How do you even “march for Europe”?

Seriously, what does that mean?

Confident marchers

On March 24, 1,000 people marched in Brussels, urging pro-EU forces to remain united in order to tackle the rising extreme-right and halt the “Orbanisation” of European societies ahead of the May EU elections. Their fear: the right-wing, following the example of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, will turn the European Union into an “illiberal” power. They were marching for Europe.

The day before, on March 23, thousands of people marched in the streets of London to demand either a second referendum on Brexit or a complete revocation of Article 50 (the provision that allows the United Kingdom to leave the European Union). They were marching for Europe.

Demonstrators in London are demanding that the most significant vote (in numbers) in the history of the United Kingdom be overturned. The Brussels protestors want more European integration–to be controlled by only one side of the political spectrum.

“Europe” doesn’t mean much to either side. If you were to interview the people participating in these demonstrations and ask them what they mean by “Europe”, you’d get a wide array of policies, including freedom of movement (for which the European Union isn’t needed), democracy (even though the EU has had consistent democratic deficits and purposefully opaque political procedures since its establishment), or welfare programmes such as Erasmus (which, again, does not require the existence of the EU and is a terrible idea regardless). Essentially, they list their political priorities and label them as “Europe”.

Marketers? Protesters? Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference

Make no mistake, their techniques are working. Generally the word “Europe” has replaced “European Union” in public discourse. By that standard, the UK is apparently “leaving Europe”, as if it were physically drifting away. Interestingly, this is exactly how you’ll see it portrayed in many media outlets. You could easily call it one of the most phenomenal marketing tricks of this century.

And they are right to resort to this strategy, because the reality certainly isn’t pretty. The only reason to still defend the EU would be out of a sense of cynicism. Here’s an example:

The EU has introduced the Common Agricultural Policy, which uses taxpayers’ money from EU citizens to finance farmers within the Union. Thanks to state subsidies, farmers can now produce crops and livestock more cheaply and even export them. It is a pity, of course, that farmers in Africa are being outbid in terms of price. Take milk, for instance: between 2011 and 2016, milk powder exports from the EU to West Africa rose from 12,900 tonnes to 36,700 tonnes – most of which went to Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, which further exported the product to neighbouring countries. Subsidised European companies are now offering agricultural products below local prices in Africa, impoverishing local companies.

So much safety

EU data protection rules are also great because they finally give you more freedom on the net–albeit with some small, additional costs, unfortunately. Thus, the data protection basic regulation known as the GDPR has already caused 7.8 billion dollars in compliance costs even before implementation for US Fortune 500 enterprises. For medium-sized companies, the average cost of compliance over the last two years was 550,000 USD. As a result of these expenses, several companies, including news providers such as the LA Times, have decided to no longer offer their services in Europe. However, big companies can afford the cost of regulatory mania so it’s not that bad, right? Thank God nobody notices that the EU does not see itself as being affected, otherwise someone could question the EU Passenger Name Record Directive (2016/681/EC), compliance with which necessitates that all flight travel data be stored without reasonable suspicion.

Free travel is also really nice in the EU. Without the EU, there would be border controls and one would have to travel as before the Schengen Agreement. That countries such as Ireland and Great Britain have an opt-out from the Schengen Agreement and that non-EU member states can also participate in the Schengen area is, of course, only a matter of detail. And yes, there are countries that have temporarily reintroduced border controls, namely Austria, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France. The list of over one hundred ‘exceptions’ to the Schengen Agreement is now too long to present.

We also have free trade thanks to the EU! Apart from the failed TTIP negotiations, the watered-down CETA agreement, the small number of developing countries allowed to participate in the Everything But Arms (EBA) free trade area, the “safeguard clauses” that allow the European Commission to impose new import taxes at any moment, the absence of a coherent free trade agreement with China or Africa (although the latter has been an issue since the Schuman Declaration of 1950), or the demand that in any future EU-US trade talks, agricultural products should not be traded without customs. It would seem that trade is only free within the club.

Thankfully, the European Union is not building any border walls, as is currently happening in the United States. Well, apart from the 1,000 kilometers of walls and fences that have already been built with EU funding. But what are 1,000 kilometers anyway?

Which one do you march for?

Do you march for 1,000 km of border walls, increased protectionism, or lack of privacy? Probably not. If you marched, you did so to honor a glorified vision of the European Union, which, upon closer inspection, does not exist.

Get real: none of the founding fathers of this union would like it, anyway. And they certainly wouldn’t march with these people.

This article was first published by Values4Europe.

Pictures are Creative Commons.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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