The EU keeps on both demanding solidarity and, when it suits, claiming that it exists. We question both whether it exists and whether it is necessary, or even possible.
Jean-Claude Juncker from his annual 2016 State of the Union address:
“Solidarity is the glue that keeps our Union together.”
“Being European, for most of us, also means the euro … Our European budget is living proof of financial solidarity. The euro is an expression of solidarity.”
The only thing that will keep the Union together is effective outcomes, for at least a majority of its citizens. However, ‘solidarity’ here means that everybody (or at least those who really count) should buy into the ideology and make the necessary noises in support. Does anyone who is not befuddled by wishful thinking believe that solidarity around a failing ideology will bring about benefits for more than a self-selected minority?
J-C appears to believe this; certainly he needs to, to keep up appearances, which is all he has to offer. Having experienced it, we now recognise the euro as a disaster moving towards its inevitable dissolution.
Multinational solidarity is a crucial feature of EU propaganda and would indeed be important in a true union of states. However, the EU’s political and economic agendas cannot build such solidarity and the recycled politicians who oversee the Project are sufficiently aware of both its notional importance and its implausibility that they feel obliged to foster this illusion and to cover its absence.
The EU has to kowtow to the big members and hammer the little ones as part of its survival strategy. Its own rules and regulations are part of the hammering, towards full unification (aka ‘solidarity’) but Germany in particular and France also cannot be treated similarly or they would put the Project at risk by asserting their national priorities more openly. Germany’s refusal to conform when it doesn’t suit, as in the gas pipeline example (see Gas Leak) and the EU’s connivance in this, are essential features of the real EU, though not of the propaganda version for obvious reasons.
The European reality is that no member state will conform just to support the ideal of solidarity. The difference – and it’s critical – is that some members may be bullied into submission while others may not. The disparity between EU treatment of big and small members, as exhibited in the gas leak ‘scandal’, for example, is key to the underlying fragility of the Project and is what will eventually bring it down.
The core ideology, ever closer union (solidarity) at any price, is simply not achievable because that is not the overriding ambition of any member, and cannot be as national priorities must take precedence if governments are to get re-elected.
Thus member states, both large and small, will often find themselves in opposition to the unification process because in order to conform they would have to change established practices and so put at risk the support they rely on from their voters, a problem that the EU has consciously avoided by denying citizens the right to choose their federal government and, more important, to dismiss it when it displeases enough of them. So the first pillar of the EU’s architecture (see Foundations), which is a federal government (multinational solidarity), requires the second pillar (absence of democracy) and makes the “founding principles” in perpetual tension with reality.
Here is the ideology in full spate:
“I simply want to repeat that any vision of the future must take into account the fact that the EU cannot and will not compromise on its founding principles.” M. Barnier
“In the absence of a common discipline, in the absence of EU law that can override national law, in the absence of common supervision and a common court, there can be no mutual recognition of standards.”
Barnier cannot spell out the founding principles honestly because that would scupper the project. Instead he and other EU leaders are obliged to resort to popular fictions (e.g. growth, stability, democracy, “a better and fairer life for all”) which are clearly not being delivered. Reality trumps fiction.
Two further examples will illustrate the point. We referred before (in Gas Leak) to “blatant German malpractices”. This refers to the frequent discrepancies between Germany’s interests and the interests of the EU; Germans would not (do not) acknowledge that acting in their own interest can fairly be called ‘malpractice’, any more than the dissolution of judicial independence in Poland is regarded as malpractice by its PiS government, or indeed by many of its people, who elected that government. But Polish ‘malpractice’ (i.e. bending or breaking EU rules, or compromising founding principles) has to be challenged and punished, visibly, whereas German ‘malpractice’, which cannot safely be challenged, has to be covered up and let pass, thus compromising in practice those founding principles. Since it cannot enforce its dominion uniformly, by adding more and more detailed regulation, it has at present to resort to propaganda and to outright deceit. Not to mention vague threats to withdraw EU funding from rogue states (see Budget Bazaar).
Perhaps EU leaders recognise the conceptual weakness of this failure, which is why they are keen to set up their own police, military and intelligence networks, which enabled other empires to sustain themselves, for a while at least. Here is J-C again, from the same speech:
“Only together are we and will we remain a force to be reckoned with … Soft power is not enough in our increasingly dangerous neighbourhood.”
“Europe needs to toughen up. Nowhere is this truer than in our defence policy. But without a permanent structure we cannot act effectively.”
“The Lisbon Treaty enables those Member States who wish, to pool their defence capabilities in the form of a permanent structured cooperation. I think the time to make use of this possibility is now.”
He wants us to believe that such things are required for protection but what he really wants to protect are the true founding principles of the EU.
Sometimes Juncker himself recognises the gap between rhetoric and reality:
“Never before have I seen representatives of the EU institutions setting very different priorities, sometimes in direct opposition to national governments and national Parliaments. It is as if there is almost no intersection between the EU and its national capitals anymore.”
That is also from his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament in September 2016 and throws an alternative – and more honest – spotlight on the rhetoric of solidarity.
Where is the evidence that different cultures unified under a common administration become reconciled, harmonious and prosperous?
Here are some counter examples, some failed, some failing: Burma, Bosnia, Cyprus, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Rwanda, Turkey, Ukraine (Little Russia), Yugoslavia.
If there are any examples of it working they don’t spring to mind. It would be more realistic to accept the differences among our European nations and focus on cooperation and common interests (for example: defence, trade, cultural exchange, environment, scientific research, technology investment).
It is this fragility risk in the EU Project that enthusiastic leaders of member states (and Remainers) refuse to face.