Last Friday, Mart Helme of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) announced that he would form a group in the Parliament in support of Estonia’s exit from the EU.
It is clear that this is a PR move: the referendum on marriage was cancelled, EKRE lost its place in the coalition and the people need to be whipped up by something. But we are not the UK, where the votes for and against the EU had always been equally divided. In Estonia, according to a poll taken a year ago, 49% had a positive view to the EU, 41% were neutral and only 9% took a negative view of it. Even if something has changed in a year, such a change is insignificant.
The economic benefits of the EU are obvious: in Europe, Estonia receives more money than it puts in. Maybe that is why Helme does not want to burn his bridges: “I have always been a supporter of the European Union as an economic community and a union of nations”, he says. “But we are against the European Commission becoming the EU government, against common European taxes and a united political ideology.”
As for the ideology, it is very funny considering that it is the diversity of ideologies – from communists to people like Helme himself – that often impedes decision-making at EU level. And what is wrong with, say, a European tax on technology companies? On the contrary: Estonia would not dare introduce it, but Brussels can speak with Google and Facebook on equal terms. And the money collected will benefit us too.
Actually, this is precisely where Helme and I differ on the EU. Where he is horrified by the infringement of sovereignty, I see the force that protects the interests of the country and individual groups of people as being a lot better than if we were to try to do this ourselves. It should be. But, alas, its protection is not enough. In terms of economics, the mechanism works: let me remind you that it was the European Commission that stopped the plan to transfer part of the funds allocated to Ida-Viru County to other counties.
However, in the social sphere, the EU could do much more – be it more, not less, centralised. And, certainly, Europe in its current form is afraid to deal with the matter of the rights of national minorities and linguistic minorities. By the way, this is precisely because of such adherents to national sovereignty, like Helme and his ilk.
By the way, a diplomatic scandal broke out last week, which highlighted the problem in full. During the visit of an EU delegation to Turkey, Erdogan at some point seated the President of the European Council Charles Michel in a neighbouring chair, and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, despite her higher status, had to huddle on a sofa. It looked awkward.
Maybe the protocol failed, or maybe this was Erdogan’s way of showing his attitude towards women. But the problem is that the EU really does not have a single leader. There are many power structures: the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of Europe – and it is difficult for them to come to an agreement. Moreover, the European Parliament has no right to initiate laws. And this uncertainty, which interferes with making the right decisions, is echoed in Euroscepticism. They say that the EU is working ineffectively – so why is this EU necessary?
That is the point: the EU would work better if Europe really had a single federal government – and a more modest parade of sovereignties. In calm times, the difference is not so noticeable. But this crisis is putting everything in its place – and if the EU does not get its act together, it truly risks collapsing. All on its own, without any need for help from Helmes.