On balance, I find it highly unlikely that the EU is capable of serious reform. So let’s lead the way on leaving it
Can the EU become the sort of institution that the UK wants to remain a member of? Remainers seem to think so—but I’m not so sure.
The Remain camp continually argues for staying in a reformed EU. Whilst acknowledging that the EU was and is far from perfect, they maintain that, if the UK stayed a member, we could push forward a process of internal reform leading to a more satisfactory non-Brexit future.
I call those who advocate this argument the Reluctant Remainers. Theirs is still a valid proposition, given the push for a second vote, and should be considered carefully.
What would “reform” actually mean?
It is difficult to nail down exactly what could be meant by a reformed EU, and which areas require reform, but I will give it a go.
Firstly, as sovereignty was a key determining factor for voters, would a future EU be prepared to roll back its ambitions with regards to further control over national decision-making?
The answer to this, at least, is relatively straightforward. It is highly improbable that the EU would row back on this, as it plans its own Treasury and the creation of a Fiscal Union. It is also rolling out further and deeper integration in the energy markets via the European Energy Union, and taking greater control of the internet and e-commerce via the creation of the Digital Single Market.
Additionally, the EU has launched the Common Defence Fund and the European Education Area. Put these moves together, and it becomes apparent that the EU is unlikely to ever repatriate or downgrade powers to its Member States.
A diminished voice for the UK
Secondly, pressure from other European leaders who have very strong integrationist agendas, notably Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Mariano Rajoy, make “more Europe” much more likely than “less Europe.” The ease with which blocking minorities can be mounted at the European Council under Qualified Majority Voting means that the UK’s voice would have even less impact.
The Council, too, will be more interested in squashing any Eurosceptic voices following recent shock results at the national ballot boxes across Europe and why so much effort is being made to exclude Eurosceptic parties from the 2019 EU Elections.
Thirdly, we can look at the nature of how the EU conducts itself and consider whether it can reform itself in this area.
The refusal of the EU to become more transparent in its decision-making (the number of closed-door meetings at the Commission exceeds 3,000 annually) makes this highly improbable.
An “ever deeper union”
The persistent revolving-door culture coupled with the huge number (over 30,000) of active lobbyists at work in Brussels also counts against any meaningful decision-making transparency.
Meanwhile, the parachuting in of EU favourites continues unabated—as the appointment of Martin Selmayr as the Commission’s Secretary General all too clearly shows.
Finally, the proposed expansion of the EU into the Western Balkans and the likely membership of Albania, Bosnia Hercegovina, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia bolsters EU support.
All are considerably poorer than the EU28 and will require significant levels of funding, but buying their EU loyalty will ensure little if any resistance to on-going EU federalism. All have high levels of unemployment and low wages, highly attractive to big EU-supporting corporates, even if their electorates will balk at the levels of potential migration and associated tensions that might follow.
On balance, I find it highly unlikely that the EU is capable of meaningful reform and that the EU juggernaut of ‘ever deeper union’ will roll on, until the bloc, inevitably, splits at the seams.
The more that post-Brexit Britain flourishes the greater the likelihood of a queue forming at the exit door.
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