Two weeks ago, Nigel Farage was invited by the Flemish nationalist and conservative student association KVHV to give a guest lecture at Ghent University, Belgium. In his speech, Farage lashed out at the European Union and plead for a restoration of self-government and the sovereignty of nation-states.
The Flemish nationalist student body KVHV, which organised the event, boasts as its former members amongst others former Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens (CVP, now CD&V), the major of Antwerp and chairman of the N-VA Bart De Wever and the current Belgian minister of the Interior Jan Jambon (N-VA). With Tom Van Grieken, the chairman of the far right Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang, present in the audience, Farage delivered a 30-minute speech in favour of the nation-state.
Ironically enough, Farage began with a plea for a free democratic debate as opposed to the open tribal warfare, which increasingly pollutes and distorts every attempt at genuine political debate, only to lash out at the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel throughout his talk.
Let’s turn to the content of the speech.
The former UKIP leader and current chairman of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EDF) in the European Parliament set out to depict the European Union as a non-democratic body. After all, it is an unelected European Commission that has the sole right to propose and repeal legislation, while the elected European Parliament primarily serves as an upper chamber, only capable of changing bits and pieces.
Additionally, according to Farage, it’s increasingly becoming irrelevant who wins national elections, since “whether it’s in environmental law, whether it’s health and safety at work, whether it’s which countries around the world we have our trade deals with – in vast sways of our national life, our national governments effectively have become subordinate to the European system of lawmaking”.
Farage’s distaste of the European Union is perfectly encapsulated in the following quote:
I love Europe; I love the social, economic, political, cultural diversity that exists within this fantastic continent. What I absolutely loathe, is the attempt to bring all these different people together under one form of government and to think that it could ever actually work, because it can’t.
Even though Farage hoped that the EU would learn its lesson from the Brexit-referendum, which sent a clear signal for less union and more self-government, Juncker’s latest State of the Union seems to him to have missed the point completely. Instead of less union, the focus lies on a common European army and a harmonization of European foreign policy.
In the eurozone, there’s even talk about a potential European minister of Finance, who would oversee the budgets of each and every member state. According to Farage, “whether it’s in terms of military, whether it’s in terms of foreign policy, whether it’s in terms of the operating of the eurozone, the lesson from Brexit they’ve taken is more, more, more.”
Nevertheless, he continued by stating that “2016 saw a couple of body blows against the globalists – there was Brexit, there was Trump – and that revolution is now rolling out across the entire Western world – just look at the new government in Italy.”
Authoritarian EU hopelessly beyond reform
For Farage, the EU is hopelessly beyond reform. While it initially started as a sound idea to safeguard the stability of the continent in the wake of the First and Second World War, the EU itself has now become an authoritarian body. As examples, Farage cited the treatment British Prime Minister Theresa May received at the informal EU summit in Salzburg – even though Farage could hardly be called a fan of hers – and the way Hungary and Poland are being coerced into the Western European standard and norms.
Moreover, the European Union seems to become increasingly divisive, as is evident from the increasing East to West division, in terms of immigration policy, and the Southern-Northern split when it comes to budget deficits and economic policy. According to Farage “in no way has this European project brought the peoples of Europe together. In fact, I would argue it’s now beginning to divide them.”
Therefore, for Farage the solution lies in a Europe of sovereign nation-states and not in an overarching European Union. Hence for him, the Brexit is only the first stepping stone and if the current policy continues other countries will definitively follow. After all, Farage doesn’t think there is such a thing as a ‘common European identity’; Europe is made up of very different peoples and cultures.
As such, the importance of the upcoming European elections in May 2019 should not be underestimated. It will serve as proof as to which course the European electorate wants to take – more union or more self-government.