hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 25 June 2012

European Political Union: What Would it Look Like?

Rome, Italy.  25 June. Hot! Cicero, that great defender of the Roman Republic and implacable opponent of those that would abuse power in the name of the people once said, “Nothing is more unpredictable than the mob, nothing more obscene than public opinion, nothing more deceptive than the whole political system”.   The great man’s words seem prophetic as Chancellor Merkel daily calls for “more Europe” whilst daily refusing to pay for it (Germany alone cannot) as Europe’s peoples sit paralysed in the middle of a metaphorical autobahn as an out of control debt juggernaut with 26 steering wheels bears down on them.  So what would a ‘Europe’ with one steering wheel look like?  Is European political union, to given the stated ambition some formality, really possible or desirable?  And, is it at all relevant to today’s emergency?

Think of any federal state; Australia, the US, or more appropriately Germany and you begin to get Merkel’s thinking. Having gone through all the many structural economic financial reforms Germany has set as the price for German support ‘Europe’ in her vision would end up looking pretty much like the Federal Republic.  Specifically, Europe would have a constitution similar to the one (irony of ironies) that was drafted mainly by British lawyers for post-war Germany.  It would be a system of loose federation designed to prevent an over-bearing centre, in which EU member-states would become something like the German Landes themselves based on the old states and kingdoms of the German Confederation prior to Bismarck’s reunification of Germany. 
Brussels (backed of course by Berlin) would be the pivot around which Europe would spin and would over time take on more and more of the attributes of a state. The nation-state is essentially about three things; money, foreigners and killing. In other words - tax, foreign and security and defence policy.  To be fair to Berlin few are thinking in such Realpolitik terms it is simply the logic of the mess Europe is in and what Chancellor Merkel is calling for.  Indeed, the ineptitude of European leaders is really a function of today’s totally unworkable Europe.  Power is like giving birth – one cannot be a little bit pregnant as Europe is today.  Either ‘Europe’ truly integrates or becomes a real inter-state alliance. The strange mix Europe has today is simply confusing and paralysing everybody.
There is of course a big ‘but’ to all of this.  In fact there are several.  First, European political union has nothing to do with this crisis, here right now.  Indeed, it is a distraction from the crafting of the Ten Year Plan for European Recovery that is so desperately needed if the markets are to be reassured. Union might be made closer by the components of such a plan (fiscal union, banking union etc.) but is not the aim of a rescue plan.  Second, whilst some southern European states might be willing to accept economy-saving, democracy-crunching technocratic fiat from Berlin/Brussels because national democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon, northern and western Europeans will most certainly not.  Democracy therein has evolved over many years of political struggle and states such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and the Scandinavians are not going to surrender national democratic sovereignty easily. It is hard to believe either that those in Eastern Europe who gave freedom back to Europe would accept such diktat.
Third, there is no system to afford either credible political legitimacy or effective oversight of such a necessarily remote executive. “Do the math”, as the Americans would say.  Germany has a population of some 81.7 million people served by 622 MPs/Representatives in the Bundestag.  In other words in Germany there is a ratio of 1 MP for every 131350 citizens. The Netherlands enjoys a ratio of 1 MP for every 111337 citizens, whilst Britain has 1 MP for every 96000 citizens.  The EU has a population of 502.5 million very different people served by a European Parliament with 745 members, which affords Europeans 1 Euro MP for every 674,496 very different citizens.  European political union would mean the abandonment of effective democratic oversight.  
The first rule of good strategy is to exclude the irrelevant.  Talk of European political union at this juncture is precisely that; irrelevant.  In any case the most that could possibly be achieved but only after many years is not a federal European state but a confederal state such as Switzerland.  The Swiss are neutral mainly because they agree over very little.  A confederal Europe would make a mockery of suggestions from the likes of Tony Blair (beware he is back and looking for a top European job!) that the reason for more European integration is world power and influence.  Rather, the opposite is likely; a weak Europe with no voice for any voice would offend someone in Europe.
So, Euopean political union would more likely than not lead to a weak Euro-state, with too much power over its citizens and not enough influence in the world.  Is that really such a good idea? 
Julian Lindley-French

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