A shipping clerk on the quays of Antwerp exposed the reality that King Leopold’s ‘Belgian’ Congo – a supposedly benevolent empire built by a man lauded by anti-slavery groups – was actually a brutal colony built on slavery.
There are figures in today’s Brussels intent on building a new empire. They too use benevolent language to disguise a dangerous truth.
After the back-slapping of the recent Treaty of Rome anniversary celebrations, it’s time to take a hard look at the EU, where it is going, how it works and how it has changed.
In 1973 Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC), ostensibly a free trade organisation.
Today the EU is a political union where many in key positions – such as EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker and senior MEP and former Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt – seek a federal state with tax raising powers and an EU army.
For too long, we in Ireland have ignored the drift towards an EU Superstate and accepted as fact, claims that the EU always acts in the best interest of citizens.
We are told that to criticise any EU policy is to be ‘anti-European’. But we need to move past the idea that you are either for or against Europe. We need to discuss the EU as it is today rather than harking back to the EEC’s role in social issues here in the 1970s.
Since my election as MEP, I have been struck by the extent to which many at senior levels within the EU are committed to creating a Federal European superstate.
I have also been struck by the huge level of corporate lobbying in Brussels that would make a Washington insider blush.
There are 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone with lobbyists estimated to impact on over 70% of legislation.
The Brussels elite is deeply interconnected with corporate and financial interests.
ECB President Mario Draghi came to Brussels from Goldman Sachs, while former EU Commission President Jose Manual Barroso went straight from Brussels to work for Goldman Sachs.
The European Ombudsman has re-opened an inquiry into Mario Draghi’s membership of the Group of Thirty, a body that includes executives from several senior private banks.
Today’s EU is wedded to neoliberal policies which even many within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) now admit are flawed.
These have created widespread hardship as austerity, deregulation and privatisation undermine the social function of states and the rights of workers.
Patients are dying in Greece as the public health system disintegrates under the unbearable burden of EU-imposed austerity.
Increasingly, people across Europe are uncomfortable with the EU’s direction. This is manifested in the growth of far right parties who exploit people’s real concerns regarding the direction of the EU.
Such groups fill a gap created by the failure of social democratic parties to defend the rights of nation states and their citizens.
The European federal project was clearly rejected when people in France and the Netherlands voted down the proposed EU constitution in 2004.
The response of the EU establishment was to ignore democracy and reframe the constitution into a Lisbon Treaty which wasn’t put to electorates – other than in Ireland – and we know how that went!
Since then, the chasm between how the average citizen perceives the EU and the plans of the proponents of further integration have widened.
More and more people struggling in low paid, precarious work with increasingly privatised public services and declining social protections are alienated from the European Union.
The arrogance of the EU elite was starkly exposed when the head of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem recently dismissed the hardships of peripheral states – brought on by flaws within the common currency – as like a man who has spent all his money on “women and drink” and should not be bailed out.
Some assumed that Brexit would prompt a much needed re-think in Brussels regarding the push for further integration. But it now appears it is prompting some to demand an acceleration of this process.
Federalists see Brexit as an opportunity to reform the EU, in the words of Guy Verhofstadt, “in the model of the American federal government.”
Verhofstadt has also call for a defence where “The soldiers of the European Army will wear the same uniform with the same EU insignia”.
Irish voters, concerned at this, should be aware that Verhofstadt is the leader of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe to which Fianna Fáil is aligned.
Meanwhile, Mario Monti, Chairman of the EU High Level Group on Own Resources, is bringing forward proposals to enable the EU to directly raise tax revenue.
Like Verhofstadt, Monti is a member of the Spinelli Group, set up to pursue EU federalisation.
The recent election of Antonio Tajani, a close ally of Silvio Berlusconi
who, as Commissioner for Industry, ignored warnings about what became the Volkswagen emissions scandal, reinforces the sense that something is rotten at the EU’s core.
Some of Sinn Féin’s political opponents have sought to portray our opposition to Brexit as a change in policy from our previous opposition to the Lisbon Treaty. It is not.
The Lisbon Treaty was a bad deal for Ireland. Brexit is also bad for Ireland. Sinn Féin opposed both and we are to the forefront of the campaign to minimise the negative implications of Brexit.
We have demanded special status for the North of Ireland within the EU, reflecting the democratic wishes of the people there.
Fine Gael, like their allies in Brussels, see more-EU, more-federalism and less democracy as the answer to everything.
But the people of Ireland, and indeed of Europe, don’t want an EU Superstate.
Sinn Féin and the progressive left across Europe seek a different Europe and a change of direction.
Powers will have to be returned to states. Brussels will have to be cleaned up. The federalists will have to be reigned in.
The European Union must become a cooperative union of nation states committed to working together on issues such as climate change, migration, trade and using our common strengths to improve the lives of citizens. If it does not, EU disintegration becomes a real possibility.
*Matt Carthy is a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) Committee and Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee