As Eurocrats-in-chief go, Ursula von der Leyen has generally been relatively inoffensive to British sensibilities. Most of us were dimly aware that she was one of those people who excel at “failing upwards”, with her emergence as President of the European Commission following a chequered spell as Germany’s defence minister.
But she seemed to lack the provocative turn of phrase of her predecessor Jean Claude Juncker – especially after lunch – and also presented rather better than Herman Van Rompuy, the man memorably described by Nigel Farage as having “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.
When she described our current Prime Minister as “my dear Rishi” while unveiling the Windsor Framework alongside him, some of us were left looking around for a sick bag. Yet even that utterance was clearly well-intentioned.
But oh, Ursula, what have you just gone and done? For it turns out that Ms von der Leyen is indeed fully possessed of the key Eurocrat characteristic that gets right up the collective noses of the British people: the obnoxiously complacent and apparently unshakeable assumption that to belong to the Brussels club is a uniquely wonderful gift for any nation.
How else can one explain her assertion that Brexit simply has to be a mistake that will one day be reversed? “I keep telling my children: you have to fix it. We goofed it up. You have to fix it. So I think that here, too, the direction of travel, my personal opinion is clear,” she has declared.
Incidentally, when she talks of her children “fixing” things she is probably not speaking in an abstract generational sense but a dynastic one. Given that she is the daughter of the senior German politician and Eurocrat Ernst Albrecht, it is odds-on that at least one of her offspring will go into the family business of telling other people what to do.
But of her main assertion, the response must be: not on your nelly. Why would Britain wish to return to a European Union whose travails make our own problems pale by comparison? Our economy is hardly going gangbusters, but at least we are not already mired in outright recession, like Germany. Dear Rishi may be failing to stop the boats, but at least their numbers are down a bit. The vast irregular migration across the Mediterranean to the EU, on the other hand, looks like it’s just getting started.
And at least we will be able to hold our own governing class to account for all its main decisions at our general election next year, unlike the populations of the EU member states. In those countries national leaders have little or no control of vast swathes of political terrain; monetary and trade policy belongs to the EU while fiscal policy is also constrained.
Migration policy is dominated by Brussels rules while increasingly defence is another area where the national writ does not run. Yet, rather than picking up on citizen concern about the remoteness of EU rule, the European political class is determined to accelerate the process.
No wonder Geert Wilders has become just the latest “far-Right” politician to win an election in a major EU country. He envisages the Netherlands one day leaving the club altogether. The initial stance of the Eurocrat class is to sneer at Wilders just as they sneered at Giorgia Meloni in Italy – last year’s “Far-Right” electoral sensation.
But how do European citizens vote out Ms von der Leyen if they are unhappy about the decisions her Commission is taking on the major issues that impact upon their lives? The answer, of course, is that they cannot. They must simply wait for her to move on to pastures new and will have no direct say over the identity of her successor either.
She thinks Brexit was a “goof up” for which the EU high-ups must take a share of blame. But the real goof up is in the basic design of the organisation they worship with a near-religious fervour that was never widely shared this side of the English Channel. Unless Ms von der Leyen or her future successors confront this fundamental truth there will be plenty more goof ups to come.