EU crisis: Coronavirus response shows cracks in ‘United States of Europe’, ex-MEP admits

And Hans-Olaf Henkel has suggested Brexit was just the first symptom of a malaise which is now afflicting the entire bloc as countries become increasingly resentful of what he called endless “Europeanisation”. The EU has faced criticism for its stilted response to the pandemic, and its troubles were encapsulated by a huge row over the so-called coronavirus bonds – which would have allowed debt to be issued collectively, to the EU27, rather than to individual member states, in order to mitigate economic damage. Italy was pushing the idea, with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed, fearing the result would be out-of-control spending with northern European countries left to pick up the costs.

Mr Henkel told one the difficulties the EU was now facing stemmed from poor expectation management.

He said: “I think the problem is that the expectations on the response to the crisis do not match the reality of the European Union.

“European Union is not the United States of Europe, it is a group of 27 independent nations.

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“There are some things they have agreed to in common like the common market, which is an excellent tool, the best thing the European Union has ever achieved.

“But there are many other things they can’t do in common, like health policy, which is not part of Brussels’ responsibility.”

The trouble was, Brussels has increasingly attempted to push its way into all corners of people’s lives, Mr Henkel said.

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He added: “In particular the European Parliament and to a certain extent also the European Commission, and of course the European Council, are not so honest.

“They pretend as if the EU was a nation. They even have a national anthem, Ode To Joy, which is crazy.

“They should have been honest to these people and say, Look, folks, we are only doing those things together, which we can do together better than individually.

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“But for them many Europhiles, the EU has become an objective in itself.

“They should admit that we are not a United States of Europe, they should admit that in certain areas it is better to solve a problem in the country.”

The extent to which national identities override the Europe-wide concept fostered by Brussels was illustrated by the speed with which borders were reimposed by nation-states as COVID-19 began to spread across the continent.

Asked whether the situation had undermined the EU’s authority – and credibility – Mr Henkel said: “When the borders went up, it was not really Brussels undermined its own authority – the individual countries did that, with everybody for his own benefit and for his own good.

“But the answer is yes, I think that is absolutely right.

“However, there could be also a healthy outcome at the very end.

“Maybe there is some realisation that they have gone with a Europeanisation much too far.”

Britain’s departure from EU had marked a crucial turning point in the bloc’s recent history, Mr Henkel said, explaining: “The first victim of this ‘too much Europe’ was in my view, Brexit.

“Because Britain would never have left if Brussels had not constantly tried to assume power over things they should really do.

“And that was finally as we all know, the real reason for the referendum.”

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