hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 11 September 2015

Jean-Baptiste Juncker: More Europe at Whatever Cost

“There is not enough Europe in this Union. And, there is not enough Union in this Union”.
Jean-Claude Juncker

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 September. What does Wednesday’s speech by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker really say about the State of the Union? Last week I was accused by a senior figure (not unreasonably) of ‘carping’ on about ‘Europe’.  He is right.  As a historian and strategist the implications of what is happening to power in Europe has to my mind the most profound implications for the Rights of Man, for democracy, liberty and political legitimacy.  And it is over that simple issue of political principle where Juncker and I part company.  

Juncker and I come from two very different political traditions that in and of themselves reflect the fundamental split that exists between most Eurozone and non-Eurozone members.  I am very much the political child of the English enlightenment, of John Locke and Thomas Paine, and the need for power to be legitimised and checked by close proximity to the citizen.  Juncker is the child of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s First Minister, who championed the idea of ‘dirigisme’, the top-down imposition of the state on the citizen in his/her name by an elite that knows best.   

Juncker’s political agenda came across most clearly when he addressed the two headline crises of the moment: the migration crisis and the future of the Eurozone. On the face of it many of the proposals Juncker made to ‘manage’ the migration crisis make policy sense. He is right to suggest the crisis is systemic requiring a Europe-wide response built on solidarity, humanity and commitment. I buy that.  However, the crisis also needs stopping and that means strategy, structure and tough action, all three of which were notable by their absence from the speech.  Rather, like Angela Merkel, Juncker seems almost content to envision potentially millions of non-European migrants coming to Europe with all that entails for the future of European societies and the functioning of many EU member-states.

As ever with Juncker the devil is in the detail of the language.  He calls for the ‘compulsory’, i.e. dirigiste, relocation of an ‘initial’ 160,000 migrants, a ‘common’ EU migration policy, asylum-seekers (he refused to call them ‘migrants’ which is what the majority are once they set foot in the EU) to be given the right to work from the day they arrive in the EU whilst they await a ruling on their right to stay. A ruling that Juncker would prefer was made by the European Commission and not individual member-states.  Juncker also called for the EU’s Frontex force to become a “fully operational border and coastguard system,” to patrol the EU’s borders, i.e. another stepping stone on the road to his beloved European Army.  And, he calls for a “more powerful EU foreign policy”, focused on Brussels and not the member-states. 

However, it is only when one reads the passages in the speech about deeper Eurozone integration does the sheer scale of Juncker’s political ambition become apparent – the effective scrapping of the sovereign nation-state in Europe stone by sovereign stone.  Juncker first calls for the Eurozone to have its own treasury, and a seat for on the IMF and World Bank. He then suggests that salaries across the EU must be harmonised to ensure the same jobs get the same pay, which would effectively end the free market in Europe.  This is super-statism and super-dirigisme at its most implacable.

The speech must also be placed in its wider political context. On July 1, the “Five President’s Report for Strengthening Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union” was slipped out.  In fact, the report should have been entitled, “Enforcing European Political Union” for whilst the focus of the report is on how to enhance the functioning of the Eurozone the objective is decidedly political – the ‘Grexification’ of the Eurozone state. In the report ‘Presidents’ Juncker, Tusk, Dijsselbloem, Draghi and Schulz (the EU elite love making themselves presidents these days) proposed a three-stage plan that by 2025 would see a Eurozone that was fully-integrated by 2025, i.e. a super-state in all but name (and possibly with name).   

Stage one, entitled “Deepening by Doing” would be completed by 30 June, 2017, and would complete the “Financial Union” by centralising more state power in dirigiste European institutions whilst at on and the same time magically enhancing ‘democratic accountability’. Stage Two, “Completing EMU”, would see ever more binding powers imposed on member-states to ensure ‘convergence’ between economies and thus further reduce the ability of any member-state to makes its own policy,.  Stage three, “at the latest by 2025”, would see a “deep and genuine EMU” put in place.  Naturally, the document is replete with references to ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’. This is nothing new; whenever EU dirigistes seek to remove power ever further from the people it is done so in the name of the very people who are being politically enfeebled. 

Set against such political ambition David Cameron’s hopeless attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Juncker, Germany and the Eurozone (for that is what it is) is doomed.  The strange thing about Cameron is that he is meant to have studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics across the road from me in Oxford. And yet he seems unable to comprehend that as a British Conservative he is actually engaged in a battle of the most profound political importance between small government English Lockeism and big, distant government EU Colbertist dirigisme.  I suspect he spent too much time in The Bear pub. Not for the first time Cameron has under-estimated the strategic implications of one of his many narrow political gambit.

Indeed, unless Cameron gets serious about his renegotiation he will place the British people in the worst of all dirigiste EU worlds.  The only way to stop such drift will be to threaten a Brexit and mean it for such a threat is likely the only way to get Germany and other Eurozone member-states to confront the full implications and consequences of Juncker’s dirigiste vision.

Juncker’s speech marks a true parting of the ways; a vision of and for Europe that goes far beyond the super-Alliance of European states in which I believe.  An elitiste, dirigiste ‘Europe’ focused on the European Commission and the European Parliament in which the once supreme European Council would be reduced to little more than a toothless advisory body.
Non-Eurozone states will soon have to face the profound choice they have all be ducking; join the new ‘state’ or leave the EU.  Are there alternatives? The federalist Spinelli Group are drafting what they call the ‘final treaty’ (sounds ominous) and have proposed the idea of ‘associate membership’ for states like Britain.  To Juncker’s mind that would be like being a little bit pregnant – simply not possible.  Indeed, for Juncker one will need to be either in the Eurozone or out of the EU. ‘Associate membership’ would for Juncker simply mean putting states like Britain into a form of political sin bin in which they are forced to pay but have no say until they come to their political senses and cave in (which is what Cameron usually does in any case when it comes to matters EU).  Perhaps the most cynical passage of the entire speech was Juncker’s call for a ‘fair deal’ for a Britain he does not like and which he would be quite happy to see go.

How can Juncker get away with such a speech?  After all, in the past European Commission presidents were seen merely as the EU’s top bureaucrat appointed by and subject to the member-states.  However, Juncker claims that when I voted in last year’s elections for the European Parliament I somehow knew I was voting for so-called Spitzenkandidaten.  In other words, he claims a political mandate from an electorate that did not realise it was voting for him and of whom only 41% voted. It was a political coup.  
Jean-Baptiste Juncker wants more Europe at whatever cost and that is something I can never accept.  Indeed, Juncker’s claim in the speech that “our European Union is not in a good state” is precisely because it is not in Juncker’s interest for it to be in a good state. For Juncker no crisis is a bad crisis if he can demand ever more ‘Europe’ at whatever cost. That is why in the final analysis the speech was a carefully-crafted exercise in political opportunism by a canny federalist who sees an opportunity to cross a political Rubicon from state to super-state via the white hot political ‘crucible’ of crisis. 

Therefore, for all the above reasons I will continue to ‘carp’ on about Europe precisely because the EU is bloody important, for the moment I still have the right as a ‘citizen’ to exercise my view, and above all this is a bloody important moment in the EU’s political destiny.

There is of course one other vital difference between Juncker and me which may I fear prove critical; he enjoys distant power, whilst I am a mere peasant.

Julian Lindley-French   

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