State of the Union – 3 (Alternative view)

The Economist’s Europe correspondent, Charlemagne, visited Strasbourg to listen to Jean-Claude Juncker give his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament. His take on the speech is rather different from ours. For the original article, go here:

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21707217-cheerleading-europe-has-become-almost-impossible-job-state-disunion

But if you might enjoy our more sceptical critique, read on.

The title of the article, “State of disunion” and subtitle, “Cheerleading for Europe has become an almost impossible job”, neatly sum up the Economist’s unremitting enthusiasm for the project and their sadness and sympathy at its unpopularity. The theme continues in the opening sentence:

NO ONE will stand up for Europe these days, sigh its dwindling band of supporters.”

But why is the EU’s band of supporters dwindling? The Economist offers no explanation beyond growing nationalisms, which in turn requires to be explained. Could it be that there are good reasons for withdrawing support from the EU? Reasons that the Economist declines to review. They must be aware of these reasons, many laid out in our blog, for they are proud of their intelligence.

Eurosceptics are given free rein to vent their populist outrage.”

Does the author believe that Eurosceptics should be suppressed? Let’s assume not; so what does this mean? It’s hard to tell through the emotional tone: “given free rein”, “populist outrage”. Is that all there is to scepticism about the value of the EU? For the Economist, perhaps. It has after all made up its mind and closed it. We note that Jean-Claude Juncker is given free rein to vent his emotional outrage at the lack of support for his project. Naturally he, and the Economist, are unenthusiastic to see free rein being given to Eurosceptics and would prefer it if these kept quiet or, better, joined the songs of praise. We will keep up the scepticism.

That leaves only the leaders of the EU institutions to mount a defence of their troubled project.”

And the Economist. Again, why only these?

The annual speech … features the closest thing the EU has to a president, grandstanding before the closest thing it has to a legislature.”

And yet the EU has many presidents, notably the President of the European Commission himself. And the Commission initiates the laws that then become binding on the member states. Is the author promoting J-C’s pitch that the EU should become a ‘proper’ union, like the United States, with which they repeatedly compare the EU, unfavourably? Would a federal Europe under the governance of the EU be better able to manage its crises? Perhaps it would, given that the EU has already legislated away the inconvenience of being democratically replaced.

The authority of the commission has dwindled in recent years as governments have reasserted control over their treasuries and territories.”

Did we know that member states’ governments had already handed over “control of their treasuries and territories” to the Commission? And if they have, why hasn’t the EU made better use of that control? And why does J-C now feel that he has to blame national governments for the recurrent crises it faces? Is it simply because they “have reasserted control” that he wishes to retain? Or does he believe that the EU under him could make work what national governments can only muck up? (From his address he clearly does.)

It is true that the ambition of the EU is to take control, of treasuries, territories and, above all, legislatures. Perhaps there has been something of a setback recently, of which Brexit may be a part. But the ambition remains strong, as is clear from the more optimistic sections of J-C’s speech. And it is this unwelcome ambition that will bring the project to its end, not the Eurosceptics in the European Parliament, many of whom, according to Charlemagne, “seek not just its defeat but its destruction”.

It was once hoped that the 27 might stride boldly forth into uncharted territory of integration. These hopes have faded as their differences reassert themselves.”

Hoped by whom? It is exactly the surreptitious moves into the “uncharted territory of integration” that is at the root of the EU’s failures. This ambition, with its dissembling and dishonest management, has spoilt the opportunity Europe had to form a large, successful, and popular, free trade area.

The EU is in a bind. Its institutional leaders are too weak to battle its crises; its heads of government see little advantage in defending its achievements and are plagued by disagreements.”

“The advantages of European integration … are banked and forgotten. The challenges are magnified and manipulated.”

This echoes, uncritically, the feelings expressed so emotionally by J-C in his address. It does the Economist no credit to swallow the puerile mix of whingeing, bullying and self-promotion that appears to be the mainstay of the EU’s attempts to persuade Europeans to accept the EU as a super-state. It’s an unattractive, uninspiring and ineffective way to run things.

The Economist is among the most thoughtful and articulate of the EU’s supporters and yet the newspaper, in common with so many fellow travellers, cannot bring itself to question why this is happening. It is our view that this is happening because it needs to. We believe that the advantages could be won more easily without the ideology and the most serious – and damaging – challenges arise because of the ideology and the dissembling that is needed to disguise it. Not to mention the manifest failure to achieve the priorities highlighted at the head of the previous post, State of the Union – 2 (Critical examination).

The whole article, and the attitudes it describes, are summed up in the excellent image by Peter Schrank that accompanies it:

charlemagne_cartoon

The question for us is whether we are heading towards a radical re-assessment of the EU and its foundations or whether the usual passive, uncritical progress towards the super-state will re-assert itself. There may be some clues in the outcomes of and comments on the recent meeting of heads of government (minus the UK) with the EU in Bratislava. We will look into that in a new post.

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