Juncker slams Verhofstadt for ‘aggressive’ EU empire comments
Brussels has in the past week been accused of moving towards “vaccine nationalism” after it moved to block vaccines being transported to the UK. It came as EU “bureaucracy” meant that the bloc’s mass vaccination programme was delayed. Meanwhile, thousands of vaccines left Dutch and Belgian factories for the UK.
The EU quickly moved to trigger Article 16 to prevent the exports, effectively creating a hard border on the island of Ireland and disregarding much of the intricacies agreed on in the Brexit deal.
All the moves were quickly backtracked by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen following a tense call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the weekend.
It is an instance, said Robert Tombs, the renowned historian, that perfectly highlights the bloc’s tendency towards “operating like an empire”.
This behaviour, however, doesn’t stop at vaccines.
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The EU has in place many tariffs on foreign goods, ranging from the continent of Africa to south-east Asia, from the US to South America.
Its policy has been described as having created a “protectionist racket” that means you’re safe if you’re in the club, but not so much if you’re not.
Prof Tombs said: “It’s true that the EU operates in some ways like an empire.
“Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Brexit coordinator, talked about this being the age of empires.
“One of the motives behind the EU has always been to create something very big, which they thought could compete with the US and Russia – so it is a bit like an empire.”
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Prof Tombs was referring to a now famous speech in which Mr Verhofstadt, speaking in Maastricht in 2019, said: “The world of tomorrow will be totally different from the world of today.
“It will be a world dominated by empires like China, India, the US, the Russian Federation.
“It will be a world in which our standards, our way of living, our values, our way of thinking will be under threat by these empires.
“That’s why we need to create a strong Europe, a united Europe as a counterweight for that.”
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The problem which arises, many have noted, is that unity often results in ethical dilemmas.
Brian Denny, a spokesman for Trade Unionists Against the EU, a few years ago wrote in a blog post of how “the EU starves Africa”.
He said the EU’s “criminal” Common Agricultural Policy piles Africa with subsidised food at the demise of the continent’s farmers.
Oxfam has previously warned over the debilitating programme, which Claire Godfrey, trade policy adviser for the charity, said in 2011: “Not only does the Common Agricultural Policy hit European shoppers in their pockets but strikes a blow against the heart of development in places like Africa.
“The CAP lavishes subsidies on the UK’s wealthiest farmers and biggest landowners at the expense of millions of poorest farmers in the developing world.
“The UK Government must lobby hard within the EU to agree an overhaul of the CAP by 2008 to put an end to the vicious cycle of overproduction and dumping.”
The £30billion-a-year EU agricultural subsidy causes one of the biggest iniquities facing Africa, as well as other developing parts of the world.
Farmers there are left unable to export their products because they are forced to compete with the lower prices made possible by the subsidies.
Prof Tombs described this as one of the biggest “ethical arguments against the EU”.
He said: “The bloc for much of its history has treated the developing world without much consideration.
“Dumping agricultural products on the developing world, and in many ways acting as a protectionist bloc.
“That’s why, in fact, many Left wingers are opposed to the EU.”
Atiku Abubala, the former vice president of Nigeria, in a 2018 piece for Express.co.uk, wrote how Brexit could be “a force for good” for African nations pitted against the EU.
He said: “The EU’s single market is a great example of free trade but where it becomes a case of fortressing Europe against the rest of the world then free trade suffers.
“It imposes high tariffs, particularly on agricultural products but also minerals which punish countries such as Nigeria, preventing us from turning ourselves into an economic powerhouse.”
Mr Abubala went on to say that Nigeria, a country that employs 70 percent of its workforce in agriculture, was being hit by EU tariffs on things like sugar cane and rice.
He ended on a sombre note: “It is time to release the African lion economies such as Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.
“We can be the catalyst for a worldwide Commonwealth trade deal with none of the disadvantages of the EU’s attempt to run Britain from Brussels.”
‘This Sovereign Isle’ by Robert Tombs, published by Allen Lane, is out now.
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