Derk Jan Eppink (DJE) is the lead candidate on Forum for Democracy’s list in the upcoming European Elections. DJE is a Dutch journalist, columnist, author, cabinet secretary for European Commissioners Bolkestein (1999-2004) and Kallas (2004 – 2007), a Memb...
EV: You are no stranger to Brussels having worked there as a journalist, in the Commission and as an MEP. Tell our readers about your professional background and political experience and how they have changed you
DJE: I have witnessed the whole evolution of the European Union, from the very first elections back in 1979 up until today. The message of the first elections was loud and clear: “the EU is the best thing that could have happened to Europe”. Supporting the EU was a condition for being considered a decent human being. At that time, the differences between parties were minor. It took quite a while before the first dissenting opinions materialised. And when dissent did form, the critical voices came from the Left. Especially the Far Left saw the EU as a dangerous capitalistic project – as a cathedral for big multinationals.
With the introduction of the single market, the focus of the project changed and came to centre on the process of harmonisation, which fed the bureaucratic machine like crazy. It installed bureaucratic centralism, which further increased in the 90s due to great optimism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and of course later the introduction of the euro. The EU was presented as the world power of the future. Commissioner Barroso even described the EU as the new Rome, completely in line with Fukuyama’s idea that the end of history had dawned upon us.
Even in my early days in Brussels, when I started out as an intern for the European Commission, I found myself sceptical of the constant hail and praise of the EU, but it was especially when I started working as a cabinet secretary for European Commissioner Frits Bolkestein, that I – and Bolkestein too – started to think: “this is getting out of hand. This project is like the Tower of Babel, it will just get bigger and bigger”. Already then, I knew this would not result in more integration but in disintegration.
EV: Why and when did you decide to run as a candidate for Forum for Democracy?
DJE: In 2017, when Forum for Democracy was elected to Parliament for the first time, I was living in the United States commenting in a journalistic capacity on Trump’s election. So the election of Thierry Baudet came as quite a surprise to me at the time. When I started seeing more of Thierry I was energised to hear all the things I had been thinking – and saying – for years, coming from the mouth of such a young man! To me he really represents a new generation – the Renaissance Generation.
I see a young generation who are not ashamed of their cultural history and who want to protect and defend the core values of our democracy. This type of cultural assertiveness has been lost ever since the Netherlands, and the rest of Western Europe, became occupied with the ideas of the protest generation, the Baby Boomers. I use the word “occupied” because it really describes what the Baby Boomers did: they occupied all institutions, media and universities. The Renaissance Generation is the first generation that has the ability to take a real stand against this occupation. People from my generation lived in what, during the time of the German Democratic Republic, was called die innere Immigration. We could express our ideas in the privacy of our own homes, but if you expressed your ideas in public or in writing, like I did as a columnist, people would warn you “not to become right-winged”, like it was a sin. We were treated like a relic of history, a leftover of the 19th century.
When I wrote that Trump would win the elections, people treated me as if I had lost my mind, and when he did win, they drowned in tears of disbelief. They still can’t seem to accept the fact that they lost. Everything that they now call “populism” is nothing but the revolution of the ordinary man who practises a common sense lifestyle. In America we see Trump, in England Brexit, in France the yellow vests and in Holland Forum for Democracy.
I was tired of working in an environment where I couldn’t speak my mind freely, so the moment Thierry approached me to join his party, to join the movement, I knew this was the way forward. I want to help the first generation that is free from the grip of the soixante-huitards to strengthen their position.
EV: You have also recently written a book called European Realism. What is the central thesis in the book?
DJE: The thesis of the book builds on the idea that I have proclaimed during most of my time in Brussels, namely the idea that the Union has continuously overstepped its boundaries. This has embedded many faults into the European landscape, and the consequences are becoming increasingly visible with every passing day.
The first rupture we have witnessed is of course the division between the North and South with regard to the eurozone. Another is the division between Eastern and Western Europe with regard to immigration; something which is a consequence of a much deeper cultural and political division. Then we have the issue of Brexit, the question of membership for Turkey, and of course the conflicts between France and Italy.
At this point in time, there is not one single major topic on which a consensus can be found. The common security and foreign policy has not been in the least common in the last decade. The only issue the EU Member States seem to have been able to agree a common position on is the punishment of the State of Israel. In short, the EU model is an ideal that will never succeed, no matter how hard the European elites try to force it upon the Member States.
EV: How does this book relate to your other books?
DJE: In 2004 Bolkestein and I wrote a book called De Grenzen van Europa (The Limits of Europe). It was filled with interviews with prominent MEPs at the time. Quite frankly, the reason we wrote this book was because Bolkestein clashed with the Cabinet quite regularly for simply speaking his mind. “Commissioner, what are you doing?!”, people would ask. “There’s a problem with the Commissioner, he just simply says what he thinks!” Bolkestein’s direct approach led to all sorts of conflicts, so frankly this book, filled with interviews with prominent MEPs, was a sort of token of reconciliation; a way to get back into the Parliament’s good books.
The book itself deals with both the physical borders of the EU and the boundaries that should be placed upon the EU’s competences. The thesis was that the competences of the EU had extended too far.
For the EU, the euro was meant to be a means to force European unity. Which it actually never did. Instead it resulted in division. Instead of learning from the financial crisis, the response of the EU was again to try and force more integration. This type of bureaucratic centralism – which was actually the central principle of the Soviet Union – uses every crisis to impose a top-down integration process; in this case by calling for a European government, a European state, European taxation and even a European army.
EV: What should ideally be dealt with on a European level? And what should the EU do to get there?
DJE: First and foremost, the whole project must be sent back to the drawing board. Any reform of the current model from the inside out is impossible. Reforming the existing construction always results in more centralisation to Brussels. This is due to the fact that the EU is built upon one dogma: the ever closer union.
The dominant organising principle of the Brussels institutions is that more power should always be centralised to Brussels and no power should be returned to the Member States under any circumstances. This is something the Brits are learning the hard way at the moment. Although the British Government is not handling it in the best way possible, the European obstruction sends a clear message to the rest of the Member States: “think twice about leaving”. So, if we could go back to the drawing board, I would vouch for the idea of a common market. Not a single market! The idea of a common market was the original idea of the European Economic Community. Of course, there are many fields that would be susceptible to different forms of international collaboration, such as security and environmental policies, but even something as complicated as the Paris Climate Convention could be resolved by the nations themselves, without the assistance of a big union.
Coalitions of the willing are going to be more effective than the so-called “common” foreign policies of 28 countries, which actually never reach a consensus on the most crucial matters. Therefore, there is no common policy, just mismanagement. A waste of money and effort, really.
Something I absolutely want to add: there is one thing that should definitely not be dealt with on a European level, and that is the topic of migration and border control. Since the EU is always in favour of more migration, the EU will constantly think of ways to find new channels to stimulate immigration. Nation states should therefore have absolute control over their own borders.
EV: What are your plans for after the elections?
DJE: The big problem with the European Parliament is that it has no real opposition. Václav Klaus once said: a parliament without opposition is a parliament without liberty. Our goal is to form a real opposition after the upcoming elections. These elections are particularly important because now, for the first time, finally, we have an actual chance to really make a change. We want to shift the power ratio and pull the brakes where needed. The time of endless compromise is over and this time we actually see a possibility to work together with Eurosceptic voices from both the Left and the Right.
We in the ECR are in a special position where we can try to coordinate votes with people on the Left who would be hesitant to work together with parties such as Le Pen’s Rassemblement National. We need to join forces to finally get things done; to take a real stand against the Liberal group and the EPP. Yes, people like Guy Verhofstadt and Sophie in 't Veld [Editor’s note: leader of the Democrats 66 in the European Parliament] are the true federal fundamentalists. The other fundamentalists in the Parliament are of course the Greens, who have only one agenda: the climate.
EV: What are your thoughts on the climate and how the Left have instrumentalised it?
DJE: The climate is a new religion, with Greta Thunberg as the high priestess. The way the Left are using this poor girl for their ideology is nothing but child abuse in my eyes. I myself have three young children and their generation is constantly being told that the world is going to be destroyed within 10 years. Instilling such immense fear, especially in the minds of the young, is an extremely powerful weapon and something we should be incredibly wary of. Hiding behind innocent children and seemingly good intentions, the climate-church is really trying to regulate all of society down to its deepest levels under the pretext of wanting to save the world. We should not be fooled by any of this, and should see this ideology for what it is: nothing but a new form of Marxism. Eco-Marxism is the name I have use to describe it.
EV: Eurosceptic parties are on the rise across Europe. At the same time there are still strong forces that want more European integration. How will this play out in the next Parliament? What will be the main battleground?
DJE: Actually, we shouldn’t overestimate the number of people who are truly still calling for an ever-closer-union. People like Verhofstadt are loud, but they don’t form a majority. Of course, we will find those voices in the Brussels bureaucracy and in the European Parliament, as well as in parties like the Greens. But the call for an ever closer union are dying down, simply because it will be impossible to form a majority with this message.
I think the EPP will suffer a big loss, since the Christian Democratic parties are losing support all over Europe. They also have the issue of the Hungarians, who they have banished to the penalty box, and many parties in the EPP are calling for them to be removed from the group permanently. This will make it very difficult for the EPP to keep its position of power.
The Socialists will also suffer a big loss, which will make them irritable and less likely to want to collaborate. The Liberals, led by people like Macron and Verhofstadt, will overplay their cards, calling for an army and more power to Europe. This will pose some major issues when it comes to the formation of a majority coalition. The appointment of a President of the European Commission will therefore be an extremely difficult task. It would be no surprise to me if the first candidate that the Council presents is immediately rejected.
EV: As an ex-journalist, what are your thoughts on European plans to counter fake news?
DJE: The mainstream media is completely in the hands of the European structures. In Brussels, critical media sources are hardly to be found. The fight that the EU has started against ‘’fake news’’ is just a way to get control over the internet, where critical views on the EU are being spread on a daily basis. It is comparable to what happened in the United States after Trump’s election, when the Democrats claimed that the only reason he could have won was through Russian tampering. This gives them a legitimacy to regulate platforms like Twitter and to get rid of unwanted opinions.
The European Left has completely adopted this narrative and presented Russia as our common enemy, which also just happens to legitimise the idea of a European army. Of course, the Russians are provocative from time to time, and they are not free of blame in bullying their neighbours – in particular the Baltic states – but the extent to which the European Left has propagated the story of Russian intervention is completely out of proportion. Most disinformation and fake news that we do find from Russian sources is about Ukraine and the Crimea, not about Europe.
The biggest spreaders of fake news in Europe are our own mainstream media, not the Russians. The idea behind the European incentive to tackle “fake news” is their way to silence and censor unwanted opinions that are spread through social media.
EV: How do you see the growing influence of identity politics in Europe? Are we still allowed to be proud of our national history?
DJE: The basis of Europe, historically speaking, is our nation states. Europe’s landscape is incredibly diverse and the source of immense cultural richness. These countries are perfectly able to work together, not just when forced to in a top-down manner. Every attempt to unify Europe in a fast and aggressive manner – be it by Napoleon, the Germans during World War II or the EU – has always failed. The cultural diversity of the European nation states is too big to be placed in a straitjacket, and attempts to constrain diversity are not desirable. We should embrace and celebrate European diversity, all the different languages and cultures. It is exactly this diversity that makes us European.
EV: So, you are a true European?
DJE: Well yes, I even have an intercultural marriage! I have always been extremely fascinated by different cultures and languages. I’ve been to almost all European countries. The only country I haven’t seen yet is Romania.