The EU is like an alcoholic: until it admits there is a problem – there will be no cure
Little more than a decade ago, any survey of the prospects for the future of the European Union and the wider continent would have been a relatively pedestrian exercise. It would have looked critically at the perennial failure of many of the economies of EU member states to realise their full potential and queried the growth of bureaucracy in Brussels. Overall, however, it would have been an optimistic review, reflecting a world in which technocrats wielded the levers of power, integration in its various forms was regarded as inevitable and only its pace was debatable, while there was a consensual view that the EU was a “good thing”, its existence permanent and its expansion axiomatic.
No serious commentator would have predicted that by 2020 the European Union would be contracting rather than expanding, that potentially lethal fault-lines, both economic and cultural, would have opened up across its member states, that a massive immigration crisis would be destabilising Europe, that many EU electorates would be in mutinous confrontation with Brussels and that terrorism would be a major preoccupation. Nor would anyone have forecast the dramatic decline of the EU’s financial motor – the mighty German economy – and economic interactions with China and the United States that would threaten further disruption.
Today the reality is that the Brussels nomenklatura is in the classic situation of the alcoholic: until it admits the problem – that the European Union is in a state of crisis – there is no hope of a cure. For an illustrative example of all that is wrong with the EU one need look no further than its appalling mishandling of Brexit. The EU is in the process not only of declining from 28 to 27 members, it is losing the fifth largest economy in the world, which also happens to be a nuclear power and the occupant of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Yet to listen to the rhetoric, betraying the punitive mentality of many top officials in the various organs of EU governance over the past three years, one would have thought some problematic third-rate country was departing and being punished in the process.
Worse than that, the unacknowledged elephant in the room is the accumulation of abuses that impelled the United Kingdom to take its leave of an increasingly dysfunctional body and the complacency that dissuaded EU leaders from offering David Cameron the concessions that might have avoided Brexit. Now there is dissension over President Macron’s vetoing of membership applications from Albania and North Macedonia. Regardless of whether that move was a geopolitical blunder, what does it say about a multinational confederation when it is losing Great Britain and hankering for Albania and North Macedonia? Translate that scenario into business terms: how would one rate a large corporation experiencing a comparable exchange of affiliates?
In the vocabulary of Brussels, genuinely respecting democracy by implementing the will of the electorate, rather than paying lip-service while imposing the prejudices of the elites, is denounced as “populism”. Brussels’ unpersuasive propagandists should reflect upon the root of that word “populism”.
The European Union has no hope of survival if it continues on its current trajectory. Its main residual strength is that no other member state – yet – is inclined to follow Britain out of the door. But that is not a guarantee of permanent allegiance. Who, a decade ago, would have forecast Britain’s departure? Nor does it mean that the Eurozone will not imitate the experience of the Union itself and begin to contract rather than expand. As so often in history, the panacea being proposed for EU troubles is precisely the response most guaranteed to blow the EU apart: Emmanuel Macron’s obsessive drive for greater integration.
When someone is feeling faint, the usual prescription is to loosen the sufferer’s clothing, not tighten it. The southern EU states cannot remain permanently in the straitjacket of the Eurocurrency. There is growing evidence that another financial crash may be on the way – in cyclical terms, one is inevitable. The ECB does not have the resources to bail out the Eurozone. Mario Draghi’s last act as ECB president was to bring back quantitative easing “for as long as necessary”. How long will his successor Christine Lagarde deem that necessity to be? Having pledged to do “whatever it takes” to save the Eurocurrency, Draghi pumped trillions of euros into the Eurozone and drove interest rates into the ground. How much longer can such extravagant measures be tolerated in support of a pseudo-currency that is a political icon rather than a product of fiscal reality?
The roots of the current crisis lie in the EU’s remote origins. Its grandparent entity, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), despite its industrial-sounding name, was a political project. Beyond that, it was even a largely spiritual project. In 1950 the three most influential statesmen in Europe – Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister, Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany, and Alcide De Gasperi, prime minister of Italy – were all devout Catholics, at the height of the Christian Democrat political renaissance. Schuman has been declared a “servant of God” by the Church, the first stage on the path to canonisation. During his brief term as French prime minister in 1947-48 his government devised the project that became the ECSC and, ultimately, the EU.
The European project was a political concept from the beginning, but also an avowedly Christian initiative: the EU principle of “subsidiarity”, for example, was taken from the social teaching of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragesimo anno, which declared it “a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do”. That echo of Edmund Burke is in direct conflict with Emmanuel Macron’s integrationist ambitions and all the centralising instincts of the Brussels bureaucracy. That is just one illustration of how far the EU has not only departed from its founding principles, but positively demonised them.
A posture of virtue-signalling political correctness produced the immigration crisis in Europe. In Germany 1.3 million asylum seekers entered the country in 2015 and 2016, rising to 1.7 million in 2017. Researchers project that around 50 per cent of recent arrivals will still be unemployed five years after entry and 25 per cent up to 14 years. One-third of those in employment are in temporary work, mostly in low-skilled occupations. The cost of the asylum influx to the German government totalled €62.5bn between 2016 and 2018. Angela Merkel has declared that the situation of 2015 “cannot, should not and must not be repeated” (some irresponsible idiot invited millions of migrants into Angela’s country and apparently she is determined to find out who it was, if it’s the last thing she does).
As so often in history, the panacea being proposed for EU troubles is precisely the response most guaranteed to blow the EU apart: Emmanuel Macron’s obsessive drive for greater integration.
Compounding irresponsibility, Brussels has attempted to force member states to admit immigrants, provoking serious confrontation with countries such as Hungary, Poland and Italy. Here is the kernel of the disconnection between the Brussels policymakers and member states. The cultural crisis is by far the most serious: if the EU falls apart during the next decade or so, the two principal sources of combustion will be the doomed euro and the culture war that Brussels has declared on member states that dare to aspire to preserve their identity. It is time to junk the disinformation flowing out of Brussels and relayed by lazy journalists regarding “concerns about the rule of law, democracy and rising authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary”.
The so-called “independent judiciary” supposedly under threat in Poland was the hangover from General Jaruzelski’s weasel “Round Table” pact which secured an indefinite monopoly by communist-era judges, in one instance passing the gavel from father to son, to a point where Poles despaired of gaining impartial justice. And while that regime was in place, sustained by the party of Donald Tusk, where were the fearless Brussels champions of justice? What sanctions did they threaten then?
As for fears for democracy, they are more justified around Brussels than in Budapest. The Hungarian government is so popular that Viktor Orbán has won three successive super-majorities at elections attested as free and fair by international observers. Between elections, all contentious issues are subjected to plebiscites. Any more democracy and the one justifiable fear is that Hungarians will become bored by prolific consultation.
But in the vocabulary of Brussels, genuinely respecting democracy by implementing the will of the electorate, rather than paying lip-service while imposing the prejudices of the elites, is denounced as “populism”. Brussels’ unpersuasive propagandists should reflect upon the root of that word “populism”. Instead of yielding to Brussels’ demands to dilute their culture with migrants, the Hungarian government has brought the family back to the centre of society – where the EU’s founders intended it to be – and by pursuing family-friendly policies is repairing the demographic deficit by growing its own population.
Instead of following President Macron’s discredited “more EU” approach to the Union’s increasing turmoil, the leadership in Brussels should acknowledge that interesting and innovatory social policies are emerging in the eastern states, that the euro is the problem not the solution and that a looser-knit, multi-track EU model, with member states providing their own solutions to national problems, offers the best hope of avoiding implosion of the European project in the coming decade.