Few decent people would question the nobility of the original European idea. Almost all of us value free trade, international cooperation and mutual goodwill. None of us wants to return to the bloodshed of earlier centuries.
In recent years, however, Europe has fallen under the control of a new ruling class that has obtained powers which it has no democratic right to exercise.
Think of it like this: the European Union has abolished politics. Highly susceptible to lobby groups and large corporations, it is now out of reach to political parties and national politicians. This is far more dangerous than has yet been realised. Again and again national leaders are finding themselves accountable for decisions they haven’t made and can’t alter.
Let’s take the example of the single currency, which seemed such a good idea to EU bosses. The abolition of national currencies means that states can no longer manage their own economies, and are governed instead by international bankers, in cooperation with Brussels commissioners. This is the cause of social and political collapse in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
Another case in point has been freedom of movement, in essence such a wonderful idea, which makes perfect sense between convergent economies such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany.
But freedom of movement between advanced economies such as Britain and underdeveloped countries causes grotesque distortions. On January 1 transitional controls are to be lifted, meaning that migrants from Bulgaria and Romania will be free to move around the rest of the European Union.
The facts are eloquent: the average wage in Britain is about £20,000 a year, compared with just over £3,000 in Bulgaria and £4,000 in Romania. This means that the vast majority of Bulgarians are living far below what we in Britain are privileged to regard as the poverty line. The average earnings in these deprived Eastern European states are considerably less than half our minimum wage.
This enormous disparity means that it would be economic madness for Bulgarians and Romanians not to take advantage of the freedoms they are suddenly being offered. A large number of them are certain to travel to Britain (and other EU states) next year. Exactly how many it is difficult to say. Ten years ago, when transitional controls were lifted for Poles, Labour ministers said that no more than 13,000 would enter Britain every year. In the event around one million came.
There are reasons to doubt that the influx will be so large this time. Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch (disgracefully treated by the BBC as a Right-wing alarmist 10 years ago) has provided more accurate, responsible and truthful predictions than anyone else. He guesses that around 250,000 additional migrants will travel to Britain over the next five years.
Among them will be an unknown number of Roma, a wandering people who are thought by some scholars to have come to Europe after a long migration from the modern Indian state of Rajastan. They have every incentive to escape from Eastern Europe, where they have been cruelly persecuted and are often viewed as criminals. Whether they receive a warm welcome in Britain remains to be seen. Earlier this week, David Blunkett, a former Labour home secretary, warned that their arrival might spark riots.
I wonder whether Mr Blunkett, who was speaking out on the basis of problems with Roma in his Sheffield constituency, was wise to make his inflammatory remarks. Yet, he is a politician. He surely has a duty to speak up for his voters. Nobody in Britain–or any other European country–has voted for this fresh wave of immigration. Nobody asked for it, and almost nobody wants it.
This is the trouble with the European Union. Decisions are made, no one knows where, which have enormous consequences for the lives of ordinary people, and local politicians are helpless.
The new migrants will be hungry for jobs, and are bound to price some British workers out of the market. They will have the right to use our schools and NHS, which are already creaking. They will need housing, and welfare benefits.
This is not a selfish Right-wing cause, as some still assert. The British Labour Party, backed by the trade union movement, fought a great, honourable battle in the last century for dignity of labour and fair pay. This is all being lost, thanks in part to the arrival of waves of cheap labour from the east. Big business benefits hugely, and the affluent middle classes get access to cheap domestic help. But there is a cost to the social fabric, and it is always the poor and powerless who pay the highest price.
The decision will be enforced by anonymous officials and jurists. Without intending to, the European Union is turning into the enemy of democracy.
David Cameron is reduced to the role of a spectator in a country that he has been elected to govern. Ed Miliband may be Labour leader, but he is an observer as well. Neither politician has tried to defend the influx of migrant workers, which is understandable because it wasn’t their decision. But they can’t attack it either. As a result, an important issue that is likely viscerally to affect the lives of many British citizens has been sucked out of public discourse and the democratic arena. Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative are united in impotence and uselessness.
There is no way out. Free movement of people is one of the core principles of the European Union. The relevant directive gives limited scope to exclude individuals on grounds of “public policy, public security or public health” but no scope at all to impede the kind of large-scale migration which may occur next year.
This is madness. It brings politics into grave disrepute, and thus grants legitimacy to extremists. This makes me wonder whether Mr Cameron, after all, might be right to attempt some sort of action. It would probably have to be unilateral, and it would certainly mean taking a huge risk.
It is open to the Prime Minister to introduce primary legislation declaring that Bulgarians and Romanians will not be allowed into Britain until suitable arrangements have been made to smooth their arrival.
Mr Cameron should also seek the support of fellow European leaders, almost all of whom have just as much reason to fear further migration. He could urge them to hold an emergency Intergovernmental Conference, which could extend the transitional period by a few years.
The moral case for such drastic action is very strong. Despite tentative signs of recovery, Britain still faces an economic emergency. Nearly one million young people, almost 20 per cent of the labour force under 25, are out of work. Some of their jobs would surely go to the new Eastern European migrants. Mr Cameron should argue that this is a situation no civilised government can tolerate.
The Commission would take Britain to court, and we would lose. But I guess Mr Cameron would enjoy great sympathy among his fellow European national leaders. They too are victims of the European crisis of democracy. If the Prime Minister does not act, only Ukip will be left speaking in a language that makes any kind of sense to ordinary voters.