EU: real problem is not Latvia

By Daniel Hannan, October 26, 2012
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I felt like cheering last week when Avigdor Lieberman told his unelected EU counterpart, Catherine Ashton, to mind her own business.

Irked by the latest Brussels demand on settlements, Israel's foreign minister pointedly suggested that the EU focus on its own growing problems before lecturing others.

You can see why Eurocrats are happier hectoring Israel than dealing with the euro. But being rude about the Jewish state isn't simply a displacement activity. Almost every European Parliament session brings a condemnatory resolution, a proposal to restrict trade, or a demand for differential labelling for exports from "occupied Palestine". Israel sometimes deserves criticism; like all countries, it makes mistakes. But that doesn't explain the disproportionate focus on a state that is one 30th of the size of the UK.

Some blame antisemitism, some anti-Americanism, some an over-sensitivity to the imagined prejudices of Muslim voters in Europe. There might be a smidgen of truth in these explanations. Yet they all miss the main point. The reason most Euro-enthusiasts resent Israel is that it is the supreme embodiment of the national principle - that is, of the desire of every people to form their own state. For 2,000 years, Jews were scattered and stateless, yet never lost the aspiration for an independent homeland: "Next year in Jerusalem." Then one day, against all the odds - providentially, even - they fulfilled it.

Eurocrats hate Israel’s success as a nation

In doing so, they invalidated the intellectual basis of European integration. The EU is built on the idea that national loyalties are arbitrary and dangerous. If Israel's story is legitimate - if people really are better off living under their own laws within national groups - then everything Brussels has done since 1956 is wrong. No wonder that Israelis find it hard to get a fair hearing there.

Except in one place. The European Conservatives and Reformists - the bloc established by David Cameron with his Czech and Polish counterparts in 2009 - is pro-nation-state and so, by and large, Zionist. Not every member; this is an issue on which good people can disagree. But I will defend the claim that ours is the most consistently pro-Israel of all the parties. Not only do we consistently vote against the attempts to prejudice EU-Israel trade, and the ludicrous condemnatory resolutions; we also take seriously the rise in antisemitism in parts of Europe.

So it was disappointing to read Martin Bright's recent piece reheating accusations of antisemitism against our Latvian ally, LNNK.

The charge, which had its origins in Soviet propaganda at the time when LNNK was leading the battle for independence from the USSR, is that party representatives attend an annual commemoration of the Latvian regiment of the Waffen-SS. The service is for those who fought against the Red Army, including, yes, those who volunteered to fight in German uniform. But it is attended by representatives of every party in Latvia except those which represent the Russian minority.

To imply sympathy for the Third Reich would be rather like a Latvian paper claiming that, because British Conservatives mark Guy Fawkes night, they still haven't reconciled themselves to Catholic Emancipation.

Even the LNNK's domestic opponents have become angry at the accusation: the previous Latvian foreign minister, who was from a different party, warned that Ed Miliband was damaging bilateral relations with his ludicrous claims.

The LNNK representative in the European Parliament is a respected former minister, Roberts Zile, who is absolutely committed to human rights and pluralism. Antisemitism in Europe is a real enough problem; there is no need to invent more of it.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP

Last updated: 9:45am, October 26 2012