“Did you know what you voted for back in 2016?
Brexiteers will be all too familiar with that question. But what would Remain voters make of the big decisions taken in Brussels this past week?
Four long nights of talks saw EU leaders strike a deal on the bloc's next seven-year budget, worth just over one trillion pounds (€1.1 trillion).
They also agreed a scheme of €750 billion (£680 billion) in grants and loans to counter the impact of the pandemic across the 27-member bloc, the biggest joint borrowing scheme in the EU’s history.
MEPs put their summer holiday plans on hold to comb over the fine print yesterday, many of whom fumed that it didn’t go far enough.
European Council president Charles Michel said it was “a pivotal moment” for the EU, while Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “historic”.
Ex-Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, now an MEP, called it the biggest “leap forward” for the EU since the creation of the euro and the single market.
It is clear now that the ‘pesky’ Brits are no longer around, Eurocrats are daring to dream once more of deeper European integration.
Gone are the days when Eurosceptic-lite countries, such as the Netherlands, could hide behind the UK when trying to vote down policies they didn’t like.
Seasoned Brussels watchers might say this is old news. Yet the spectre of inevitably more Europe was dismissed as Faragist fantasy back in 2016.
EU leaders say these exceptional times call for exceptional measures. They believe that a series of EU taxes will help foot the bill.
But much of the blueprint to reboot Europe’s economy from the coronavirus pandemic bears an uncanny resemblance to von der Leyen’s own ‘manifesto’ published before she took office last year – and very little resemblance to the election pledges of the EU heads of state and government.
In fact, many of these ideas have been kicking around for years. Either in the bowels of the Berlaymont, the Commission’s headquarters, or in the policy papers of well-funded EU think tanks with links to Europe’s biggest political parties.
The wish list includes EU digital taxes, green taxes, and even a possible financial transaction tax – once branded by George Osborne as “a big tax on pensioners” in the pages of this very newspaper.
A "single rulebook" for corporate taxes is also on von der Leyen's agenda.
All this might send shivers up the spines of even the most ardent Remainers.
Just ask Tony Blair.
In his first two terms as prime minister, he regularly clashed with the then-Commission president Romano Prodi. The Italian wanted Britain to surrender its veto and grant the EU more tax-raising powers.
Fast forward two decades: the band line-up has changed, yet everyone is still singing very much from the same hymn sheet.
To their credit, Brussels realises that they have their work cut out to get voters on board.
A 2017 paper for the Commission, entitled ‘the Future of Europe’, said having the EU do more risks is “alienating parts of society which feel that the EU lacks legitimacy.”
Eurocrats are organising a conference of the same name that starts this year “to give Europeans a greater say on what the European Union does and how it works for them.”
Verhofstadt, a sworn federalist, is widely tipped to chair the event after having missed out on a top EU job last year.
“Even if you agree that Brexit was a complete gamble, it certainly looks like a pretty good bet now,” one conservative European Parliament aide told me after the new EU budget was agreed earlier this week.
Beleaguered Remain campaigners, take note. The EU you want to rejoin is likely to look quite different indeed in a few years’ time.
Is that what you voted for in 2016?”
Apologies for the C&P.
It’s behind a paywall in the DT.
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