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Jan Ledóchowski



The EU Must Reform:

Far right anti-European parties are still on the rise in other countries and could pose further threats to the EU in the near future. Surely lessons should be drawn from the UK experience to improve the EU’s response? Even if there are no imminent threats of withdrawal by other countries, surely the EU should be doing more to increase its public support anyway?  Many of us strongly support the EU but we also feel it needs to adapt to survive and prosper.

Absent from the UK Referendum

As an ardent believer in the need for European unity, and by origin a de facto “European”, I was devastated by the referendum result. The strident nationalism, dishonesty and breathtaking cynicism of the “Brexit” leadership, their disregard for the contribution EU membership has made to inward investment into the UK, and the racist outbreaks they inspired, were shocking. Yet the exaggerated attacks by David Cameron and George Osborne against the EU in earlier years severely undermined their own credibility when they suddenly declared themselves in favour of Remaining in the EU they had been attacking.  The theme of their campaign, dubbed “Project Fear”, seemed to be that the costs of leaving would be excessive, implying that the EU is a necessary evil. The Brexit campaign had only to argue that leaving would be cost-free or that the costs would be rather small, for voters to conclude that the evil was unnecessary. Five months after the vote, British exports are benefiting from a lower sterling exchange rate and the economy is being boosted by lower interest rates and the higher budget deficits promised by May and Hammond. The tabloids can claim that Brexit is an economic success, without putting much emphasis on the fact that it has not yet happened, and that as its terms are unknown, no-one yet knows what the impact on inward foreign investment will be.

During all this time few strong voices were clearly heard saying that the EU is a good thing. The subject of all the argument, the EU itself, was completely absent.  The wildest fabrications went unchallenged and acquired the status of facts. Many are still being repeated today in general conversation.  The result was the Brexit vote.

The Reform Process

There seems to be wide agreement that the EU should be reformed. So what are we doing about it? Can we not get the process going, have a debate, make a short list, and get on with it?

Representative in Each Country

The EU has a representation and quite large offices in the UK but its representative has been remarkably low profile, or even silent, both during the referendum campaign and in earlier years.   Perhaps the EU leadership recommended such silence in order not to be accused of political interference, or perhaps the Cameron government welcomed or even requested this strategy.   Yet when press articles appear allegedly attacking countries such as Israel, Poland or Turkey, their London Ambassadors very often respond with press statements, interviews and letters to the leading newspapers defending their countries’ point of view, often quite vociferously.  Many people who are quite well informed seem to be unaware of the fact that the EU even has a representative in the UK, who might have been expected to have been quite a prominent voice during the campaign.  

Like other multi-national institutions the EU may believe that the job of sponsoring it in any country is best done by the local national government (which may have been expected to consider the benefits of membership as self-evident) to ensure that the sponsor has the best knowledge of local Public Relations (“PR”) requirements and is not prejudiced by xenophobic attitudes. Certainly the case for staying in the EU had to be led by the UK government. But in future this task cannot be left to the national government alone, first because it may not have enough knowledge to handle detailed questions about the EU, secondly because it may get some facts wrong, thirdly because it may only be lukewarm in its support, and fourthly because it may even be hostile to the EU, which is certainly true of at least several Ministers in the current UK government, and could be true of any new government elected in any EU country in the future.

The EU representative should not only be on site, but should be a native speaker, and be extremely well informed on how the local media is presenting news every day and should be able not only to support the national government but also to act independently if necessary by promoting the facts, correcting falsehoods and ideally influencing the debate.  This is a risky task requiring an extremely skilled and experienced person, and it is even more difficult and necessary where the local press is largely hostile, as it was in the UK.  Banks, large corporations, government ministries and even local authorities all have press departments.

A Club of Countries not a Dictatorship

Many ordinary people have been persuaded by anti-Europeans that the EU is really the European Commission, an enormous and sinister masonic-like organisation, distinctly unpleasant and inhuman, ruling Europe by dictat. Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers repeatedly portrayed the referendum as a David versus Goliath struggle between the humble British people and “Brussels”, the bloated dictatorial bureaucracy. This was deliberate because the Brexiteers knew this was the best way to gather support.

The presentation should in future be completely changed so the EU sounds more like a club of countries, in which the member governments (and Euro MEPs) elect/appoint the key officials and give them instructions on the general direction in which they as a club would like to go. The Brexit campaign would have found it far harder to persuade the British to abandon 27 other countries.

In The Times of 25th August 2016 Tim Montgomerie wrote that the British government should now stress that “the EU and the nations of Europe are not the same and that, while the former does not deserve our loyalty, the latter most certainly do”. European leaders “can be forgiven for assuming we haven’t only rejected the legalistic, slow-moving and dysfunctional EU, we have also rejected them personally….  Europe needs to know that we still see ourselves as fundamentally European.”

If and when the British government launches its charm offensive towards EU governments trying to divide them and get the maximum possible single market market membership at the lowest possible cost (or for free?), the Brexiteer claim that its quarrel is with “Brussels” not the EU countries should be turned on its head. The EU should make sure it is seen to be serving its members and not “Brussels”.

So Many Presidents

Why not change the English language titles of all those Presidents?  The Anglo-Saxon world is astonished and the tabloids highly entertained by the confusing multitude of “Presidents” in EU organisations. I suspect that this is a linguistic and cultural problem derived from the fact that in French there is no word for Chairman, usually translated as “Président”, or for Chief Executive, usually translated as “Président” or “Président Directeur Général (PDG)”. The “Speaker” of Parliament is translated as “Président”.  Other languages may not be as flexible as English but most of them have greater variety. In Polish the Head of State is known as “Prezydent”, but there is a somewhat different word for Chief Executive (“Prezes”) and very different words for Chairman (“Przewodniczący”) and the head of parliament (“Marshal”).  In German the “Chairman” of Audi is entitled “Vorsitzender des Vorstands” (Head of the Board of Management), not yet another President.

Today’s international language is English in which President is a rare title usually reserved for heads of state with great power and influence such as the President of the USA.  Why should the EU deliberately overuse this word so that its enemies can claim it is a hideously complicated multi-headed, or should I say “multi-Presidented”, monster with so many people with such pretentious titles?  It would seem so much less arrogant and threatening if titles for the current “Presidents” were used indicating an attitude of service to the people of the EU, such as:

Donald Tusk’s jobChairman of the European Council

Jean-Claude Juncker’s jobSecretary-General of the European Commission would be perfectly respectable, being also the title of the head of NATO and the head of the United Nations. It would also very much convey the message that the European Commission is there to serve its members and people. I would strongly resist the argument that this would be too humiliating, but as fall-back there is Chief Executive. Although still not quite right, it would at least be less inappropriate than President.

Mario-Draghi’s job: why not Governor of the European Central Bank? This is also used for the heads of the US Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of England and even the Banque de France.

Martin Shulz’ job: Speaker, the word used in both the USA and UK, would do fine.

The EU would present better and people would be  more likely to understand what these figures do.  

European Army

This seems an idea worth pursuing on condition that (a) it is accepted  by NATO; (b) it is voluntary, as Angela Merkel has promised several times, to make sure countries don’t feel bullied by Brussels yet again; (c) it gives cover for Germany to get over war guilt and finally re-arm properly; and (d) it is specifically designated to be used to protect threatened external borders such as Eastern Europe, Greece and Italy, which should at last be popular with a Europe terrified of more migrants.  If it will not do these things, it is not worth doing at all.

If on the other hand Germany will allow Europe to take more responsibility for problems in its immediate periphery including Syria and Ukraine then I would strongly support the European Army idea.  I respect Germany’s attempt to help Syrian victims of Russian bombardment but the military dimension cannot be left entirely to America.  If Europe had been more pro-active perhaps the plight of these refugees would not have been used in such a disgusting way by the Brexit campaign.

Jean-Claude Juncker

Does any normal mortal understand how the head of the European Commission is chosen? Or replaced?


Start with Public Relation

Public Relations ("PR") setbacks (if not outright defeats) for the EU in the UK, include the following:-

1. The EU request for £1.7 billion (€2.1 billion) in October 2014 was attacked by David Cameron when he claimed to have been “clubbed with a lead pipe in the library” in this “appalling” “unanticipated” “mugging”. The request resulted from a long-expected calculation showing that the UK’s economy had grown to be slightly bigger than forecast during the 12 years since 2002, and therefore that the UK’s contribution in respect of this period had to be slightly increased (1).  This adjustment represented 0.007 per cent of the UK GDP of around £ 2 trillion for each year and was therefore tiny in the grand scheme of things. As it had all been agreed so long ago, David Cameron’s attitude suggested a degree of bad faith towards the EU. Cameron may have thought that he was pandering to the eurosceptics in his party and weakening UKIP, but in fact he was giving attacks against the EU greater credibility. When he finally paid the requested amount he also looked inconsistent.  This story lingered on and was still in people’s minds when it came to the referendum.  It is still quoted to me today.

2. The claim that the UK "sends" the EU £350 million every week, equivalent to £18.2 billion pa, was a lie.  But the lie could be told because the true figure was not clearly and easily available in the first place.  The true net figure, £8.4 billion or £160 million per week (2), was never clearly and openly explained. Perhaps this was because the Remain camp was hoping everyone would forget. They did not forget and this became a major issue.

3. No-one understood what the net contribution is for. The Brexiteers were able to get away with giving the general impression that it is for “bloated EU bureaucracy” and “overpaid Brussels technocrats”. In fact about 45 per cent of the EU budget goes on structural and growth funds, about 42 per cent on agricultural funds and only about 6 per cent on administration (3). The biggest contributors are Germany, France, Italy and the UK (in that order) with Poland at eighth position, and the biggest beneficiaries are Poland, France, Spain and Germany (in that order) with the UK at ninth position (4). While agriculture is controversial, surely the regional funds, paid for by mainly richer countries, are decent and honourable and have done a lot of good in poorer parts of Europe over the years. Whatever the details, this is better than “bloated bureaucrats”. For one of the biggest and richest countries in the UK which benefits enormously from EU membership this next contribution is very good value.

4. Boris Johnson talked about about the bloated EU bureaucracy so much that practically everyone in the UK now believes it. No-one stated clearly and forcefully that it is rather small.  The European Commission says it has 33,000 employees (5). This is the same as the City of Leeds  (6) and much less than around 440,000 civil servants in the UK (7) and 1.6 million in Germany (8).  However something should perhaps be done about the ongoing waste of sending the Brussels parliament to Strasbourg once a month, that is so easy for hostile critics to attack. The laugh was when in November the press leaked a consultant's report estimating that the UK will itself have to hire just as many (30,000) bureaucrats to handle the consequences of Brexit, which leak the government promptly denied and hid under the carpet.

5. The British publicwas also persuaded that the EU is an undemocratic institution, a kind of quasi-dictatorship.  It was never stated clearly and forcefully that top EU officials are appointed by member governments which have themselves been democratically elected.   The UK’s top civil servants are not elected but appointed by an elected government. The secretary general of the United Nations is not elected by the whole world either.

6. "Take back control of our taxes" was another effective slogan.  Even the obvious point that income tax, capital gains tax, stamp duty and numerous other taxes are set by the British parliament itself was not clearly made.

7. Most people believe that that the European Commission’s auditors regularly refuse to sign its accounts. This is completely untrue - its accounts have been signed off by the European Court of Auditors for years (9).

8. Most of the British public has been persuaded that EU immigrants are a burden on the NHS. They are not. EU citizens represent around 4% of the British population but they represent 10% of doctors in the NHS. EU citizens shorten queues in the health service. They make a net positive contribution to the economy because a larger proportion of them are healthy young tax payers compared to the native population.

9. Most of the British public has been persuaded that immigration from the EU is its biggest problem. The fact is that non-EU immigration is bigger. There are more immigrants from each of China and India than there are from Poland. Non-EU immigration is not the fault of the EU. The UK could have stopped it by granting fewer visas and immigration permits at any time. In fact if the UK had stopped it completely, total net immigration even including immigration from the EU would have been negligible. (10)

10. The Brexiteers managed to scare the public into thinking EU membership will bring millions of Turks and Syrians into the country, a baseless lie. The UK is still a EU member and the Turks and Syrians are still not coming!

11. "What are the facts?" was a refrain frequently heard. The referendum campaign was not just won by the propaganda of the Brexiteers, it was also lost by an inadequate “defence” and an uninspiring Remain campaign.


While many people were persuaded to vote Leave by the argument that this was necessary to re-establish full British Immigration graphsovereignty, David Cameron was right that migration was the issue which mainly decided the outcome of the UK referendum.  With immigration from the EU running at close to 200,000 a year, the British public had simply had enough. Graphs like this (The Times 18th August 2016) still keep appearing.

It is unfair of a country which has 3 million Muslims and which has accepted and is accepting far more immigrants from outside the EU to complain about the smaller EU numbers, but the battle is not about being “fair”, it is about winning, and the Leavers scared the voters and won.

At the same time, thinkers in for example Poland deeply regret the continuous outflow of young people who would have made a significant contribution to their home countries but instead are now contributing to other, richer, EU economies, where many local people appear not to appreciate their contribution anyway.  The IMF estimates that the average East European economy’s GDP is now 7 per cent lower due to emigration (Financial Times 21st July, 2016).  The convergence of the economies of Europe is necessarily slow, and the migrations will continue for quite a few years.

The possible EU membership of  Turkey and Ukraine, with a total population of 125 million people, on average pretty poor by European standards, brings further controversy.  The eleven post-communist countries that joined the EU brought only 100 million people who were not quite as poor.  The Brexiteers claimed that millions of Turks, Syrian refugees and others were about to pour into the UK via the EU.  This was another lie and they are clearly not pouring in.  But in answer to it the EU camp could only argue that Turkish membership is an extremely remote and unlikely prospect – it could not say, bluntly, “no”, which would have been the only way to kill this argument. 

Surely EU leaders realise that in the current climate of Islamic terrorism, exploited by unscrupulous politicians, it is not just the UK but also French, German, Danish, Dutch and other richer country electorates that will simply not accept millions more migrants?

Surely therefore the EU should make it clear that whatever membership category (whether known as concentric circles or Continental Partnership or associate membership) is eventually offered to Turkey and Ukraine will not include freedom of movement. This would answer one of the strongest anti-European arguments.

The same deal could potentially be offered to the UK, although some may question whether a hostile government, whose official policy is to have its cake and eat it, and which is intent on humiliating if not destroying the EU, should be offered anything at all. Perhaps the EU is so sick of the rants by the English right wing press that it will change its migration policy only after getting rid of the UK first.

Listen and Change!

I have not addressed other important subjects such as the Eurozone’s problems and the EU’s growth rate generally.  Nor have I listed other good things the EU does, many quite inadequately proclaimed during the UK referendum campaign, such as promoting academic research cooperation between members and the excellent Erasmus student exchange programme.

Instead I have concentrated on some reforms which should be relatively easy to implement. Much more needs to be done, and regulations simplified and decentralised. Allegations that the EU is remote and arrogant will be proved right if it continues sleepwalking and refuses to change.

As the French say: "Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter".

Jan Ledóchowski

November 2016



(1) https://fullfact.org/europe/why-uk-being-asked-pay-17-billion-eu/

(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35943216

(3) http://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/money/expenditure_en

(4) http://community.openspending.org/resources/eu/funds/

(5) http://ec.europa.eu/civil_service/docs/hr_key_figures

(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeds_City_Council

(7) https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/

(8) German government website

(9) http://euromove.org.uk/mythbusters/

(10) During the year ended March 2016 non-EU immigration totalled 282,000. If it had been stopped, total net immigration would have fallen from 327,000 to 45,000.

Information on living family members will be included in this website only if submitted or approved by them. Informacja o żyjących członkach rodziny może zostać umieszczona na tych stronach jedynie w wypadku gdy dana osoba wyrazi zgodę. Jan Ledóchowski