The President of the European Commission is not a man usually on my Christmas card list; but this year, I might just make him an exception. Unintentionally, and perhaps even unbeknown to him, he has done the United Kingdom a great favour: his candour has provided a very clear focus on the dilemma facing us over our relationship with the European project.
Within a matter of just over a month, the ‘free movement of labour’ provisions of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania risks a tidal wave of migrants flooding into the United Kingdom. The Labour party – who declined to make transitional arrangements when in office – are giving voice to predictable discontent, despite admitting the use of earlier EU migration as a mechanism to effect a tacit incomes policy. They anticipated just 13,000 Poles coming to the UK nearly a decade ago; the actual figure was more than a million. Yet whilst they carp about what is proposed, they are, simultaneously, claiming ownership of the Government’s plan to ensure that EU migrants arriving at our shores will not be able to receive out-of-work benefits for their first three months in the country.
But the Labour party’s ambiguity on this is far from the most important response to these measures. Undoubtedly, the utterances of various European Commissioners will resonate long after 1 January 2014 has passed. Responding to the Government’s proposals, Mr Barroso decried the settled political consensus in the United Kingdom, by proclaiming that our response would violate a ‘fundamental’ EU principle ‘which must be upheld’.
Not wishing to be outdone by his boss, the Commissioner for Employment joined the incandescent chorus of rage by declaring the proposals an ‘unfortunate over-reaction’, followed-up by a threat that we should not dare to challenge the integrity of the single market.
The Commission describe the measures as ‘nasty’ and ‘hysterical’; but what the Government is doing is little more than that which the government of any sovereign democracy should regard as the bare minimum: responding to the wishes of the population in whose name they act in office. National governments and parliaments are well placed to make decisions on the basis of a ‘demos’ to whom they are accountable. The fundamental problem of the European institutions is that they are too remote and detached from the people who are bound by their diktats.