Why Juncker Is Wrong: The Good Ship Europe Is Sinking

13/09/2017 11:56
PATRICK HERTZOG via Getty Images

The wind, says Jean-Claude Juncker, is back in Europe's sails. How wrong he is. In fact, the good ship Europe is sinking.

Ian Kearns and I have tried to sketch out the looming crisis weakening the West beyond the tragi-comedy of Brexit; the threats at our borders from countries like Russia, the new ambitions of China to roll East, and the crisis in the Atlantic alliance with America.

But perhaps most corrosive of all, is the creeping crisis of democratic values threatening our ideals within Europe itself.

If there is one idea at the absolute core of European values, and indeed the European Convention on Human Rights, it is the idea of the rule of law. But what does that actually mean?

Well, in 2016 the Venice Commission -- part of the Council of Europe -- drew up a checklist around the consensus of the core elements covered by notions like Rule of Law, Rechtsstaat and État de droit. They are simple common sense ideals like: legality, legal certainty, the prohibition of arbitrariness, access to justice, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and equality before the law. Basic stuff.

But at last week's Council of Europe committee in Paris, a draft motion was passed revealing just how these ideas are under threat across a host of European nations. The key resolution is blunt. It warns that recent events "put at risk respect for the rule of law, and, in particular, the independence of the judiciary and the principle of the separation of powers."

"This is mainly due to tendencies to:

limit the independence of the judiciary made though attempts to politicize the judicial councils and the courts (mainly in Bulgaria, Poland and Turkey),

massive revocation of judges and prosecutors (Turkey) or attempts to do so (Poland) and;

tendencies to limit the legislative power of the parliament (the Republic of Moldova, Romania and Turkey).

Moreover, corruption, which is a major challenge to the rule of law, remains a wide-spread phenomenon in Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova and Romania."

This is, bluntly, a crisis of values that demands our attention. The West cannot be strong abroad, when its basic ideals, its traditions, its way of life, are in such peril at home. Not least when this failure is coupled with such a faltering economic performance.

One way to look at this to look at this is to look the economic growth rates in economically and politically 'free' countries like Europe compared to the 'unfree' nations. If you believe that economic and political freedom are linked (as I do), you would assume that 'free' countries grow faster. For much of the post-war era that has indeed been true. But no longer.

Back in 1980, countries defined as more economically free (using data from the Canadian-based Fraser Institute) grew on average by 3.8% - that's much faster than the 2.1% scored in nations with a below average 'economic freedom' score. By 2014, a different story emerges. Nations with a below average economic freedom score are growing at 3.97% - as opposed to the 3.1% scored in nations that are more free.

So: is the wind back in Europe's sails? I don't think so. Indeed, the biggest threat to Europe's future is precisely the sort of complacency that Mr Juncker offered us with such ill-judged brio.

Liam Byrne is the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill