In a time when almost everything about America’s current state of affairs is grounds for gloom, from the economic outlook to the national-security situation to the health status of our traditional liberties, one of the only reasons to smile – especially if you’re inclined to Schadenfreude – is the fact that the European Union, by most measures, is probably even worse off. To a considerable extent, of course, the dire straits in which America now finds itself are the consequence of an ideology essentially identical to that which has sent the EU into a tailspin.
One European leader who most assuredly doesn’t share that ideology is Václav Klaus, who for ten years (ending last month) was the president of the Czech Republic. Unlike his predecessor in that office, the late poet and playwright Václav Havel, Klaus, an economist and a champion of the free market who counts among his heroes Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, is a longtime critic of the EU. In Europe: The Shattering of Illusions, which has just been published in English, Klaus makes a clear, succinct, and compelling argument against the superstate. The book could have been called Idiot’s Guide to the EU or EU for Dummies, except that the real idiots and dummies aren’t those who need to be brought up to speed on the past, present, and plainly imperiled future of the European Union, but those who, rejecting economic logic and democratic values, have tirelessly promoted it and relentlessly pushed for the continual expansion of its powers.
It’s refreshing to read a book by a national leader that’s so learned, forthright, and explicit in its opposition to an establishment consensus. What Klaus opposes, specifically, is the “sacred mantra of the eurocrats” – namely, the proposition that “European integration is the Good,” no matter how many bad things it may lead to. Klaus doesn’t mince words, dismissing the “frivolous concept of world citizenship” as well as EU citizenship, and noting that the EU not only structurally resembles the Soviet world, in its time, but is defended by its adherents using arguments reminiscent of those made by Kremlin apologists. He begins with a brief history of the EU project, quoting EU founding father Jean Monnet as saying in 1952 that “Europe’s nations should be led towards a superstate, without their people understanding what is happened.” How better, after all, to subject Europe to a neo-Marxist superstate that despises free markets than by starting off with a capitalism-friendly free-trade zone and then moving gradually from A to Z?
And so it’s been done: established in 1957, the EEC (European Economic Community) gave way after some years to the EC (European Community) – the dropped “e” testifying to the increasing importance of non-economic affiliation – which, in turn, became the EU, the shift from “c” to “u” signaling the beginning of a real transfer of sovereignty from member states to Brussels. The introduction of the euro ushered in the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union), a.k.a. the eurozone; there ensued the creation of what Klaus calls the EFU (European Fiscal Union), generally known as the Fiscal Compact or Fiscal Stability Treaty; the culmination of all this will be, to borrow Klaus’s own coinage, the EPU (European Political Union), in which the superstate will be fully realized and all pretense of the existence of national powers and national boundaries will cease.
All of this, Klaus explains, has been motivated by “europeism” (also his coinage), an ideology propounded by utopian social engineers and founded on the notion that nation states “represent the Evil – because they were once the cause of wars among other things – while the supranational, continental and global entities represent the Good, because they – according to eurocrats – eliminate all forms of nationalist bickering once and for all.” (Klaus’s acerbic comment: “This view is obviously childish, yet it is generally accepted in Europe.”) Although rooted in anti-free market socialism, europeism has many non-socialist adherents, such as French politician Édouard Balladur, who called the free market “the law of the jungle, the law of nature,” and defined civilization as “the struggle against nature.” At the heart of the EU sales pitch, indeed, is the claim that the EU is the quintessence of civilization – the final destination of humanity’s long evolutionary journey from barbarism, competition, and war.
Klaus is quite properly caustic about these ideas, and about the EU grandees who, cleaving to them, have deftly stripped more and more power from the people of Europe (all the while, in turn, “granting” them “rights”) without asking most of them whether this act of theft was OK with them – and, indeed, without the people themselves, in many cases, quite realizing quite how much was being stolen from them. The smoothness (slickness?) of these transitions has owed a great deal to Europe’s mainstream journalists, most of whom have been good little EU soldiers, reliably sending forth the message that European integration is “the Good,” period, and that all opposition to it is by definition rooted in prejudice, selfishness, or some other unsavory trait. Then there’s the urgent search “for the ‘soul’ of Europe” – the pathetic, asinine attempt to “fir[e] Europeans up for the idea of the European Union” that EU Commission President Jacques Delors kicked off in the early 1990s (encouraged, alas, by Havel, who, though a great man, was a true believer in “europeism”).
The EU’s fruits are well known. The accumulation of power in the hands of a remote, unelected elite has eroded democracy. The monetary union, far from resulting (as promised) in prosperity for all, has led to a debt crisis that was predictable from the outset – but whose inevitability the EU’s architects, driven (like their Soviet predecessors) by ideology rather than economic logic, refused to recognize. (Klaus reminds us that when the euro was introduced, its boosters smugly warned that countries that chose not to adopt it would suffer: now look who’s suffering and who isn’t.) Klaus is also harsh about the economic paralysis caused by a decades-long blizzard of inane, intrusive EU dictates, “based on a false, anti-liberal idea that a larger area needs more regulation, although we [in the Czech Republic] – educated by Hayek and our communist past – know very well that a larger area (and complexity) needs more market forces and more decentralized decision-making.” From 2004 to 2011, no fewer than “4527 decrees, 686 directives and 6617 decisions were adopted on the European Union’s institutional level.” That sound you hear is Calvin Coolidge spinning in his grave.
As EU power has grown apace, a surprising number of Europeans have responded with indifference. Even now, when Germany and other northern countries are transferring huge sums to the improvident south to keep the ship afloat, there’s remarkably little in the way of efforts to scupper the vessel once and for all (one exception being the UK Independence Party, whose recent successes are a light in the darkness). Why such feeble political opposition to the EU? Klaus attributes it largely to the fact that politics itself – in the sense of robust democratic debate over key ideas and initiatives – is already on its way out, replaced by a centralized technocracy that, being ideologically monolithic, has no need for debate and can concentrate instead on implementing its directives and imposing its will.
Another reason for the low level of dissent, I’d suggest, is that European voters, unlike their American counterparts, have long since resigned themselves to rule by a consensus-oriented political class. (The demonization of the Tea Party by so many U.S. politicians and journalists reflects nothing more than a frustration over the refusal of so many Americans to be led by a detached, unresponsive statist elite.) Another reason is that EU leaders, in their craftiness, have made it hard for an ordinary mortal to keep up with their mischievous shenanigans: the documents by means of which Brussels has steadily enhanced its authority and enforced its control are simply too many, too long, too impenetrable, and too boring. Nor does it help that, as Klaus notes, even putatively anti-EU pols tend to become EU-friendly once they take office, drawn by a system that promises them the thrill of acting on a bigger stage than they’re afforded at home.
Klaus’s prescription for Europe is clear. Shrink the welfare state. Drop subsidies. Slash regulations. Liberate the market. Say goodbye to the superstate and restore full sovereignty to its member nations. He asks Europeans to look to their own experience: “Whenever Europe was free, without the straitjacket of social-engineering projects, there was prosperity.” But, he acknowledges grimly, Europe’s struggle for freedom, liberal democracy, and individual rights may well be lost – and the faith in europeism, “post-democracy,” and “transnational progressivism” so deep-seated that the captains of this ship will keep refusing to change course right up until the moment it runs aground. We can only hope that Europeans somehow manage to find their voices, reclaim their countries, and restore their liberties – and, failing that, that Americans will at least learn from Europe’s foolish mistakes and step back from their own precipice before it’s too late.
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