Those in Favour…

Is this pandemic the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning for the EU?

VerhofstadtSome see the covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity and a requirement to hasten and tighten the programme of unification; others see it as the likely end of a failed experiment. What follows is the recipe of arch-federalist Guy Verhoftadt, the EP’s chief Brexit representative. In EUObserver [1] he makes his case forcefully, if without evidence in support. In order to show where he (and many others) wish to take the Project we quote liberally from his Opinion piece, and offer some comments on the way.

The headline to his article is: Time of coronavirus shows importance of being European

But this fails in both tense and attribution. He first “shows” how unimportant it is to belong to the EU (which is not the same as “being European”), and then he goes on to say what would be needed—in his opinion—to make such belonging important. We say explicitly what he takes for granted (and therefore doesn’t need to support with argument), that for the EU to do what he wants it has to become a full federal government [2].

It was already clear for a long time that when exceptional circumstances occur, the European Union can be pretty powerless: unable to bring the migration crisis under control, slow in fending off the financial crisis, incapable to stop the bloodshed in Syria.”

Not an inappropriate criticism, particularly from a confirmed federalist! But it’s really a criticism of the EU for not completing its designed purpose, which is to impose a federal government on some or all of Europe. This—we hope—will not be possible with the UK no longer in the EU but remaining ‘European’; assuming Brexit is completed properly [3]. But that won’t worry Verhofstadt as long as whatever region the EU covers can be called ‘Europe’ and is ruled by ‘his’ government.

But today, Covid-19 has exposed Europe’s lack of thrust to a whole other level: Italy’s cry for help to replenish something as basic as mouth masks, remained for weeks unanswered by all other European member states. It was China who rushed to help first.”

Note that, despite what he says above, it seems that it was the member states that failed, not the Union; but he will go on to explain how that could happen and what needs to be done to overcome such dilatoriness (and insubordination).

Covid-19 showed how little it means to be European in times of crisis. It made one thing clear: the eurosceptic mantra of the ‘European Superstate’ becoming more ridiculous by the day.”

ContradictionThe first sentence clearly contradicts his headline. Anyway he means, of course, ‘how little it means to be in the EU…’. And below he seems to want the EU to make the “eurosceptic mantra” true.

People see the European Directorate for Health and Food Safety and the European Medicine Agency and think: they have the tools and money, why don’t they act?

The answer is: because – just like Europol is not a real police force – these European health administrations do not have any real powers to act.”

From which it seems to follow that the European Union is not a ‘real’ union, as it should be, in his view.

What is absolutely insufficient in times of pandemic. Then it is the 27 health ministers who take it over and are supposed to launch decisive collective action. Or more correctly – as we have seen – mainly fail to streamline their actions.”

And the cure, as he says below, is a federal government with the (self-imposed?) authority to overcome resistance from the member states.

That is why Europe has to change fast and fundamentally…First of all, by putting in place a European response mechanism that will be activated every time a serious (health) crisis emerges.”

Again he equates the EU with ‘Europe’; this is no longer just careless shorthand, it’s deliberate misinformation [4].

At the heart of such mechanism should be a single European Health Agency that is properly funded and has a mandate to act.”

Super-stateThe only way it could get a mandate is from a federal government, and we’re not quite there, yet.

An agency that does more than just coordinating national efforts, but is able to take all emergency measures to keep Europeans safe. From issuing mandatory common rules to confine the crisis, over pooling medicines and hospital equipment, to the temporary closing (partially or complete) of our borders.”

“Mandatory common rules” is the key; none of what he wants could be achieved without a government that can impose common rules. His contempt for EU (European?) citizens is obvious; they are unable to elect governments that can act appropriately together.

With such tools it would have been possible to limit the spread of Covid-19 after its outbreak in northern Italy. That same Italy would not need Chinese mouth masks to cover the urgent needs of its hospitals.”

He asserts this without any evidence, or thanks for Chinese help. He might have said, “without such tools it has been impossible…”, but that wouldn’t give him what he is striving for, or at least not emphatically enough.

And moreover, it would avoid surreal and dangerous situations as the ones we have seen last weekend on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, when irresponsible Belgian citizens where [sic] massively visiting shops and pubs in Dutch towns to escape the closed ones in their own country.” (He was for a while the prime minister of Belgium, but is now going after greater things.)

It could only avoid that if Belgium and the Netherlands agreed to prevent border crossings, voluntarily, or the EU government imposes such controls internally (which is what he is asking for).

We have to transform Frontex into a real border and coast guard that is able to manage these borders properly, whether it be in times of big migration flows or pandemics.”

So real border guards would have to override the national ones who currently control their borders. Isn’t he lucky to have a pandemic to cover keeping migrants out?

But enhancing and reinventing the role of the European Union will not alone been [sic] crucial for health or security reasons.”

Ever deeperThe EU doesn’t need to reinvent its role; it just needs to push “ever closer union” through to its desired conclusion [5].

The economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis will be massive. After we have managed to ‘flatten the Covid-19 curve’, we will face huge economic and budgetary problems.”

And hopefully we have learned our lessons from the previous (financial) crisis. Hopefully, instead of hesitating and always acting ‘too little, too late’, this time we launch a big and decisive stability and recovery package from the beginning.

Such a package, besides using the existing fiscal and financial instruments must be based on the launch of a huge macro-economic stability program representing two or even more per cents of the European GDP.”

Such a budget will come from the member states, notably Germany. Good luck with that! (But it’s why he needs a federal government, to impose such things without the inconvenience of internal opposition.)

It must be funded by the introduction of a new ‘Euro Safe Asset’, a common European asset, guaranteed by the European budget and actively supported by the ECB via its purchasing program. It will provide a low risk opportunity to institutional investors worldwide who will pump money into Europe’s real economy towards recovery.”

More wishful thinking; he doesn’t say why we should believe that investors will respond in his way; the market’s response to more bonds that yield little or look fragile might disappoint him. And, by implication, ‘Europe’ does not have a “real economy” as yet [6]. (Since this was drafted some ECB action has been taken (see And Those Against).

The number of transnational crises will only grow in the years to come and European member states can only overcome them when they act together.”

When they are told to “act together” and do not have an opportunity to veto the instruction. At present some (the most powerful) member states quite plainly believe they can only overcome a major crisis by helping themselves [7].

Covid-19 obliges us to take it a step further and abandon the loose method of coordination, and forge a real Union that has the capacity and means to act as one.”

Cracking up?So covid-19 is a good thing after all—why didn’t we realise this sooner? Should we back off and let them be forced into a “real Union”? [8]


[2] Foundations

[3] What Would You Like For Brexit?

[4] Foundations, Governance & EU=Europe

[5] Ever Closer Union

[6] The EU’s Bonds

[7] Solidarity

[8] And Those Against


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