David Cameron
British Prime Minister David CameronReuters

Problems, problems everywhere and not a solution in sight; chaos in France and misery in Greece; Spain sunk in confusion and a looming catastrophe in Italy; voters disillusioned in their millions while extremism prospers and the political mainstream crumbles: welcome to what our leaders like to describe as the safety and security of the EU.

We are better in than out they chorus, word perfect every one. Though we are heading straight for the rocks, the captain's lost the plot, the crew hasn't a clue and the passengers are panicking, we mustn't even think of jumping ship and taking to the lifeboats. Too reckless. Too dangerous. We're safer where we are.

So says David Cameron, who once pretended to be a Eurosceptic, and so says Jeremy Corbyn, who now pretends that he isn't. So says Tony Blair, who gave away a large chunk of Margaret Thatcher's European rebate and got nothing in return. So says the CBI, laughably wrong, as always, on matters European.

Isn't it curious, though, that while they wring their hands over the largely exaggerated dangers of leaving the EU, they haven't a word to say about the real and obvious threats that we face if we decide to stay in?

Take what's happening across the Channel, where France is mired in its most damaging industrial unrest in decades. Six of the country's eight oil refineries are either closed or running at reduced capacity. Millions of motorists are affected. Rail workers joined the strike on Tuesday (31 May 2016), further crippling the transport system.

And for what? The ostensible reason for this costly disruption is to protest against Francois Hollande's rather feeble attempt to reduce high unemployment by modernising France's inefficient labour laws. The more likely reason, many suspect, is that the CGT Union simply wants to demonstrate its power. Whatever the truth of it, France's economy is suffering. The country has grown by only a miserable 3% since the financial crisis of 2008 compared with Britain's 8%.

Now, according to France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls, hopes of a modest improvement are seriously threatened. In the event of another recession in the country would be in desperate trouble. The great beneficiary of all this is Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front who is contesting the French presidency next year. Could she possibly win? If her opponent is the hapless Mr Hollande, all things are possible. What then for the future of an EU she loathes?

Meanwhile in Greece the mood is one of utter hopelessness, even though Eurogroup Ministers have agreed to release another €10bn (£7.8bn, $11.2bn) to keep the country afloat. The trouble is that Greece's economy has been almost destroyed by the euro and Germany's insistence on a self-defeating austerity.

So the country is crippled. Because of the high euro exchange rate Greek exports have slumped, and the country can't begin to repay its debts. Youth unemployment is in excess of 50%. Some have killed themselves. How long Greece will put up with this madness is anybody's guess.

Yet the crisis in Italy is potentially even more serious. As the EU's fourth-largest economy, the country can't be bullied like the unfortunate Greece, but nor can it tolerate much more of the catastrophic consequences of the single currency. Something has to give.

The figures could hardly be bleaker. Italy had a trade surplus with Germany in the 1990s, but that changed dramatically when the euro was launched in 1999. Since then Greece's competitiveness has slumped. Growth has averaged just 0.2% a year. Unemployment has soared to such an extent that in Calabria it exceeds 60%. The pain is so great that almost half of Italians now want to leave the EU – this in a country that was once so proud to have been a founder member of the original Common Market.

It gets worse. Pitiful growth has deepened the country's debt crisis. GDP can't grow quickly enough to begin reducing the burden. Meanwhile, Italian banks are saddled with a mountain of dud loans but can't take effective action to fix the problem because of EU rules and interference from Brussels.

Grillo
Beppe Grillo, founder of the Five Star movement (Reuters)

Once again, the beneficiaries are on the political fringe, most notably with the comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-euro, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which won 25% of the national vote last year.

It's a pattern repeated again and again across the EU. In Austria, the gun-toting champion of the far-right, Norbert Hofer, came within a whisker of winning the presidency last week.

In Spain, the left-wing anti-establishment's party Podemos scored a spectacular success in last year's election, securing 35% of the vote and preventing mainstream parties from forming a government.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece... the right-wing Jobbik in Hungary... the Dutch Party for Freedom in the Netherlands... the National Front in France... everywhere, revulsion for the arrogant, incompetent and undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels is growing. Even in Germany, Alternative fur Deutschland is currently polling at around 15%.

And this is the EU that guarantees our security? The EU that leads to extremism on the right and on the left? The EU that has become a byword for economic stagnation? The EU that ruthlessly crushes the people of Greece? The EU that has so badly overreached itself and could well implode? If Mr Cameron really thinks that any of this makes us safer, he hasn't been paying attention.