No sane person could have witnessed the coronation this week of the new grand poobah of the European Union without recognizing just how utterly undemocratic – and dangerous – this institution is.
Her name is Ursula von der Leyen, a name that instantly communicates two important facts: (1) she is German; (2) she is a member of a hereditary elite.
To be sure, the “von” is courtesy of her husband, who belongs to an aristocratic family. But her own blood also runs blue. In addition to having a tony Teutonic lineage – she was born into the patrician Albrecht clan – she’s descended from a couple of the biggest slave traders in the American South. Her grandfather, Carl Albrecht, was a psychologist famous for his studies of “mystical consciousness.” Her father, Ernst Albrecht, was one of the very first bureaucrats to tread the corridors of power in what would later become the European Union
Raised in Belgium, von der Leyen studied in Germany and Britain, and lived for a while in the U.S., along the way picking up degrees in economics and public health and also becoming a gynecologist. But she eventually settled on politics, hitching her wagon to Angela Merkel and climbing the ladder of power in Germany, getting herself elected to the Bundestag and serving in turn as Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth; Minister of Labor and Social Affairs; and Minister of Defense. In the last-named position, she didn’t exactly cover herself in glory: as President Trump has pointed out, Germany has consistently failed to pull its weight in NATO; British journalist Andrew Neil recently referred to her as a “failed” Defense Minister and as “the second most unpopular politician in Germany.”
None of which should come as a surprise, because the top Brussels jobs are routinely the next stop for failed, unpopular European politicians. You don’t need to be competent to get tagged for a leadership position in the EU, and you definitely don’t need to be popular. Von der Leyen got picked to be the most powerful official in the EU – with a population upwards of 500 million – by the twenty-eight members of the Council of Europe. On Tuesday, the European Parliament got to weigh in on her appointment and to vote to ratify her selection, but it was hardly an exercise in democracy: as in the Soviet Union and other Communist states, it was an “election” with one candidate.
And von der Leyen won. It was a close vote, but she still won. Consequently, as the EU continues its long metamorphosis from a coal and steel community into a hyperstate, the closest thing it has to a president is a woman who has said that she looks forward to a United States of Europe and is eager to build an EU military. Perhaps one reason for her disastrous tenure in the German Defense Ministry (as Andrew Neil put it: “Sixty percent of their planes can’t fly. A hundred percent of their submarines can’t take to the sea”) was that she wasn’t really all that interested in upgrading her own country’s armed forces and keeping NATO strong – her real goal is to establish the EU as a major military power, effectively replacing NATO.
Before the EU Parliament voted on her candidacy, von der Leyen was given a chance to address its members. Her speech was a cavalcade of clichés about “turn[ing] challenges into opportunities” and “tak[ing] bold steps together,” not to mention developing “frameworks,” creating “mechanisms,” and introducing new “schemes.” Banal stuff. But the actual content was frankly scary, even for those of us who are already onto these people’s dark intentions. Speaking in the chamber of the EU Parliament, von der Leyen sounded for all the world like a dictator, calling for her subjects to march in unison, to “move together” in “solidarity,” because “we all share the same destination.” She made it clear that there is something called “the European way,” and she knows what it is – it is now her job to define what it is – and everybody had better get on board pronto and move in lockstep into the golden future time. She promised a new “European climate law,” a new EU unemployment-insurance arrangement, and a variety of other new laws and regulations. She vowed to order member states to provide equal numbers of male and female EU commissioners – and she vowed that if they failed to comply, she would reject their nominees and force them to bend to her will.
“The world,” she pronounced, “is calling for more Europe. The world needs more Europe....Europe should have a stronger and more united voice in the world.” Note that “more united” bit – this is a canny way of saying that the duly elected governments of supposedly sovereign EU nations should henceforth be even more obedient to her than they were to her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker. Then there was this: “We must have the courage to take foreign policy decisions by qualified majority and to have the courage to stand behind them.” This is a sheer power grab: what she’s saying here is that she plans to compel member states, whatever the will of their citizens, to subscribe to a single foreign policy to be determined by Brussels.
She even compared the EU to a marriage. Nor was it possible to ignore her fondness for the words “strong” and “strength.” The idea of herself as Führer of a mighty realm stretching from Portugal to Finland, from Ireland to Cyprus, manifestly gets this woman’s juices flowing. After the European Parliament confirmed her as President of the European Commission, she gave an acceptance speech in which she actually told the legislators that “your confidence in me is confidence in Europe.” Translation: L’État, c’est moi. What is it about the spectacle of a power-hungry German envisioning an omnipotent European empire – with herself at the helm – that sounds so unsettling? Who was it, again, who said “Ich bin Deutschland, und Deutschland bin ich”?
As Nigel Farage commented in the European Parliament on Tuesday, von der Leyen is plainly out “to take control of every single aspect of our lives....she wants to build a centralized, undemocratic, updated form of communism.” The second the word “communism” passed his lips, the hall was filled with cries of outrage. But it was scarcely an exaggeration. (Imagine if he had said “Nazism”!) Noting von der Leyen’s enthusiasm for an EU military, Farage pointed out that “what is there for defense can also be used for attack.” Indeed, there can be little doubt that one reason von der Leyen and company are itching to build a European army is that they want to prevent any more Brexits: try to pull your country out of the EU a few years from now and, if she has her way, Brussels will do to you what Moscow did to Hungary in 1956 and to Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Welcome, then, to the new Europe. Just make sure to stay in line and keep your mouth shut – except, of course, when singing the “Ode to Joy.”