Among the EUtopians

Facing the facts about the anti-democratic European Union and its dwindling life span.

Recently I commented here on a New York Times piece in which Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford's vaunted “Europe expert” and an indefatigable champion of European unity, made clear that, even in the face of the current euro disaster, his affection for the EU hasn't diminished.  Now, as if the Times piece weren't enough, the current issue of Foreign Affairs turns out to contain a long celebration of the EU by Garton Ash.  At the same time, by happy chance, Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament and eloquent Euroskeptic, has published a short book, A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, in which he makes a tidy case against the EU.  Those still unsure of where they stand could do worse than to read Garton Ash and Hannan in tandem.

Let's start with Garton Ash's main argument for the EU – which is pretty much everybody's main argument for the EU: that it's kept European countries from going to war with one another.  Garton Ash opens his Foreign Affairs essay by juxtaposing an account of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto on May 10, 1943, with what's plainly meant to be a stirring vignette of ardent young EU supporters who – gathering in Warsaw on May 10, 2003, a month before the Polish vote on EU membership – fervently sang Friedrich Schiller's words to the official EU anthem, Beethoven's “Ode to Joy.” Garton Ash quotes the words with manifest enthusiasm: “Be embraced, ye millions!  This kiss to the entire world!  Brothers, a loving father must live above that canopy of stars!” Yeesh.  His point, of course, is to contrast Nazi horror with the delights of what he calls “a generous European welfare state” – and to suggest that this welfare state, which he views as a supremely civilized alternative to both American-style capitalism and Soviet-style Communism, is all that stands between Europe and a rerun of the Nazi nightmare.

Sound reasonable?  OK, turn to Hannan, who reminds us that the Nazis made similar arguments for their own empire: it would bring Europeans together, give them a shared identity, and provide “a haven of civilization between two forms of barbarism: the Anglo-Saxon savagery of unregulated markets and crass commercialism, and the Soviet savagery of total communism.” As for the notion of the EU as a guarantor of peace, Hannan asks rhetorically: “Was the EU a cause of European peace, or was it a consequence of the peace brought about by the defeat of fascism, the spread of democracy and the Nato alliance?  Is it a vaccine against Nazism, or simply the latest in a long line of presumptuous supra-national ideologies?” As for the “generous European welfare state,” Garton Ash seems in utter denial about the fact that it won't be around much longer, thanks to declining birthrates and freeloading immigrants.  In any event, as Hannan's statistics show, the EU “hasn't made its constituent nations wealthier” – much to the contrary, in fact.

It's an article of faith among EU fans that nation-states are a bad thing, and that if Europeans want lasting peace they've got to transfer their loyalties to the superstate.  Few have struggled more valiantly than Garton Ash to (as he puts it in Foreign Affairs) “generate...solidarity among [EU] citizens” and whip up “European compatriotism” while demonizing traditional patriotic flag-waving.  Again, turn to Hannan, who reminds us that during World War II, “national citizenship was, for many European Jews and other victims, their only defence against the [Nazi] murderers”; that “[t]he worst massacres took place in those parts of Europe where there was nothing resembling a national government”; and that over time “national units have proved remarkably secure vessels of freedom” – bulwarks against the various isms “which purport to be bigger than the nation-state: fascism, Marxism, Islamic fundamentalism.”  How would Britain have gotten through the Blitz without good old-fashioned patriotism?

Garton Ash acknowledges – he could hardly do otherwise –  that “European integration has rightly been described as a project of the elites”; but in the next breath he insists that the EU has enjoyed the support of “a passive consensus among most of Europe's national publics.” Balderdash.  He himself admits that while most Germans “opposed giving up their treasured deutsch mark,” they weren't asked their opinion about the matter.  Similarly, he notes that the important EU decisions are made behind closed doors and that Europeans, realizing that their votes in EU elections are irrelevant, have participated in those farces in ever-shriveling numbers.  Yet to Garton Ash, the fact that the EU has put a big dent in European democracy is a minor issue.  Democratic or not, he knows the EU is good for Europe – and if most Europeans don't agree, well, all the more reason to be glad that their opinions don't count.

Hannan offers a few relatively familiar examples of just how undemocratic the EU is.  To begin with, the EU Commission, which wields formidable executive and legislative power, is unelected.  The French and Dutch votes against the European Constitution were “simply disregarded”; when the Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty, and the Irish nixed the Nice and Lisbon treaties, they “were told to go away and try again.” But not only is the EU undemocratic; it also subverts its members' democracies.  Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic, Bertie Ahern in Ireland, George Papandreou in Greece, and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy: in various ways, as Hannan details, all these elected heads of government “got on the wrong side of the EU's hideous strength” and were punished for it.  As of 2011, Hannan notes, “[a]pparatchiks in Brussels now ruled direly through apparatchiks in Athens and Rome.  The voters and their tribunes were cut out altogether.  There was no longer any pretense.”

In his New York Times piece, Garton Ash offered what he described as a “new case for European unification.” That case was as follows: in the years to come, the economies of more and more countries around the world will dwarf even the largest national economies of Europe, so that if Europeans wish “to preserve the remarkable combination of prosperity, peace, relative social security and quality of life that they have achieved over the last 60 years, they need the scale that only the European Union can provide.” He repeats this argument in Foreign Affairs.  Hannan takes the opposite view, pointing out that centuries ago, when one would have expected China to dominate the world economy, “Europe's disunity turned out to be its strength.” While a united China remained stuck in its ways and got bogged down in bureaucracy, Europe's division into a multitude of duchies, principalities, confederacies, and so on sparked competition, innovation, and enterprise – as a result of which Europe became the planet's powerhouse.  The EU, Hannan wryly observes, is determined to be a united entity taking orders from Brussels “at the very moment that the great nations of Asia have discovered the virtues of devolution and decentralisation.”

I thought I knew quite a bit about the EU, but Hannan taught me a thing or two.  Did you know its employees – in other words, those unelected bureaucrats who decide how to spend the tax money forwarded to Brussels from its member states – are actually exempt from paying tax in their own countries?  And how about this scam: “Virtually every field of activity has some approved, EU-sponsored pressure group to campaign for deeper integration: the European Union of Journalists, the European Women's Lobby, the European Cyclists' Federation.  These are not independent associations which just happen to be in receipt of EU funds.  They are, in most cases, creatures of the European Commission, wholly dependent on Brussels for their existence.” In other words, the EU lines their pockets, and in turn they speak up for the EU – supposedly on behalf of journalists, women, cyclists, whatever.  And on and on it goes: “The Commission pays Friends of the Earth to urge it to take more powers in the field of climate change.  It pays the WWF to tell it to assume more control over environmental matters.  It pays the European Trade Uunion Congress to demand more Brussels employment laws.”  Thus does the EU arrogate more and more power to itself, all the while claiming that it's doing so at the behest of the people.

Hannan paints a vivid picture of EU power.  But “the real power of the EU,” he underscores, “is to be found in the wider corps of interested parties: the businesses which are invested in the regulatory process; the consultants and contractors dependent on Brussels spending; the landowners receiving cheques from the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy]; the local councils with their EU departments; the seconded civil servants with remuneration terms beyond anything they could hope for in their home countries; the armies of lobbyists and professional association; and...the charities and NGOs which, once they reach a certain size, almost always begin a financial relationship with the EU.” Then there are the Brussels politicos themselves.  Hannan recalls a February 2012 debate in which he told a Greek member of the European Parliament that “Greece wouldn't begin to recover until it decoupled, defaulted and devalued.” His opponent was horrified: “But this wasn't about the economics, he spluttered.  It was about the European ideal.” For Greece to leave the EU “would be a calamity for Greece and for Europe!” No, Hannan found himself thinking: “it would be a calamity for you personally.” Bingo.

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