We have been here before. We had exactly the same arguments over John Major’s decision to veto Jean-Luc Dehaene in 1994. The prime minister decided to show the world what he was made of and nuke the Belgian – and he did; at the Corfu summit. The result was that the other countries gave the job to another federalist – in this case Juncker’s former boss, the Luxembourg prime minister Jacques “le digestif” Santer. This did nothing to stop the forward creaking of the integrationist ratchet, and it cannot be said that the Santer commission was a marked improvement on what had gone before.
As far as I can remember, the whole lot of them resigned in confusion and disgrace. This time we might, I suppose, get someone who looked more promising and up-to-date – a Scandinavian female from the cast of Borgen, perhaps. But then again, we might not. One name being canvassed is that of Pascal Lamy, who used to run the World Trade Organisation. If what you want is efficiency and dynamism in the Brussels bureaucracy, then Pascal is your man. He is certainly brilliant. He used to be the chef de cabinet of Jacques Delors, and he made the whole thing run like a parade ground of the French Foreign Legion.
But in what sense would a Lamy commission be an improvement on a Juncker commission? From the point of view of a British Euro-sceptic, you could argue that he would be even worse: more formidable, more effective in pushing forward the whole federalist agenda. The deep and awful truth is that it doesn’t make much difference who is installed at the top of the Berlaymont. It doesn’t matter whether you have a Bofferding-quaffing Luxembourger or a dynamic French énarque or a Borgen-esque Scandiwegian or a statue of the Mannekin Pis as president of the EU commission.
It wouldn’t even make much difference if we could get Bill Cash or Norman Tebbit to run the place. No European Commission president has any real democratic legitimacy, contrary to what Juncker believes – and it is inconceivable that any one functionary could change the direction or the culture. The European Commission has a single aim, role, point, remit, charter, mission, purpose, function, ethic and ambition – and that is to uphold the treaties on European Union, as successively amended, and to bring forward legislation designed to promote ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.
This involves creating an ever more intricate system of government and ever more regulation of our lives. The only way to change the activities of the European Commission is to change the treaties; and as I never tire of pointing out, there is only one way to get that renegotiation followed by an in/out referendum, and that is to give David Cameron and the Conservatives the mandate they need at the next election. We either need a reform of the EU that boils it down to the single market, or we need to get out. We need to stop subcontracting our democracy to the EU.
Can you name the entire Cabinet? Can you name the shadow cabinet? Twenty or 30 years ago I think it would have been easier. British politics is visibly dwindling, as decisions are anaesthetically taken in Brussels. In the end we will pay a terrible price for this moral weakness. As we have seen in the immigration debate, the British people are suddenly furious to find that fundamental questions are no longer controlled by the people they elect. In the meantime I suppose we can gratify our irritation by vetoing poor old Juncker – who always struck me as rather a nice chap. But it is the quintessence of turd-polishing pointlessness.
It is like trying to swat a fly on the leg of the rhino that is standing on your chest. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a cochon.