Jeremy Hunt and I crossed paths when he held the position of Health Secretary. We sat in the Health Minister’s Health Council meetings, but also met bilaterally to cover a large variety of topics related to health including antimicrobial resistance, vaccination, rare diseases, drug pricing and availability, research on cancer, dementia, smoking and alcohol prevention, obesity and so much more . After the UK referendum, we met again, sharing concerns over how EU-UK cooperation might be preserved after Brexit.
At the time, I found him very much aware of the negative consequences of Brexit in the UK for the NHS, the possible lack of skilled labour and many other things. He seemed to have a good knowledge of the EU's internal mechanisms and the fundamental principles of the negotiations. It came as a big surprise to hear Jeremy Hunt, now Secretary of Foreign Affairs, comparing the EU to the Soviet Union. What was it? Ignorance of the essence of the EU? Lack of knowledge? A desperate attempt to appease Brexiteers within its own party?
Having spent some time of my life in the Soviet exile, I couldn’t help but offer to discuss the differences with him. Unfortunately, Jeremy Hunt did not reply to my call for lack of interest or otherwise.
This is a pity because a functioning democracy demands discussion of us. Using WHATEVER means to win political battles just does not fit the bill. Boris Johnson ‘virtuoso’ in democracy is the example of this in action - where priority is given to the objective alone and not the means of obtaining it. On this shaky path almost anything is allowed: cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly evident incorrect statements on 'EU imposed' food safety standards. Can democracy survive this type of politics? My take is that democracy chooses only those principles that derive from it, defend it and legitimize it. The ones that stem from ‘fake’ facts are killing it.
Almost ironically, without comparing the UK itself with the USSR because it is not comparable, I can’t think of a better golden standard than the USSR in terms of fact distortion, reality falsification and blunt oblivions of reality.
Then there were the heroes of the perestroika era swearing that they would create a market economy in post-Soviet Russia within 500 days! ‘500 Day Programme’ is history. Like the other the most unrealistic promises at the time, this never became a reality. People paid for these empty and broken promises with impoverishment, inequality and much more. The programme also left one infamous quote: ‘Boris, ti ne prav’ (‘Boris, you are wrong’)!
It is a different Boris, of course, but there was something in the way of doing politics that was similar: many unrealistic promises, ignoring economic rationales and rational decisions. These decisions led to a new autocratic constitution and finally paved the way to Vladimir Putin. Today in Russia we have oligarchs, a pseudo-market economy, a regulated, governed pseudo-democracy. And, Putin's authoritarianism. For Boris Yeltsin, the warning came true: "Boris, you are wrong". Hopefully, it will not be the case for Boris Johnson if he is elected today.
I can only wish him luck in ‘taking back control’, spending more money on the NHS, swiftly concluding new trade agreements. In other words, I hope and wish that he does not give anyone a reason to use the quote ‘Boris, you are wrong’ against him.
Again, I am not comparing the UK and the USSR, the UK and Post-Soviet Russia, I only want to show the logic of actors at the time, the tactics they used and actions they took that were to the people's detriment.
Why am I writing about the UK election? Will I not be accused of going beyond my prerogatives? The first reason is that I am directly responsible for public health and food safety in the EU. After all, the UK is still in the EU and I cannot be silent when both the EU and our food safety standards are being subjected to slander. The second reason is that, within my remit, I am responsible for the practical implementation of the sanitary and phytosanitary standards criteria, and it is very easy to sow people's mistrust of the official food safety system in the EU. The third reason, is that this Commission is political. I still think it was a mistake not to take part in the discussion with the UK people during the referendum on the withdrawal campaign, but that’s history. Also, I am an EU citizen, just like all the UK citizens.
The last but not the least, is the fact that I care. I care when democracy is taken hostage and used as a pawn in political games for a so called 'different' Europe. If that “different” Europe is just a fig leaf to cover up some national issues, I don't buy it. If the 'different' Europe is the one where we sit at the table, discuss and look for the solutions to the challenges we face - I'm in.
I will be present to actively defend the EU, the Lisbon Treaty and revive the hope of seeing a new European Convention that can establish a way forward for Europe, for us all.