The EU has failed to uphold democratic values

One of the defining features of the EU referendum campaign, and arguably a major factor in the vote for Brexit, was the seeming inability of the Remain side to say anything positive about the European Union. The message, from start to finish, was not so much that the EU was particularly good for Britain but that, like a drug addict, we could not now survive without it.

Memorably, arch-Remoaner Matthew Parris had six chances to present the EU in a positive light in his pre-referendum listicle for The Spectator, but squandered each of them bashing the Leave campaign. As Dan Hannan commented, it was ‘anti-Eurosceptic rather than pro-EU’. Asked by CfL’s good friend Viscount Ridley this month why no-one wanted to make a positive case for Remain, Parris admitted there was only a negative argument.

It really oughtn’t be a mystery to anyone why people voted Leave when even the EU’s most vocal supporters can’t bring themselves say anything nice about it. But how could they? A federal Europe, the cornerstone of the original movement, was stillborn after the Second World War with the French Non! and subsequently fading popular enthusiasm. Furthermore, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the EU has comprehensively failed to deliver its three stated aimspeace, prosperity, and democracy.

Consequently, like Communism in the second half of the 20th century, it has become a zombie project; an abject failure, which everyone now knows can never work, but which is kept in a state of undeath solely for the benefit of those who operate it. Consequently, it continues to mindlessly charge forward at a rabid pace, even when the results are inimical to its own stated interests. This was no more evident than in the rushed and entirely inappropriate admission of Romania to the Union nine years ago.

In doing so, the EU ignored its own Copenhagen criteria for admitting new members, one of many instances of Brussels creating rules and laws only to break them when they become politically inexpedient – all while ‘promoting’ the rule of law, of course. In order to qualify for membership, countries must have ‘achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.’

That Romania was nowhere near fulfilling this criteria was obvious to everyone – including the President of Romania. Train Băsescu, head of state between 2004 and 2014, went on record with astounding candour to admit ‘virtually all institutions of the state are affected by corruption’ and that ‘when the treaty is signed, Romania will not yet be prepared to meet the European Union’s standards.’ That this is still not the case is hardly a secret, with a resulting chilling effect for democracy throughout the continent, best exemplified by Poland and especially Hungary’s slide into autocracy.

Worse than this, however, is the fact the EU is actually enabling the Romanian government to crack down on critical media and control the judiciary under the pretence of ‘anti-corruption’. In a complete inversion of the EU’s stated aims, the anti-corruption programmes it encourages to belatedly bring Romania up to the standards it ought to have achieved before even joining the Union are being used as a smokescreen to snuff out democracy, free speech, and the rule of law.

There is no separation of political and judicial power in Romania, and the notorious National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) resembles a modern-day Committee of Public Safety. Today, very few independent newspapers and broadcasters have been spared prosecution, with the most familiar pattern being a publicly broadcast speech by the president or prime minister attacking proprietors as guilty of trumped-up charges which are then executed by prosecutors.

This happened to Dan Voiculescu, who owned a number of TV stations and newspapers such as Jurnalul Naţional, majority TV station owner Maricel Păcuraru, and media mogul Adrian Sârbu. But ignorance – or apathy – to the way in which the DNA is being abused is not the only way in which the EU is enabling the erosion of democracy in Romania and the continent. The European Arrest Warrant, which allows any EU member state to extradite citizens from another member state, has enabled the Romanian government to hound its critics beyond its own borders. Romania Liberă, the country’s oldest newspaper, was attacked in a similar manner and its proprietor, Dan Adamescu, was convicted of trumped up bribery charges in 2014. He was jailed in some of the most appalling prison conditions in Europe and his companies expropriated.

When his son Alexander, a German citizen resident in London who has never lived in Romania, filed arbitration proceedings for damages caused by this expropriation, an arrest warrant was swiftly issued by the Romanian authorities on the same charges as his father and he was arrested by British police, spending two nights in Wandsworth prison. The only way this extradition can be stopped is if it can be proven Adamescu’s warrant is political motivated and that he would suffer human rights abuses if he were extradited. But, despite both these things being true, this is where the Soviet-style logical fallacies of the EU come into play. If Romania’s courts were politically controlled then Romania would never have been able to join the EU just as, if Romanian prisoners faced human rights abuses, the 2007 accession would never have happened.

With these abuses in Romania, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán having successfully shut down the anti-government newspaper Nepszabadsag, and Poland’s government having approved a law sentencing anyone to three years’ imprisonment for referring to ‘Polish death camps’, the European Union has not only failed to uphold democratic values. Through its supposed anti-corruption drive and the European Arrest Warrant, it is complicit in the destruction of democratic values across the continent.

Paul is Creative Director for Conservatives for Liberty. Follow him on Twitter: @Whiggery

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty