We’ve had the rival launches, in which cheesy celebs and tawdry men in suits swapped platitudes about Europe. Now we’re going to get the letter: David Cameron is being forced to write down his demands before the other EU governments will begin negotiations. All this in preparation for a referendum whose date has not yet been set.

Writing stuff down is good – and too rarely done in international diplomacy. What you think is wrong with the EU, and what you want done about it, will vary widely depending where in Britain you live, your class, age and ideals. My hunch is that, if we all did this, and loaded the results into some vast database, the real problem with Europe would emerge. It is power – and the lack of democratic control over it.

I have no prior hostility to the EU. But the first time you have to lug TV production kit around the stairs and tunnels at Rond-Point Schuman in Brussels, beneath the unfriendly gaze of armed Belgian cops, you begin to realise how unequal power is in this semi-superstate. The architecture of power in Brussels is faceless: it seems to embody the determination to dissolve political traditions into a monolith.

The sheer size of the EU directorates makes them susceptible only to two kinds of influence: global corporations and pan-national industry lobby groups. That means, for businesses, it is almost impossible to deal with Europe unless you have mega size, or are prepared to dissolve your specific interest into a sector agenda, which will itself be mediated through layer upon layer of protocol. For individual citizens, it’s worse. The only real power to influence Europe’s vast bureaucratic structures has to be expressed through one of two channels: the British government and the European Court. The commission is not accountable to the parliament, and the central bank seems accountable only to Angela Merkel.

In the past year, on two occasions when tested, European solidarity fell apart. Critics say Greece was smashed by the European central bank that was supposed to keep it solvent. There was no democratic redress. The many millions of people who saw the protest hashtag #ThisIsACoup had no way – even indirect – to influence the actions of the commission and the European Central Bank. Then, as refugees from Syria and beyond flowed through the Balkans, two key parts of the legal architecture fell apart: the Schengen agreement, which assures free movement between some central states, was suspended. And the Dublin III treaty, which forces the deportation of migrants to their first country of entry, likewise ignored.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion: Europe is becoming a continent where force matters more than law. Germany forced Greece to accept a programme that will destroy its economy and strip its state of assets for the next 50 years. Half a million people forced their way across borders in a way that all forms of rhetoric against migration could not stop.That’s great for them: but not for the thousands of sub-Saharan migrants trapped in violent slums across north Africa. They must rot there, simply because they do not have the power to do what the Syrians did. Businesses and politicians have also begun to understand that, in Europe, might is right. Uber, which has faced bans in Spain and had its offices raided three times in the Netherlands, has just been declared legal in the UK.


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