Guy Verhofstadt’s 1984-style EU vision: ‘European empire’ plot laid bare | World | NewsFebruary 5, 2021
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The EU this week was accused of moving towards “vaccine nationalism” as the bloc attempted to thwart coronavirus vaccine doses headed for the UK. It came after Brussels failed in its ambitious vaccine procurement programme, in which member states opted in and gave the bloc authority to handle vaccine negotiations on their behalf. Having failed, while the UK’s vaccine programme hit the ground running, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to stop the transport of those vaccines produced in Europe bought by Britain.
AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company which developed one of the many vaccines in circulation, refined their jab at the University of Oxford, but has production facilities in the Netherlands and Belgium.
After much pressure, Ms von der Leyen triggered Article 16 of the Brexit deal, briefly putting in place a hard border on the island of Ireland, furthering an already fragile political landscape.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) criticised the EU’s announcement of export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc, with its vice-head Mariangela Simao describing Brussels’ actions as a “very worrying trend”.
The health outfit’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom, said such “vaccine nationalism” could lead to a “protracted recovery”.
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Many have noted that it appeared natural for the EU to embark on such “vaccine nationalism” given the bloc’s inherent protectionist leanings.
Snippets of this isolationism have surfaced throughout the years, perhaps none more obvious than from Guy Verhofstadt.
The MEP and EU Parliament Brexit Coordinator in a 2019 Maastricht speech invoked imperial nostalgia after he said the world of tomorrow was a world of “empires”.
He said: “The world of tomorrow will be totally different from the world of today.
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“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.
“And for that we need also a new political force in the EU and in the European debate.
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“A centrist, pro-European force, different from the old, tired socialist and conservative parties.
“The European People’s Party is so tired that they’re not even on stage this evening.
“That is the critical thing to do: A new Europe in a new world.”
Robert Tombs, the renowned British historian, told Express.co.uk that the Brexit debate had in part been characterised by Brexiteers holding a “nostalgia for the past”.
Yet it appears many European leaders hold a certain “imperial nostalgia”.
Mr Verhofstadt’s speech evoked an eerie parallel with George Orwell’s 1984, as talk of the separate empires, geographically speaking, mirrored the author’s warring states of Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia.
Wolfgang Streeck, the Germans sociologist, has characterised the EU as a “liberal empire”.
He previously said that it has its centre – France and Germany – and a periphery – southern and eastern Europe.
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It is true that Brussels has expanded into the sort of thing that would once have been described as an empire.
From its six founding members in 1957, the bloc has grown to today’s 27, with plans for six Western Balkan states to join by 2025.
In 2019, Mr Verhofstadt called for the creation of a “single Euro-African economic area”.
He said: “It would have an enormous potential that remains untapped: 1.5 billion consumers, €20trillion in value, able to rival China.”
Political commentator Fraser Myers noted later that year in a Spiked article that the call meant “re-colonisation by other means”.
Robert Tombs: The historian said Brexiteers were accused of ‘holding a nostalgia for the past’
The Liberal Democrats welcomed Mr Verhofstadt’s rhetoric, offering him a pedestal to push it at a party rally ahead of the UK’s 2019 general election.
His words are no new idea, as in 2017, the MEP suggested an association agreement between Britain and the EU based on Article 217 of the Lisbon Treaty could be “the best solution” to the Brexit deadlock.
This would have made the UK an “associate member” of the bloc, forced to pay a fee instead of signing a free trade agreement.
The Centre for European Policy also suggested this route for Britain earlier in 2017.
Its research paper said the UK could have followed a “Ukraine Plus” model and establish a relationship similar to what Ukraine has with the EU.
Former President of the European Free Trade Area Carl Baudenbacher criticised the Ukraine model, though, as it means Britain will still be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), something many Brexiteers wanted out of.
He described the move as potentially pitting Britain as part of the EU “empire” similar to that seen during the Roman Empire “under Trajan”.
‘This Sovereign Isle’, published by Allen Lane, is out now.