On paper, the European project is exciting. Free trade on the continent, close cooperation between member states, and free movement between like-minded nations sound like a win-win. But that dream is dying. Power-mad regulators in Brussels have unfortunately undermined the European project by adopting a wide range of aggressive political and regulatory missions which do more harm than good. The EU is becoming a superstate, and that’s a problem for the whole world.

The European Union exists to help bring European countries closer together. Having a central seat of power in Brussels allows member states access to substantial market opportunities for trade within Europe worth several trillion dollars. It allows European countries to work more closely together to build a stronger Europe, which benefits the whole world.

Or at least, that was the initial idea. Recently, the project has gone off the rails. Many in the EU’s leadership seem to have forgotten what the European dream means and are instead politicising the Union to do things which do not benefit the world and, most of the time, do not benefit Europe either.

In almost every major policy area, the EU has proudly placed itself at the forefront of global regulation. On technology, for example, Brussels has been working with regulators in the US to forge new regulation.1 It has boasted about its AI Act being “the world’s first comprehensive AI law”. 2

Is this the role of the EU? Every member state already has a government to take care of this kind of thing. Brussels is stepping on their toes. Is regulating global technology companies really part of the European project to make Europe richer and more connected? Or does it in fact dissuade investment from Europe and do harm to European entrepreneurs by creating a more hostile regulatory environment for those trying to do business in Europe?

Health policy is another area where Brussels is becoming too big for its boots. Through its excise directives, the EU is now mandating minimum tax levels for nicotine products such as vapes, as well as tobacco products like cigarettes. Clearly, which taxes to impose and what level to set them at should be decided by national governments, not bureaucrats in Brussels. The EU is shamelessly robbing policymaking power from the governments of its member states.

This also represents an abandonment of evidence-based policymaking. Everyone wants Europeans to be healthier, but research studies have shown time and again that raising taxes on cigarettes and vapes just leads to a larger black market for those products.3 When smokers want to quit, vaping can be an indispensable lifeline, but the EU groups those products together. Does the EU really have European citizens’ best interests at heart, or does it want to show off to the US and the World Health Organisation about its regulatory prowess?

Environmental regulation, perhaps even more than technology and health, is where Brussels looks most out of control. From the Green Deal to Farm to Fork and many other new legislative endeavours, the EU risks regulating the agriculture, food, and manufacturing industries to death. Of course, European companies have a part to play in stopping climate change, but there are ways to do that while preserving economic growth and the freedom to do business. The EU seems uninterested in that.

The EU stopped being a trade bloc a long time ago. It is now shamelessly a political body determined to implement an interventionist policy agenda. From bloated bureaucracy to geopolitical tensions and economic growth which pales in comparison to the US, the EU’s problems are plain to see. In recent decades, the EU has gone from a trade bloc to a supra-state. Brussels has become drunk on power.

This situation is especially problematic because there is almost no democratic accountability in the EU. Those at the top of the chain, such as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, were elevated to their positions in closed-door meetings, granting them the power to impose swathes of harmful regulation onto Europe with very few checks and balances.

The results of these many power grabs are starting to become clear. Protests across Europe by furious farmers forced Brussels to back down on its new regulations around pesticide use, a key plank of its environmental regulation. Even more alarmingly for Brussels, polling for the upcoming European elections suggests the EU establishment is in for a shock, with fringe right-wing parties set to win many parliamentary seats.

This is a wake-up call. Member states have had enough. The European project was supposed to be about making Europe more prosperous, the home of start-ups, environmental progress, and civil freedoms. But Brussels’ actions do not match its words. Its politicking is undermining the continent. The EU should want to lower barriers, not erect new ones. It should not try to be a national government speaking on behalf of member states for more rules. It is not too late to change course, but it remains unclear if Brussels’ ruling class is willing to consider an alternative way forward.


1 Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google over abusive practices in online advertising technology.
2 EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence.
3 Unintended Consequences of Cigarette Prohibition, Regulation, and Taxation.