the Scheldt, but also signals a new course for Flanders. De Wever sees Flanders as an autonomous entity in a Belgian confederate state, with fiscal autonomy as the biggest prize. Every year, Flanders subsidises Wallonia and Brussels for 11 billion Euros, which is 1,900 Euros per Fleming per year; an average monthly income.

Contrary to the Netherlands, municipal elections are of great political significance. They determine the local power bastions for the next six years from which parties and leaders operate. The Flemish Christian democrats rule the countryside. The liberals have their high castles in East Flanders. The socialists rule the cities. Louis Tobback is the king of Leuven, Johan Vande Lanotte emperor of Oostende and Ghent is the Mecca of leftist Flanders. These traditional Flemish political families are part of the federal government, b now in electoral decline, led by the Walloon socialist Prime Minister Di Rupo. It is "une coalition des misérables".

De Wever has established his party as a party which penetrated in all layers of society. As soon as he is mayor - he isn't yet - he can turn his gaze to 2014 from 't Schoon Verdiep, the mayor's office on the first floor of the town hall of Antwerp. Then there will be elections for the Belgian federal parliaments, the regional parliaments and the European Parliament. "Then", he said, "the timer runs out for Belgium". From 2014 on Flanders has to be in control of itself and in control of its own finances.

Laughable

When I first heard that the Nobel Peace Prize would go to the EU, I thought it was a joke. The timing is absurd. With the Euro crisis, the EU has created a situation that is holding the entire world economy hostage and which is pushing Greece back to the status of a developing country. Riots in Athens, demonstrations in Spain, with youth unemployment of fifty per cent. Does that justify a Nobel Peace Prize?

Looking at the criterion "European integration during 50 years", this is far too broad. It would have been better to award the prize to the NATO instead.

The EU completely missed the Arab Spring, supported to the very end the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and EU leaders welcomed the Libyan leader Ghadaffi with all honors. Does that justify a Nobel Peace Prize?

Yet now that the Norwegians have awarded this prize to the EU, I hope their wealthy pension funds will help out with the rescue plans for Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Curious, the Norwegians applaud the EU but never joined it themselves!

Kind regards,

Derk Jan Eppink  

 

We are all Jesuits

There are plenty of reasons to keep a close eye on Herman van Rompuy, the President of the European Council. Early September, Van Rompuy spoke to the 'Interreligious Dialogue' in Florence. The world press did not notice, but fortunately there was still the 'Katholiek Nieuwsblad' from Den Bosch, Rome's last resort in the Netherlands. The newspaper proudly quoted Van Rompuy as announcing: 'We are all Jesuits'. He was referring to those prominent European leaders with whom he is developing the architecture for the future Europe. 'It creates unbreakable ties. So there is a 'Jesuits International''.

Who are those people that Van Rompuy, himself schooled by the Jesuits at Sint-Jan Berchman College in Brussels, was talking about? First of all, there is José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. Secondly, there is Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime minister of Luxembourg and Chairman of the Euro group. Van Rompuy also mentions the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, who was schooled in the Roman Jesuit College Instituto Massimiliano Massimo. The Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and his Spanish collegue Mariano Rajoy have also been shaped by Jesuit colleges, Van Rompuy cheerfully added. Fortunately there is Angela Merkel, the stubborn daughter of a vicar from the former DDR, to act as a counterweight.

Return of old powers

President Obama asks Turkish Prime minister Erdogan to calm the Arab region,
while Russian President Putin obstructs international actions designed to get rid of
the Syrian President, and angry Chinese smash windows of Japanese companies
because of a dispute over a few islands. What connects these recent news headlines?
Inspired by an imperial past, China, Turkey and Russia return to the world stage as
self-conscious nations.

American professor Dov Zakheim, former security advisor of Republican ministers,
recently signalled this occurrence in an article in The National Interest, titled 'Old
empires rise again'. He claims that in particular Russia, China and Turkey present
themselves as major powers. Their influence extends far beyond their own borders.
Putin creates a Russia that is a mixture of elements from the Tsarist days and the
Soviet Union, while Turkey builds on its experiences from the days of the Ottoman
Empire when exerting its influence in the Arab world, and China positions itself as
the central empire in Asia. The assertiveness of these states has consequences for the
position of power of the US, which under Obama limited itself to 'leading from the
back'. And for Europe too, of course.

Samsom's Naivety

Not cunningness but naivety is the most dangerous characteristic of a politician. In Het Financieele Dagblad on September 4, the leader of the Dutch moderate socialist party (PvdA) accused the previous generation of politicians of being naïve with respect to Europe. He is right. The monetary union was not built on a solid foundation, but on quicksand. Greece did not belong in the Eurozone, but was admitted nonetheless. This was considered to be 'pro European' ten years ago.

Samsom, of all people, continues the last generation's naivety and sells it as 'being honest about Europe'. He says: "I have a clear point on the horizon for nearly everything but Europe". Samsom lacks 'Der Blick für das Kommende', as Minister Rathenau (Foreign Affairs) of the Weimar Republic once put it. It is not hard to see what Europe is heading toward: a 'debt union' in which the Netherlands and Germany are the guarantors of the European 'debt mountain'. We are talking about amounts that dwarf the Dutch budgets for healthcare, education or social affairs.

The Euro made it possible for many countries to live beyond their means. Salaries rose too fast. Competitiveness decreased. The process of structural reform - lower salaries, pensions and government budget - needs time, but also determination. If this is missing, then the Dutch would work longer in order to subsidise the early retirement of the French, by guaranteeing 'European debts'. President Hollande of France calls this 'social' and 'pro European'; Samsom does too, apparently.

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