Lacking a democratic mandate and acting by stealth, the EU elites – namely senior Brussels-based bureaucrats and fellow traveler politicians at national level – have sought to make the Union a state in its own right, and a world power to boot. But have they gotten ahead of themselves?
What we know as the EU started off in 1950 as the European Coal and Steel Community, when six countries centered on France and West Germany began sharing economic resources in the years after World War II. While aiming to prevent a repeat of Europe’s 20th Century wars, thinkers behind the project hoped that such links would in time lead to a European state.
Jean Monnet was the intellectual driving force. In 1957, a year before the ECSC became the European Economic Community, he wrote to a Dutch politician saying “the current communities should …lead us to European economic unity. Only then would the commitments make it fairly easy to produce the political union which is the goal.”
Helped by a massive US military commitment, war was avoided and the USSR kept at bay. Living standards shot up, and in 1973, the UK, Ireland and Denmark joined, followed by Spain, Greece and Portugal. But the incremental, stealthy concentration of power in Brussels continued. In 1987 the powers of the EEC were enhanced by the Single European Act, which established a common internal market. After this, in 1992, the European Union was set up. A single currency, the Euro, was introduced in 2000, and in 2005 membership jumped to 27 countries as former Soviet bloc countries joined.
However EU elites went for broke after 2000, drafting a European Constitution even as some government leaders claimed that a European state was a pipe-dream. The document was rejected in France and the Netherlands, but the Constitution was rehatted as the Lisbon Treaty. This rebranding meant that the French and Dutch would not vote again, but the Irish rejected the Treaty, in what EU elites saw as an insolent slap in the face after years of EU (ie German taxpayer) subventions to the Irish economy. Never mind that the Irish fuelled their boom by using a low corporation tax to coax US investment, and then blew it by getting into a US-style housing market and banking swindle. Treaty advocates ignored statistics showing how Ireland’s export-driven boom petered-out after 2000, when it joined the Euro, leaving the sham property bubble as the sole source of growth. Last year Ireland passed the Treaty amid a severe economic downturn, enabling the pusillanimous Dublin government to collude with the European Commission in the blatant “Say no again and Ireland = Iceland” arm-twisting of the Irish voter.
With Lisbon in the bag, the EU acquired the legal status of a state for the first time, even though many treaty advocates denied that this would be the case. For example, the European Parliament, which hitherto were “representatives of the peoples of the States brought together in the Community”, are now “representatives of the Union’s citizens” . A new diplomatic corps will staff the bevy of new EU embassies being opened. Lisbon shifted more power away from nation-states to Brussels in areas such as defense, security, foreign affairs, criminal justice, judicial cooperation, and energy. These are spheres in which the US – whose former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously complained that he didn’t know who to call when he had speak to ‘Europe’ – has long been seeking closer cooperation with European countries.
You would think the US now would be delighted to see one voice representing the continent on such matters. Not so, not least as it is still not clear who to call. President Barack Obama will not attend the next EU-US summit, an unprecedented snub to EU top brass.
According to US Government statements, he is as confused as everybody else by the new layers of bureaucracy and administration . The Lisbon Treaty was supposed to ‘streamline’ this, really a EU-phemism for a power-grab. The Treaty created a new EU President and foreign minister, putting faces to the new EU ‘super-state’ trimmings. But then EU elites mystified people by selecting an obscure Belgian named Herman van Rompuy for the first job, and Baroness Ashton, a British Labour politician with no foreign policy experience, for the second, passing over Tony Blair in the process. Lisbon was also meant to make the EU more accountable and democratic, but the two were picked in a conclave-like setting with no public input or foreknowledge.
As for streamlining, the EU still has its 6-month revolving member-state ‘Presidency’, currently held by Spain, The European Commission has had a separate President for many years, who sits in on Council meetings. And now there is President Herman.
Obama might have other reasons for skipping the meeting. European Obamamania has not translated into more European troops in Afghanistan or a more decisive (unObama-like?) stand against Iran, and given that Obamamania did not prevent Euro-elites from lambasting the US President for his part in the Copenhagen climate change fiasco, he might not see the point in tarnishing his hope and change image further, by association with the vainglories and resentments of the old continent. But it’s not his old continent, to be fair, even if he was talked up as a sort of ‘European’ President, with ‘European’ ideas about how to govern America. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked ‘est-il faible?’ (is he weak?), after seeing Obama in action at the UN. If this is European Obamamania, one year on, odds are that the US President would feel more at home at a Tea Party.
Ironically, despite desperately seeking the power and status of a formal state, the EU hopes to showcase and promote a sort of ‘post-modern, post-statist’ diplomatic model for the rest of the world, where complex institutional links across borders would overcome nation-based rivalries and disparities. As they are supposed to have done within the EU, or so goes the spin put out by Brussels’ multi-billion euro ‘communications’ directorate. Unwittingly or otherwise, the EU spins itself as a sort of political-institutional eudaimonia – the classicalGreek term loosely-equivalent to ‘happiness’, in a sort of rationalistic, amoral sense, detached from metaphysical foundations. Sounds just like the EU, with its faux-humanist charter of rights, and shrill aversion to any mention of the continent’s Christian heritage in the failed Constitution.
Still, the EU-philes firmly believe, in a sort of parody of religious belief, that the supranational EU approach to international relations can solve all global problems, despite the troubles faced by economically-sclerotic, militarily-neutered, demographically-declining continent.
Post-political President Obama is not the only one who is unimpressed. In a world of rising powers, and new challenges that require decisive action, this self-regarding naivete assumes that the likes of China, India, Russia and of course the US see the world in the same way. They do not, and ascendant China in particular sees these ‘linkages’ as western conspiracies seeking to encumber Beijing with additional expense and obligation, to halt its rise to global prominence. Even on climate change, a ‘post-modern’ international challenge, the green-obsessed EU has flopped. China, India and others completely ignored the EU at the recent Copenhagen climate summit – even though (or maybe because) Brussels-style policywonk babble dominated the summit communiques.
In their haste to get the Lisbon Treaty passed, Europe’s heads of government may have skimmed the vast document, which, amid a few glaring admissions, hides its transfer of power to the EU amid a thicket of insomnia-curbing verbiage. Before the first Irish vote on Lisbon, Prime Minister Brian Cowen admitted he had not read it, an act of unwitting sabotage from an ardent Treaty proponent. To settle the cat-fight conundrum of who President Obama would meet at the EU-US summit (if he hadn’t already cancelled) Mr Van Rompuy insisted that he take the lead, while blaming the Spanish government for confusing the Americans. The Spanish regarded it as a member-state prerogative, with the host PM or President representing the EU. Maybe they did not read the Lisbon Treaty before signing it, or are in denial, as clearly the new EU President would be the main man.
When EU heads of government met recently to try fix the economic crisis affecting its Mediterranean (and Irish) members, Mr Van Rompuy initially sought hold the summit in an old Brussels palace, summoning heads of government in the style of an old Habsburg Emperor calling an assembly of his provincial nobles. Despite a multitude of member-state economies that differ from each other greatly, Mr Van Rompuy hopes to lead plans for ‘economic union’ by 2020., yet another upgrade of EU powers that was not on the table when the Lisbon ‘reform’ treaty was being pushed through.
No doubt Mr van Rompuy and like-minded thinkers see a need to act decisively, amid intensified economic trouble across the continent. With Greece on the brink of meltdown, and markets taking bets against the single currency, a failed Euro would in turn undermine the grander ambitions held – and usually disguised – by EU elites.
But then, such troubles might provide the rationale for the sort of closer union Mr van Rompuy seeks – dressed up as the need for ‘pan-European economic discipline’, or some such. And President Obama’s apparent confusion might just give the cover needed to push the President of the new EU state onto the world stage, as the one voice representing the “Union’s citizens”.Show