Why no riots? Why no mob of aggrieved taxpayers, descending on the European Commission with burning brands? On Tuesday, for the twelfth year in a row, the European Court of Auditors refused to approve the EU budget. Yet the story has pretty much passed Europe’s media by. If a national government agency could not account for the majority of its spending, it would be front page news. But, faced with the usual Brussels tales of bogus invoices and non-existent farm products and collusion between the authorities and the fraudsters, we shrug our shoulders indifferently.
In our collective reaction, I think one can descry the beginning of the end of Britain’s relationship with the EU. The other day, I happened to read a review of a book about successful relationships. The author’s chief point, if I understood her correctly, was that a marriage can weather a good deal of arguing. Rows between husband and wife suggest that each values the other’s opinion enough to want to change it. It is when bickering gives way to scorn that the marriage is over.
That, it seems to me, is what is happening vis-à-vis the EU. For seven years, I have been writing about Euro-corruption. I have recorded the petty extravagances – MEPs’ expenses, Commissioners’ allowances – and the gargantuan sleaze: the billions of euros that disappear from the CAP, structural funds and foreign aid. At first, these articles used to provoke furious reactions from readers. But, as the years have passed, a resigned, disdainful tone has crept into their responses. People seem to be giving up on the idea that Brussels might ever be reformed. The relationship has reached that fatal stage where anger is giving way to contempt. Sooner rather than later, we shall file for separation.