The European Union (EU) meddles too much in the lives of European citizens, it’s most senior figure, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has admitted. But as support for the Union wanes across member states, he begged voters not to give up on it.
Over the last four decades of European Union membership, phrases like ‘bendy bananas’ and ‘curvy cucumbers’ have become bywords for the sort of overarching Brussels meddling that leaves citizens looking for the exit.
Complaints that Brussels interferes too much with the minutiae of life are most commonly brushed off by Commission insiders, but yesterday Mr Juncker admitted “We were wrong”.
Addressing Parliamentarians at a Council of Europe meeting he said: “I think that one of the reasons that European citizens are stepping away from the European project is due to the fact that we are interfering in too many domains of their private lives and too many domains where the member states are better placed to take action and pass legislation.”
Mr Juncker is a staunch advocate of, and firm believer in a federalised Europe, but he admitted that in recent times, thanks in part to the migrant crisis and terrorism, the ambition to create a European superstate was slipping away.
“Today we are facing very tough times. All our institutions are under immense pressure today and sometimes are really pushed to their limits,” he said.
“It’s true that we are not very popular when we advocate for Europe. We are no longer respected in our countries when we emphasise the need to give priority to the EU. We will eventually end up with the ruins of this ideal.”
His comments come just weeks after the Dutch voted to reject a proposed EU-Ukraine Association Agreement by two to one; a result widely seen as a verdict not on the agreement but on Dutch membership of the EU.
And they echo those of European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who told with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that many people have lost trust in “entire institutions, whether national or European”.
“Europe has been on a sliding slope for some time now. Many people’s trust in institutions, whether national or European, has gone. Hardly any of the governments is fighting to reach the hearts of the people,” he added, laying the blame on the heads of states and administrations for losing the confidence of the people.
He went on to warn of a high risk of an “implosion of the EU. If the British leave the EU, there will be [other] demands for further escape referendums.”
But what Europhiles view as a threat, Eurosceptics see as an opportunity. Justice Secretary Michael Gove has called on the people of Britain to vote to Leave the EU as a way of sparking the wider liberation of the people of the European Union, releasing them from an undemocratic empire just as Britain helped to liberate the Soviet states.
“Our vote to Leave will liberate and strengthen those voices across the EU calling for a different future – those demanding the devolution of powers back from Brussels and desperate for a progressive alternative,” he said.
“But for Europe, Britain voting to leave will be the beginning of something potentially even more exciting – the democratic liberation of a whole continent.”