Podella Pisanella. 29 April. Niccolo Machiavelli once said, “Men are so simple and so inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions”. The Tuscan landscape flows smoothly across the eye like a good bottle of Brunello di Montalcino flows smoothly across the palette. In the grand distance Cypressi stand erect across the hills and ridges like Roman legionnaires celebrating the status – real or imagined - of the masters who planted them. This is a refined, man-made landscape born of ages with just the merest glimpse of the ancient Etruscan wildness and medieval mayhem which once did so much to shape this land and its people. Tuscany in some ways is a metaphor for Europe. Right through its ancient heart run the highways and bye-ways of an empire that still effectively shapes Europe – the Roman Empire. What does Tuscany’s history say of Europe today?
Rome grappled continually with the battle between elite power, the rights of citizenship, discrimination, immigration, insecurity and supranational identity. Even today the shadow of Rome does so much in the mind to separate the European from the non-European, the ‘them’ from the ‘us’. It is a tussle that still marks Europe’s many dividing lines and which is daily played out as the EU and its leaders try to turn distinct nations into European empire…again.
For many years now the battle for a European ‘us’ has been fought between politicised Eurocrats and their political fellow-travellers and national democrats dismayed at the assault on their states by the very institution they thought served them. The EU has become one of those giant computers beloved of Hollywood which is built to serve but learns to dominate. Sadly, what started out as a wonderful, war-ending idea has become a nightmare as the ‘Europe’ the elite built simply created a new ‘them’ and ‘us’ between the anonymously powerful and secret and the anonymously and yet massed impotent – the people.
In May almost-elections will take place to the almost European Parliament to elect the mainly unknown at great expense to ‘represent’ the all-too-wittingly unknowing. Thereafter, the power-justifying, mandate illegitimate European Parliament will be cited by the powerful as a false mandate to build their false ‘Europe’ on false democracy. Sadly, the EU today is just about as far one can get in democracy from government by the people, for the people and of the people.
Machiavelli knew that If politics outstrips identity then power becomes autocracy. And yet so many in the Brussels elite seem to think that by chipping away at the power of the state function can somehow build identity. The saddest thing of all for the people is that so many European states are willing to go along with this. Many eastern Europeans after years of subjugation by the Soviet Russians see EU membership as a badge of honour and a source of protection (of sorts) even if it is not quite democratic. Southern European states mired in debt see a loss of democracy and possibly liberty as a price worth paying for access to the money of the few European taxpayers actually paying hard cash to keep the Eurozone afloat. The French and other members of the original ‘Six’ still somehow think the EU of today is the European Economic Community of old and that somehow they still have the beast under control. The Germans think that because they control the European Central Bank in Frankfurt they control the EU and that somehow the Union is the answer to the century-plus old German Question; European integration on German terms.
Only the British perhaps with their distinct traditions of law and freedom hewn out over centuries of revolution-free history see the EU for what it is – power for a few at the expense of the many. And yet the British elite have become so entangled in their own spin that they have abandoned the fundamental principles of power and influence. No-one listens to them anymore – either within or without.
Just up the road from here in Florence Machiavelli understood power and the arts of its dangerous practice. He would have recognised today’s European nation-states as not dissimilar to the Fifteenth century Italic League that he helped craft and which was eventually crushed by the 1494 French invasion. The League was too late for Italy’s warring city states had already been stripped of real power. Today’s EU state has been similarly hollowed out by transferring so much of the essence of state power to Brussels that no-one knows where the EU starts and the state ends. It is a recipe for strategic disaster.
And in steps Vlad. Moscow is re-drawing Europe’s margins in that direct and brutal way in which Russia has so often told its own story. Ironically, given the case made by those for deeper European integration Russia’s aggression has revealed just how weak Europe has become because of it. In any case, Comrade Vlad thinks the EU is hypocritical. The EU’s exercise of power is little different to that of the Kremlin - utterly secretive and lacking in transparency with few if any real checks and balances.
Machiavelli was at his Florentine peak during the 1494 French invasion. The Master would have understood all too well the Europe of today. For him there would likely be only two winners – the false democrats of Brussels spinning their paralysing webs of ‘harmonisation’ and ‘efficiency’ and the non-democrats of Moscow driving their tanks of autocracy through sovereignty.
The only question Machiavelli would have asked is to which of the two to serve. After all, both Brussels and Moscow are brim full of plotting little princes with whom the Master would have felt entirely comfortable. My bet is on Brussels for Machiavelli would have understood that with power moving inexorably away from the state it is the little princes of Eurocracy that will soon rule whatever the people say, think or vote. Power is an end in and of itself for princes.
The new struggle for Europe concerns where democracy happens. The EU elite unlike Comrade Vlad are not averse to democracy they simply want it to happen at the European level. The rest of us believe that 'democracy' at the European level will simply confirm power that is too far distant from the people. They very thing that in the end killed Rome.