The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Agreement in Athens

Dr Helen Szamuely

Under the Acropolis they all met and signed the accession treaty – the fifteen member states and the applicant countries. The symbolism was supposed to be overwhelming: one of the most enduring symbols of European civilization (alas ruined and the ruins not very well looked after, but you cannot have everything) looking down benignly through the pervasive Athenian smog at …. Well, what? Even the lyrical account given by AFP had to become prosaic at this stage and mutter about 10 countries “inking their entry into the EU family”. Hardly Plato or Aristotle in its ideas or language; just a dodgy political deal.

The Greek Prime Minister waxed lyrical: “The enlarged Union guarantees a future of peace, stability and prosperity for its members and neighbours.” Not in Athens it did not. There 10,000 police officers, detailed to protect the 220 officials that included the ubiquitous Kofi Annan, fought a pitched battle with hooligans who, as usual, broke away from a large anti-everything demonstration. Luckily, there was no violence during the ceremony itself – Prime Minister Blair and President Chirac were kept apart by their colleagues.

Luckily, there was no violence during the ceremony itself – Prime Minister Blair and President Chirac were kept apart by their colleagues

The demonstration in Athens was against the Iraqi war (a little late, since that is over bar the shouting), globalization and assorted other evils such as Macdonald’s, coca cola and so on. Curiously, there was no demonstration against the patent lack of democracy in the European Union and the equally obvious chicanery of the enlargement negotiations and treaty signing. For instance, who has actually read the accession treaty that was being signed with such pomp and circumstance? Its 5,000 pages were made available on the net a week or so before the actual ceremony. Should we assume that the politicians and the officials spent the preceding five days feverishly going through all the detailed agreements? I think not. I think they signed hoping that there was nothing too dreadful in those 5,000 pages and if there was, it will come to light after their own retirement.

In any case, only three of the applicant countries have held the necessary referendum that would give popular approval to the move. Others may vote differently in the next few months.

Slovenia may have voted overwhelmingly in favour but Malta havered, eventually voting yes with a small majority and re-electing the pro-EU Nationalist government by an equally narrow margin. The Maltese may well find, too late, that they had been sold a pig in the poke. Much of the pro-EU campaign focused not on some theoretical good but on the supposed 30 million Maltese lira (£50 million) this well-off nation would receive from Big Brother in Brussels. However, a detailed calculation quoted by Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph shows that when all the costs are thrown into the pot the figure is different. The Maltese are likely to find themselves to be paying out £82 million to receive £50 million. How sad.

The Maltese are likely to find themselves to be paying out £82 million to receive £50 million

What of the Hungarian vote, trumpeted by headlines as being stupendous and overwhelming? It is all of that, if one quotes only the fact that 87% voted in favour of joining the EU. Alas, only 46% turned out to vote at all. That makes the support considerably less than half the electorate. Why did they not turn out? Part of the explanation lies in the usual East European attitude to politics: whatever is intended by the political elite will happen anyway, we had better ignore it and get on with our own lives. But there is more to it than that. Given the amount of money that was spent on pro-EU propaganda; given that all the main parties and media outlets were in favour; given that the only groups and parties campaigning for a No vote were the unreconstructed Communists and Nationalists that verge on fascism, neither of whom appeals to the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian voters; the only way those voters could express their doubts and discontent was by not turning up to vote, thus undermining the legitimacy of the Hungarian supposedly popular approval.

...only 46% turned out to vote at all. That makes the support considerably less than half the electorate

Not that the EU has shown all that much concern for democratic niceties or legitimacy in the past, but it has become worried recently about the lack of either. The much trumpeted signing of the treaty under the shade of the Acropolis is not likely to dispel those worries.