The mood across the 28-nation bloc is more Eurosceptic than ever before; and perhaps the most significant development is in France itself. Whatever the crisis, it was always the mantra of the French establishment that we needed “more Europe”, not less. Fall of Berlin Wall? More Europe! Rise of China and other Asian economies? More Europe! Persistent youth unemployment? More Europe! Disaster of the euro? More Europe! The very launch of the Common Market – by men such as Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman – was French in its construction and inspiration. The assumption in Paris was always that we needed a Europe ever more politically and economically united – to restrain Germany and to allow France to continue to express herself on the world stage.
The former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, used to be one of those members of the European Council who could be counted on to call for more integration, whatever happened in the world. And now listen to him. Last week he said that the free movement of the Schengen system should be suspended, so that borders were no longer completely porous to those who were benefit tourists – and for good measure, he added that it was time for Brussels to hand back half of its decision-making to national authorities. Way to go, Sarko! He is speaking for huge numbers of people across the EU, and for the first time in his political career I expect he would get a standing ovation at a Tory party conference.
He is also reflecting the obvious: that there is a revolt going on – and we know how Brussels generally reacts to such vulgar expressions of democratic feeling. When people have voted against the federalist impulse in the past – like the populations of Denmark, or France – they have been asked to have another go; to vote again until they get the right answer. This time, I expect the Eurocracy will try to ignore the election results; they will try to brush them aside. Men like Jean-Claude Juncker, the ex-prime minister of Luxembourg (pop. the same as Wolverhampton) will appear on global media to denounce the European electorate for being so tasteless and irrelevant as to ask for change.
Well, he and his colleagues in the Euro-establishment are wrong; and so are those high-minded and snooty Euro-enthusiasts in Britain, who like to tell us that there is no way that the UK can embark on a renegotiation of the treaties – because there is no “support” for any such move in any other European capital. I am thinking of people like Ed Miliband, and Nick Clegg, and all the so-called experts and think tanks who say we have to accept the EU warts and all because that is all there is on offer.
They are wrong, wrong, wrong. This European election is an expression of revulsion and discontent and it is a mandate for reform. Across the EU, mainstream politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy are now saying what we Conservatives have been saying for years: that the EU needs to do less, to cost less, and to be less intrusive in the way it does it. There is only one government in Europe that has been campaigning solidly for the renegotiation that is needed, and that is David Cameron and the Conservative-led Coalition.
Now is the time for France, Germany and others to listen to Mr Sarkozy, and recognise that he is right. It isn’t good enough just to circle the wagons and tell the people of Europe to get stuffed, because next time the frustration of the electorate may be uncontainable. The message of the people to the Euro-nomenklatura is simple: changer ou mourir!