Guy Verhofstadt* is among the most vociferous supporters of the EU and strongly favours ever closer union towards a federal European government as the solution to its present persistent problems. Writing in the New York Times on May 16, he is enthusiastic about the implications of Emmanuel Macron’s substantial victory in the French presidential election. In this post we offer some of his conclusions and add our own commentary.
Verhofstadt rejects the claim that some “media commentators” make that Macron’s mandate is weak because he won against an opponent from the extreme right. He denies, justifiably, that the Brexit and Trump votes established a trend, citing the rejection of far right parties in the Netherlands and Austria as well as France. However, with signs of the complacency that we predicted would accompany Macron’s victory, he draws only the positive conclusion that voters in these countries do not want to leave the EU.
“Many Austrians might be critical of the way the European Union is currently run, but did they want an actual “Auxit”? No, thank you.”
He is critical of the EU though: “The European Union we have right now is very skilled at over-regulating the internal market and especially tying up small businesses in red tape. At the same time, the union is very bad at taking political steps to reboot Europe’s economy and solve its internal and external security troubles…”.
He goes further: “What we call the European Union is not, in fact, a union. It is still what it was a half-century ago: a loose confederation of nation-states whose coordinated actions are based on the principle of unanimity. As a result, its actions are always too little, too late.”
His conclusion from these criticisms is that “we have to start reforming the union — not by papering over the cracks, but with deep reforms. That means fixing the eurozone, strengthening the union’s foreign policy and border protection measures, creating a European defense force and establishing a continentwide [sic] security service. All of this needs to go hand in hand with deep changes to our institutions.”
He wants to replace the “bloated” European Commission with a “smaller government” and eradicate the “unanimity rule”.
So for Verhofstadt there is no question of doing away with the ideology of federal government, and all that entails, but it does need to be more efficient. The EU is not a union, its actions are too little and too late because everyone (that is, each member state) has to agree (the “unanimity rule” – he makes no mention of qualified majority voting). His commitment to the ideology of federalism is unshakable.
What he doesn’t explain in this short article is how ever closer union will remedy over-regulation and red tape. We are left to draw his conclusion that more government will do what insufficient government has failed to do so far. We reject this conclusion and take the opposite position; that the problems of the EU, some of which he correctly identifies, come from too much government and that in turn comes from the belief that independent nation states are inadequate to deliver what their citizens expect: stability, security, growth, jobs and so on.
From the introduction to his recent book* Verhofstadt lays out his view most dramatically: “After decades in service to the European people, I can honestly say that, at every turn, the greatest threat to the safety and prosperity of Europe is a failure to finish the great project begun in 1953, to unite the seemingly disparate nations of the continent together into one grand federal project. …the member states must put aside their differences and accept an American-style federal government.”
We have shown consistently throughout this blog that the EU’s ideology of supra-national government, growing as it does out of disdain for democracy and coupled with a culture of deceit, is bound to lead to discontent and disenchantment with the source of the discontent – the EU itself. There is simply neither logical nor causal link from autocratic government to the welfare of the governed.
We draw comfort and confidence in democratic government from the same source that Verhofstadt, and EU leaders more generally, draw their opposite conclusion. The rejection by voters of nationalism in Austria, the Netherlands and France, and indeed in the UK (witness the collapse of UKIP) indicates clearly that voters understand more than they are credited with, despite vigorous attempts to persuade them that they need to be governed by autocrats and to be deprived of any say in how they are governed.
*Guy Verhofstadt is a former prime minister of Belgium, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, a member of the European Parliament from Belgium since 2009 and the author of “Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union.” He is also the lead Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament.