January 5, 2012

What “Europe?”

Duly Noted
Incompatible ambitions hide behind the professed desire to create a “Europe”.

Europe wobbles since about 1900. The attempts to structure the Continent have repeatedly turned the world upside down. Reacting to two world wars, the reluctant USA had to become a great power, Communism captured a major state and China was restored to her old global position. In a revolutionary restructuring of world affairs, the European era ended by the end of the colonial empires and by the modernization of the non-western world. Although typically, most Europeans do not worry about it and non-Europeans act as uninterested witnesses, our future is tied to the perennial crisis. As in 1914 and 1939, the calamity is homemade and it reflects a political collapse that expresses itself by misgovernment.

Nowadays, the elites are committed to a product they pitch as “Europe”. 

Regardless of the specific that is pushed, it is true that a Europe that facilitates the cooperation of its states is more than a good idea: it is a necessity. The outcome of the attempt to raise Europe from a geographic expression to a functioning organization will restore her place in world affairs. 

Indeed, if properly constructed, she can be a major actor instead of stumbling along as a subject.

There is a consensus that European unity is a deserving venture. However, even among its protagonists, this project has become suspect recently. This has to do with the details of the edifice that is constructed. Instead of being content with serving stability, “Europe”, as now assembled in Brussels, alienates old supporters. The plan meant to facilitate cooperation is becoming a scheme that is exploited to serve questionable causes. 

How could the institutional expression of “Europe” be formulated? The alternatives are the “Swiss model”, then the “American Mold” and the “French pattern”. In the Helvetic practice the purpose of the federation is to maintain the identity of self-governing constituent parts while providing mutual defense and free trade. For a Europe of the “fatherlands”, a practice that preserved four nations within its boundaries is well suited. It is also the most democratic one as direct democracy provides for local government and a small as well as frugal central government.

The US-American approach has great virtues. With its two-hundred years, it is the most stable system of the world. To boot, it is also a federal democracy. 

However, for Europe the example is unsuited. Even if Texas was independent before joining the Union, America did not have to overcome historic nations with separate identities. In some ways then, the USA is a modern nation state with a federal –and not confederate- system. Therefore, whatever the degree of her centralization, effective government does not diminish democracy or regional identities.

Lastly, the French model. It is the favored, albeit not admitted, EU-goal of some circles. The practical aim seems to be a fusion of the Rooseveltian and the French approach. In France, historically the “center” used government power to create uniformity to simplify its operations. Gradually, the differences among the “parts” were eliminated. The hidden charm of this solution is that it reduces diversity even if the Union was intended to preserve the uniqueness of the “fatherlands”.

In all of the above cases, we encounter patterns that want something from “Europe”. Not all these need to be detrimental. However, at least two of the three are damaging. This suggests that some cravings should not be fulfilled. 
Those that promote their agendas also make further demands on Europe. 

France has not learned from her history. Regardless of Waterloo, the idea of leading Europe has not been abandoned. Neither the loss of the Franco-Prussian war (1871) nor the mismanaged 1919 peace aiming to cement French primacy has been digested. The end of the Cold War tells Paris that a determined middle-power can line up Europe behind it. French power leveraged through “Europe” opens coveted vistas of predominance.

Germany is the Union’s largest member and the paymaster that covers the costs of the misconceived and now mismanaged Euro. Those that speak for the Germans still seek atonement for the misdeeds of their dead grandparents. Germany could lead but is committed to seek legitimacy through following. That they trail the French instead of the Russians is probably the lesser evil. 

Playing second fiddle when entering obligations and stepping to the front to cover the costs, perpetuates the errors made in behalf of Europe. Blanc checks spoil their holders. Besides the resulting corruption, this implants an explosive device in the European organism. One day the German public will have its fill of being exploited with the consent of its governors. This frustration might mute into anger and that could lead to the dismissal of the country’s governing parties and their replacement by new forces.

The break-neck expansion, call it “imperial spread”, has brought numerous members into “Europe”. With the connivance of the decision makers, some were unripe for the union and economically unsuited to use the €. Reflecting their peculiarities, these new members pursue agendas that impair the common cause.  

Seen as a wealth transfer scheme, Europe was joined to benefit from subventions. The Greeks got what they wanted and it ruined them. Since they can extort the Union –admitted insolvency compromises Brussels’ project- they might be bailed out. Overall, inclusion implied money and that made backwardness profitable. Real and expected dividends eliminated the need to modernize. Outdated structures survived and the money increased the profits of corrupt practices. The funding of inefficiency undermined price-based competitiveness. Disappointment is pre-programmed, as the EU cannot continue to refill the cookie-jar.

Ex-Soviet satellites want from “Europe” a protected independence. Whether the promise would materialize in case of need is an open question. Besides that threatened letdown, disillusionment is building up. From the Baltic to Budapest, the new Eastern members want to secure their independence. 

Meanwhile, Brussels exploits every opportunity to bolster centralism. That aims to degrade members to provincial status. Sending money acts as a palliative. 

Even so, conflicts are budding between bureaucratic centralism that interferes in local affairs and the goal of sovereignty. Reacting to that, a local leader concluded, “Brussels is not Moscow”. 

The future will have to decide how the European idea can be rescued. One approach is to vest more of the power that characterizes national states in the Brussels “apparat”. In this case, the task is to change the situation the Continent inherited from history until it fits the “plan”. Alternatively, the existing diversity is accepted and the project’s goals are adjusted to the situation. At present, Europe, led by its faceless “administrators” and the puppeteers behind them, accelerates toward the concrete wall that terminates a dead end street. Should a tow-service be called?


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