Ambition , Distraction, Unification, and Division (the EU Turtle’s arithmetic)
Every so often we try to find good arguments from Remainers to test our Leaver arguments against. Invariably we are disappointed; our opponent’s arguments are weak and too easy to refute, often muddled and sometimes self-contradictory. This week’s Charlemagne column in The Economist (TE) exhibits all three characteristics and so offers us the chance to show why we believe that the case to remain in the EU is unsound and dangerous for the UK (and indeed for all member states and their peoples): https://www.economist.com/europe/2019/04/20/the-problem-with-eu-foreign-policy
Although the article starts from the position that the EU “members are trying to act more as one” it offers plenty of evidence that this is not so and is unlikely ever to be so. Indeed they soon show that, “…this co-operation quickly ends where it collides with national impulses.”
The author cites some examples: of differences between France and Italy in North Africa (both do their own thing, in disregard of EU expectations), of the irrelevance of the EU in Syria, Germany acting in its own interest over NordStream2, and Spain backing Turkish membership while opposing that of Balkan states, the reverse of most member states.
National impulses will remain strong, at least until (and if) the EU should succeed in its ambition to become the federal government with powers to overrule actions based on national impulses. The article doesn’t mention (doesn’t want to discuss) the crisis in the eurozone, which derives from the unmanageable economic differences between member states and the inability to overcome these through the four ‘unions’ that would be necessary to complete the ambition to achieve full economic and monetary union (EMU): economic, financial, fiscal and political (see the Five Presidents Report).
“The euro must become the face and the instrument of a new, more sovereign Europe.” Jean-Claude Juncker (see next link).
However, the article focuses on foreign policy, which is another area where divisions among the member states are blocking attempts to create ever closer union.
The EU’s ‘External Action Service’, a form of foreign office, has set up a “framework for mutual defence”, which has led to talk of a “European Army”. We discussed some contradictions of this policy in our State of the European Union 2018 – 1, reviewing Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech to the European Parliament last September, in which he said, “If we want to – without militarising the European Union – to increase defence spending by a factor of 20, we will need to decide quickly.” The contradiction here is obvious. And deciding quickly is not the EU way (understandably, but much to their annoyance, because they are trying to manage up to 28 different opinions, demands and national interests). Because of these difficulties, TE goes on to dismiss such ambition: “Slow progress towards common defence procurement, let alone a shared doctrine, renders loose talk about a European army ridiculous.”
Sadly, but consistent with other Remainer ‘arguments’, TE slaps down the ambition as “ridiculous” without providing any evidence, other than the cited national impulses, and without offering any conclusion with regard to the future of the EU Project. Both the EU and TE seem to believe that the solution lies in removing the major obstacle, as they see it, to ever closer union.
“The common foreign and security policy still works on unanimity. It can take positions only where the EU’s 28 member states agree. One sensible proposal is to adopt “qualified majority voting” [QMV] on foreign policy, allowing the EU to act against the will of minority stick-in-the-muds.”
The unexpressed assumption here is that minority opinion is always unsound and should therefore be overruled by a majority. Such a ‘tyranny of the majority’ is convenient for EU bureaucrats, making it easier to get their own way, but was a danger foreseen, and provisioned against in their Constitution, by the founders of the USA. There is no such practical provision in the EU treaties. Unanimity was originally imposed on itself by the EU because they were confident of reaching unanimous decisions when it mattered and because it was necessary to persuade smaller or weaker states that joining the Union was safe, that they would not be trampled on by larger members. However, in due course reality intervened and they found that unanimous decisions were too difficult to achieve and the recruitment of new members no longer required the safety of unanimity.
“…the Commission is proposing to move to qualified majority voting in specific areas of our external relations” ( J-C, see State of the European Union 2018 – 2)
“On matters where it [QMV] already applies, like the single market, member states tend to find fudges preserving unanimity. Where they do not, decisions can prove divisive. In 2015 central European states simply ignored a vote imposing refugee quotas on them.” (TE) (see footnote for some treaty items on QMV)
Wishful thinking once again; unanimity will continue to be preserved by fudges, where it remains necessary. No answer is offered to the questions that arise when the fudges aren’t found, even though they recognise that “Crises nearer home are even more divisive.”
Remainer arguments appear to be based on such wishful thinking; the EU has survived such crises, therefore it will continue to survive. We are asking the awkward question: What are the chances of it continuing to survive? and What happens if it doesn’t survive?
“So its [the EU’s] foreign policy remains hopelessly underpowered, limited to coaxing national capitals towards agreement … . Over a generation or two, these common experiences may grow into a common foreign policy culture.” That “may grow” is as strong as the Remainer argument gets, true as it is to the derisive comment that it represents ‘the triumph of hope over experience’. They seem to recognise this but stick firmly to the unfulfilled notion that everything will turn out to be all right, although, “Europe will struggle to get over its past before the future arrives”, whatever that may mean.
They acknowledge the struggle but, like other Remainers who think a little about the future of the EU, TE assumes that ‘Europe’ (which is what they consistently say when they mean ‘the EU’) will succeed in this struggle. But they have offered enough evidence to show just how unlikely this is, while refusing to discuss the consequences of (unimagined) failure.
“History is the elephant in the room.” But history can’t be unified away, or even legislated against. As they say themselves, “The foreign-policy instincts of EU member states were forged by the experiences of invasion, destruction or the threat of those things.” These experiences differ dramatically among the member states of the EU.
It’s not just rabid nationalists (who, they assume, form the core of right-wing populists – and Leavers) who live in the past. In an important sense – that everyone is formed by it to some degree – we are all creatures of our country’s past, whether we know it and like it or not. To vary a well-known saying, you may be able to take the people out of their past but you cannot take their past out of the people. The EU is making some progress with the former but will ultimately fail by being unable to achieve the latter. We cannot think of an empire that survived when it ignored the deeply ingrained experiences of history.
Footnote (T(F)EU = Treaty on (Functioning) of the EU):
TEU p.26:3. The Council shall act by a qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise.
A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.
TEU p.36: If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken.
TFEU p.304: 3. The Council, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, may determine that Denmark shall bear the direct financial consequences, if any, necessarily and unavoidably incurred as a result of the cessation of its participation in the existing measure.