donderdag 31 mei 2012

When will the Europhiles learn their lesson?

Countless citizens of EU-member states are asking themselves “Where are we going?”, and with good reason. The European Union is tearing itself apart through bad policy and undemocratic efforts at forced centralization of power. It is entirely unclear where this road will lead the many nations of Europe, but the notion that all of them will eventually end up in the same place is becoming increasingly unlikely. An outcome long held unthinkable – the break-up of the EU – is steadily becoming inevitable.

The Europhiles in Brussels and across the EU will hear nothing of it. Just as they have done for decades, they dismiss the notion of the EU being split up as nothing more than small-minded chauvinism. It is easy, however, to portray your opponents as small-minded. It is much harder to actually prove them wrong. In this case, it might not be possible at all: the Eurosceptics have been proven right time and again since the start of the global financial crisis.

In fact, it turns out that the “small-minded chauvinists” have, in fact, for years and years been the most forward-thinking people in Europe. It was the Eurosceptics who forsaw that expansion of the “European family” (as Europhiles lovingly call it) was going too fast: many new member states were simply not yet ready. The cultural and economic mindsets of Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe were insufficiently aligned to accommodate a grand unification project.

These warnings were ignored, but it turns out they should have been heeded instead. Similarly, the Eurosceptics warned that the institutions of the Union were not democratic enough, and that there was not (yet) enough popular support for the EU among the peoples of Europe. Again, they cautioned, more time was needed. But no – the Europhiles pushed for more centralization, at the expense of national sovereignty and popular democracy. The EU thus became a project of the elite, disliked by the people at large.

The grand misconception of the Europhiles was that they would be able to shape Europe as they wanted: that they could force their utopian ideal on the people without any resistance at all, and everyone would come to love their creation as much as they did. Simply put: the Europhiles behaved like a bunch of arrogant tossers. As a result, they – and everyone else in Europe – are now faced with the results of their hubris. Many countries weren’t ready for a monetary union, and precicely due to that single currency, their economic woes are also ravaging the countries that were ready. The people have come to hate the EU, rather than love it.

All of this was predicted by the sceptics, but no-one listened. So, are the Europhiles at last ready to listen? Far from it. Instead of turning over a new leaf, they are prescribing more of the same! They want to continue down the road that has already led Europe to the brink of destruction. The nations of Northern Europe, by and large economically succesful and politically stable, have been paying for the nations in the South and East. For decades now, there have been vast transfers of money from the succesful nations to the unsuccessful ones.

Has this helped one bit? On the contrary: it has punished successful economic strategies while rewarding bad ones. Nations such as Greece have been kept afloat, free to procrastinate when it came to fixing their significant political and economic weaknesses. And then came the crisis, and even the usual funds from up North were not enough: the weak nations began to collapse, and the inherent instability of the EU was revealed.

This crisis, then, was not only a disaster: it could also be a lesson. A valuable lesson in caution and humility, namely this: that the EU was a project born of arrogance, and that it could never work in its current form. That it would have to be disbanded, so that the member states could first, independently, become truly equal. Only nations that can be each others equals, both politically and economically, should attempt to form a union. That’s what the Eurosceptics had been saying for years, and that’s the lesson that the Europhiles should have learned.

There was also another lesson, namely that any such union, if attempted, should rely on the support of the people involved. The die-hard Europhiles, led by Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, have never concealed the fact that they wish to eliminate the nation-state. The so-called “Eurofederalists” aim to create the United States of Europe. Mr. Verhofstadt has proudly declared that he would like nothing more than to see his own Belgium become “a province of a united Europe”.

Of course, he’s entitled to that opinion. But the vast majority of the people, in all of the member states, disagree with that opinion. So why are the Eurofederalists still trying to force their utopia on the rest of us? Well, because they failed to learn both of the lessons that the crisis could have taught them, and because they failed to respect the warnings given to them by the Eurosceptics. They knew very well that the people didn’t want a European superstate – so they did their very best to implement it anyway.

Take, for instance, Verhofstadt’s (self-proclaimed) “greatest achievement”: the European Constitution. Back in 2005, this was to be the first step in creating the United States of Europe that he so desired (and that the people didn’t want). When the French and the Dutch rejected it – and I’m proud to say that I am one of those who voted no in the 2005 referendum – the Eurofederalists were first angry, and then revanchist. They simply renamed the proposed document, removed some symbolic language, and implemented it anyway. It came into effect as the Lisbon Treaty. That is the modus operandi of the Eurofederalist: when the people disagree with your plans, simply ignore the people.

With the many faults of the European project now revealed by the worldwide economic crisis, the people disagree with European centralism more than ever. The Europhiles, however, are also ignoring the will of the people more blatantly than ever before. They have learned nothing. Where does that leave us? Where are we going? Manuel Barroso and Herman van Rompuy, both staunch Europhiles, are mr. Verhofstadt’s spiritual and political allies, and they are in charge of the EU right now. They seem to think that this crisis is the perfect excuse to forced a centralized political system on the peoples of Europe, thus realizing the Eurofederalist dream after all. The sceptics all know that it will be a nightmare instead.

So again – where are we going? The Eurocrats of Brussels are pushing all of us in the direction they desire: the United States of Europe, which by any other name will still stink quite the same. They will probably repeat the trick they pulled on us before, with the European Constitution: the “U.S.E.” will be a centralized federation in all but name, and the member states will be sovereign in name alone.

But here’s the rub: the efforts of the Eurocrats will not solve the inherent problems that Europe is now facing. The resulting superstate, though idealized in their own visions, will in truth still consist of unequal parts – and it will still lack the internal democracy and the popular support that is neccesary for a successful union of any find what-so-ever. The centralization of power, such as through the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), cannot save the EU. Even the next step, the so-called Eurobonds (another grand plan of mr. Verhofstadt), is not at all fit to solve the problems. It is simply not possible to solve a crisis caused by coersion and arrogance by means of more coersion and arrogance.

How many more crises will it take, before the Europhiles finally learn their lesson? Reality will inevitably catch up with them: if they continue racing down the road they are currently travelling (and dragging the rest of us along), they will find that their overpowered racecar will break down before long – if it doesn’t crash and burn first, that is. Better to face facts: the EU was born of arrogance, and more of the same will only guarantee its demise. Better to save what’s worth saving, and split up the European Union.

They won’t even dare to think of that solution at present. Even the expulsion of Greece is unacceptable to the Eurofederalists. My guess is that they will (be forced to) come around on that one. But it won’t be enough. The EU, in its current form, is beyond saving. Economies – nations! – as vastly different as (for instance) Greece and Germany cannot truly flourish if they are shackled together by a European straightjacket. Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe all face their own set of problems, that demand their own set of solutions. That is what the sceptics have always maintained, and what the Europhiles have always refused to admit.

Denial will no longer suffice: one way or another, the EU will break apart. The sooner the Eurocrats learn their lesson, the better for everyone. If the union is dismantled in an orderly fashion over the coming few years, there’s no denying that we’ll all face certain challenges, but in the end, we’ll all be better off. If Brussels forces a European yoke on all the sovereign peoples of the EU, we will be worse off by far. It might even lead to a civil war, if things get bad enough.

Mind you, that last one’s not an exaggeration. After all, the longer we wait, the more painful the inevitable split-up of the union will turn out to be. Already, relations between the North and the South of the union have been soured, and the longer Brussels attempts to force an unwieldy yoke on nations that are not fit to carry that heavy burden, the worse things will get. If enough pressure is put on the member states, an eventual civil war is by no means unthinkable.

Consider this: the Northern states are currently borrowing vast sums of money to bail out the South – but in truth, this money is barely enough to keep states such as Greece afloat. There is no political will in the Southern states to truly reform their ailing economies: it would hurt too much for the people to accept it. They’d much rather discard the Euro altogether, return to their former national currencies, and devaluate those while declaring a sort of bankruptcy to get rid of their current national debts. But even if they could be convinced to restructure their economies instead, it would take decades to get on par with the North. For tens of years, the North would have to borrow tens of billions (or, more likely, hundreds of billions) just to lend that money to the South in turn.

And even if the Southern states were to eventually recover, they would never be able to pay off the huge debt they would then owe to the North. Again, they’d have to declare a sort of bankruptcy to “erase” those debts. That means the Northern states would get nothing, and they’d end up with huge debts, while the South would get a free lunch: a reward for their poor economic performance. And to make matters worse, there’s mr. Verhofstadt again, with his Eurobonds: he wants to put all the debts of Europe on one big heap, meaning that the succesful states in the North will not only be paying the huge debts they are now racking up to bail out the South – they will (being the succesful “net contributors” of the EU budget) be paying everyone’s debts!

The North will never accept that, and the South will never accept the austerity measures that they would be forced to implement in return for the bailouts. If the Eurofederalist plans are carried out, it will be only a question of which “side” will be first to renege on the agreements. Depending on how much the other side stands to lose by that point, a civil war can then become a possibility. And the longer we keep going down the road chosen by Brussels, the more likely that possibility becomes.

All it takes to avoid that disastrous scenario is for the Europhiles to finally cast off their insufferable arrogance, which has poisoned the entire idea of European unity already. The Eurofederalist claim that ending the EU would spell ruin is mere propaganda; the notion that we cannot be economically successful without the EU is a blatant lie; and the suggestion that we need more centralization is a very dangerous dogma that we’d better get rid off as soon as we can. The EU can be orderly deconstructed, leaving space for a new Europe, a free Europe of sovereign states that can peacefully and succesfully coexist, each at liberty to set its own course.

Now that’s a European dream I’d very much like to come true. How could we do that? That question merits an article of is own, and I'll publish one dealing with it tomorrow.

4 opmerkingen:

  1. Reality has a terrible habit to enforce itself on those who deny her.

  2. As an International Relations student, I feel obliged to respond.

    First of all, I have to make a few remarks:
    1.) the Euro (and consequently the Monetary Union) is not the same as the European Union. Although the two concepts are interrelated and mutually dependent, these developments stem from different ideas.

    2.) Sceptics are always right when things go wrong, that is the funny thing with them. However, that does not make them visionary or smart. Eurosceptics have done nothing but complain rather than providing constructive answers to the very core of the problems Europe, and democracy at large, are facing nowadays.

    3.) There has never been a 'Europhile-plan' for Europe. Since the people who are involved in the European Integration process realise that the European Union was built upon consensus, modest aspirations, functional cooperation and the recognition of sovereignty, which is actually explicitly mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty. It is the national politicians which do not understand Europe, misjudge it and characterize it as something bad because it sells. In fact, European Integration is a very difficult process to understand, which is probably the reason why many politicians are wary of 'explaining' this to the public.

    Why European Integration is good:
    The European integration process started in 1952 with the ECSC. In the aftermath of the atrocities caused by WW2, and realizing that absolute sovereignty was part of the cause, the member states deviced a process of interdependency which was to halt any triggers for escalation. In essence ECSC was simply created, because coal and steel were the main 'ingredients' for war. The believe was that creating a regulatory body for this would increase interdependence and make war an extremely costly matter. In fact, these ideas were all born out of practicality and the commitment to prevent any future wars. When this process took shape, and proved to be very succesful, technical and functional 'spillover' occurred. Not by 'grand ideas of europhiles' as you claim, but by rather modest, functional ideas of improving cooperation. There was never a 'grand scheme for Europe', which is probably the reason why people dislike it so much. The European Union is vague, unnoticeable and has no plan to it, which was exactly it's power.

    Unfortunately, the European Monetary Union has some serious flaws in it, which were indeed made painfully clear by the financial crisis. However, this is not because the technocrats in Brussels made a stupid mistake. It was the cling to financial sovereignty of member states which produced a 'half-way' plan. A revision of this system is indeed needed. But simply 'going back' to the pre-WW2 ideals of "sovereignty above all" is not only costly and foolish, it's also dangerous. History has shown us what can happen on this continent when everyone starts thinking about themselves. For me, European cooperation (and integration) still is the future.

    1. Hey Joost,

      Feels a little weird to have this discussion in English – considering we’re both Dutch, and know each other off the web – but for the purposes of internationalism, I’ll continue this in English nevertheless.

      I apologize in advance fo having to split up this reply into two parts: there's a max. character limit, and I wanted to offer a thorough reply to your observations and opinions.

      I’ll start off by responding to your preliminary remarks:

      1) I realize that the Euro and the EU are not the same, and I don’t think I’ve claimed at any point that they are the same thing. Nevertheless, I believe both the Union and the Currency to be structurally flawed due to overextension: there are nations involved that cannot handle the responsibility of membership (yet). Dismantling the Euro is, in my opinion, not enough to solve this problem. The entire EU should be split up. That way, nations can develop at their own pace.

      2) You are being rather cynical and unfair in regards to the sceptics. I’ll grant you there are many populists that now use anti-EU sentiment as a means of vote-harvesting, but there are also many sceptics who have been honestly and dutifully pointing out the problems for years. They certainly did offer a constructive solution: slow down a little. Give “Europeanism” time to grow naturally, from the ground up. I can think of no better advice. It was the Europhiles who pushed for more, and faster, and still more, still faster… All the while alienating the people and in fact creating more Eurosceptics.

      3) This is a blatant falsehood, and I have some trouble believing that you are truly gullible enough to stand by such a statement. There has been a clear movement in support of Eurofederalism, and to deny this would be ridiculous. Please read Guy Verhofstadt’s latest book, which he actually refers to as “the case for the United States of Europe”. He, and his staunch supporters, clearly have a plan for far-reaching unification. And it has nothing to do with ‘consensus’, ‘modesty’ or ‘sovereignty’. Sure, that’s how European cooperation got started, but you confuse the original idea of free trade and open borders (which I support!) with the later goal op poltical union (which I reject in the short term, and would only support in the long term if it comes about from the ground up).

      Next, you explain why the EU is “good”. Rather, you only explain why everything up to the EEG was good. And I’m not disagreeing with that – at least not by much. I reject the EU, but support the idea of an EEG. My only complaint is the inequality of member states, so I’d suggest an EEG for Northern Europe, which excludes the South until it gets “up to speed”. (Tomorrow, I’ll be posting the second part of my article, which deals with an alternative to the current EU. It deals with the issue of internal inequality in some depth; never let it be said that the sceptics offer no alternatives, eh?)

      You’ll note that up to the EEG, the peoples of Europe were, by and large, positive about Europeanism. Or actually, you didn’t note that at all. You instead claim that “There was never a 'grand scheme for Europe', which is probably the reason why people dislike it so much.”

      The opposite is true. When the EEG was forcibly turned into the far more centralized and top-heavy EU, *that* was the point when “a plan for Europe” was introduced. That was when men like Verhofstadt started talking about the “U.S.E.”. It was also when the people turned against the EU. So again, I make the case that it was the Eorophiles themselves who poisoned the European idea. They pushed for far too much, in far too short a timespan. What they forced upon the people was indeed a system with “some serious flaws”, as you say. Those flaws are, I think, far more serious than you seem to believe – but that is another matter.


    2. (2/2)

      The matter at hand is that you blame the sceptics for this. First of all, in this case “the sceptics” refers to “the democratic majority in every single member state”. Are you seriously saying that the EU failed because the people didn’t meekly shut up and did as they were told by the bigshots in Brussels?

      Cause it sounds a lot like that’s what you’re saying: because the people rejected the idea of even more centralized power, they ruined the European plan, or so you say. But that’s just ridiculous. It’s an invalid argument. Basically, it’s like saying “I wanted to take away all your sovereign power over your own affairs, and you wouldn’t let me, so I could only take half your freedom, and now we’re in an unstable ‘half-way’ system… so that’s YOUR fault!”

      See the problem with that reasoning? The initiator of a process that the people did not want (yet?) is blaming the one he was trying to force into his scheme for its failure. Did you know communists used much the same reasoning when their system failed? It was the people who failed the system, they reasoned, not the other way around. That prompted Brecht to quip sardonically that “if the government doesn’t like the people, why doesn’t the government elect a new people?”

      Truth is that it’s not the sceptics’ fault that there is so little popular support for the EU. The ones trying to sell it should be coming up with a better “product” instead of what they’re offering, because the people don’t want what’s on offer now. The people were fine with the EEG, but the EU was several steps too far. It was clear that the majority rejected it, but it was still pushed through (case in point: the 2005 referendum). Don’t blame the resulting mess on the sceptics: they gave fair warning.

      You make some attempt at justifying unification by pointing at history. Let me point out then that the greatest bloodbaths in the history of our continent were the result of some damned fool trying to unify all or most of Europe under a single government. It always created resentment, and that’s what it is doing now as well.

      For me, European (and, for that matter, global) cooperation, free trade and the mostly unrestricted movement of individuals is the way to the future. Forced unification (or “integration”, as it is euphemistically referred to) is another matter altogether. It is not a force for good, but rather a dangerous and often tyrannical instrument that results in oppression and injustice.

      So let us dismantle the EU, for it is a failed experiment. Start over again, but this time – do it from the ground up, instead of from the top down. It will take a damned sight longer, but the result will be stable and lasting. Which cannot be said for the EU, I suspect.