Values without Practical Meaning

The EU projects a powerful message about the unity of its member nations but in practice this is skin deep and breaks down under pressure.

Virtue signallingWhy would anyone write this? “For all the virtue signalling, EU countries do what suits them best for themselves, not the world nor even their buddies in the Union.”

Leaders of the EU and its member states make much noise about the values of the EU (virtue signalling [1]) while ignoring as it suits them (and the EU itself) the values they claim to hold.

Four current issues show up the gap between values declared but missing in practice.

When covid-19 first struck Europe Germany banned the export of medical kit to its struggling ‘buddies’, notably Italy and Spain. This was understandable, in a way, because Germany needed the kit too and so put its own interests first, despite the values built into the European Single Market. This was not well-received in the European Parliament:

Germany has banned the export of medical protection gear including masks, gloves and suits. This disgraceful preventive measure to allow an inventory for future use ignored the immediate needs of other Member States… thus endangering those working in the front line to contain the virus…Proactive stockpiling of medical equipment cannot be justified in the EU…How will the Commission act to ensure coordination between the Member States and a common response to the corona virus outbreak, given that such unilateral actions have even entailed suspending the flow of critical equipment and closing borders?” [2]

And some do betterSelf interest

In response the EU Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, said that “European solidarity is in the self-interest of us all.” ‘Solidarity’ is a core EU value [1], or so its member states have agreed, in theory.

The second issue is also connected to the covid-19 pandemic and reactions to it. Italy and Spain were among the early countries to experience high levels of infection and to take action to contain the spread of the virus. These actions were expensive and have caused damage to their economies, already weakened and so at greater risk than the stronger ones. This ‘value-failure’ attracted comment from outside the EU:

“[R]ecapitalization with government funding will be substantial in fiscally strong European countries, especially in Germany…many under-capitalized companies from fiscally stressed countries will face competition from stronger foreign rivals strengthened by massive state aid, so that markets will be very far from the “level-playing field” pursued for decades by the EU…This will be a further cause of weakness for the indebted nations, and will make their growth rate diverge from the EU average.” [3]

Germany is spending €1 trillion of credits, guarantees, and emergency cash. Thierry Breton, the French EU industry commissioner said the EU system is unworkable if Germany is spending €100bn to help its companies to fight Covid-19 while France is spending €20bn. “It is in the interest of every member state that the single market does not break apart”.

‘Solidarity’ means—what exactly?

EU-speak-2Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden led opposition to the requests from some weaker (mostly Southern) economies for the EU to issue ‘coronabonds’ on their behalf. Their opposition centred on the belief that in the end the stronger economies of the north would have to bear the cost—and the political discontent this would arouse. Again this is understandable but the opposition to mutual support goes directly against the values that are supposed to hold the common currency together as the lynchpin of economic and monetary union, which is itself the key to European union.

Third, despite a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that EU law (the acquis communautaire) takes precedence over national law, the German Constitutional Court recently ruled that the European Central Bank (ECB) had acted ultra vires in adopting a policy of “whatever it takes” to sustain the common currency. This action poses a direct threat to the legal basis of the EU and, once again, contradicts the basic values of the EU [4].

In a fourth case the European Supervisory Authorities (ESA) published a consultation paper in which they define ‘fossil fuels’ as covering only solid fossil fuels, thus excluding oil and gas from their considerations.

Parliament has a say

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have challenged this definition and questioned the ability of the ESA to take effective responsibility for the EU’s climate change policy actions.

MEPs wrote a letter [5] expressing their dismay at the ESA’s restrictive definition. “Nor is this narrow interpretation of limiting fossil fuel sectors to solid fossil fuels supported by the Commission Technical Expert Group…” (their emphasis)

Misfits Behaving BadlyMisfits

The nations of Europe are of many shapes and sizes; their differing laws, religions, languages and cultures contributed to a vibrant history of creativity that for several centuries led the world in art, technology, science –and, regrettably, war. A recipe was devised intended to cure the latter problem and two thirds of the disparate bunch have swallowed it, with unintended side effects.

Of course Germany is not the only member to put its national interests and values above the Union’s when necessary. In fact because of its history Germans have a particular wish to ‘feel’ European but then again they don’t want to feel exploited by others with different attitudes to work or tax. Many feel that German values are a model for the whole and that their relative success proves their point—if everyone behaved like Germans while keeping their distinct cultures what a happy continent it would be. We understand these feelings and aren’t picking on one nation as uniquely self-interested.

Caught between two stools – the collapse of monetary union (and so perhaps of the EU) and its determination to resist bailouts—Germany accepted a compromise, originally developed with France. The Commission is proposing to introduce next year a €750 billion scheme of grants funded from an (increased) EU budget and long-term loans backed by the ECB to help the poorer states. Starting late and spread over several years it amounts to around 1% of eurozone GDP and won’t make much difference to Italy for example, which is a positive contributor to the current EU budget.

If the 2021-2028 Multiannual Financial Framework (the next budget) loses the UK, Italian and presumably other inputs, who will foot the bill? It isn’t just their work ethic that gives Germany its advantage, the common currency undervalues what would otherwise be the deutschmark and prevents the automatic rebalancing that floating currencies would provide. The German people must be nearing the end of their tolerance. And not just the Germans, the ‘frugal four’ nations (Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden) are resisting the grants and want the package to include loans only.

Crisis Package

‘Common values’ ignored

These four examples—and others that we have covered in our posts [6]—expose the basic flaw in the EU, that “EU countries do what suits them best for themselves” in disregard of the EU’s ideology and expectations as expressed in its underpinning values, which can be dismissed as no more than propaganda:Common values

The EU values are common to the EU countries in a society in which inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail. These values are an integral part of our European way of life” [1] (and see [7] for a critique of “our European way of life”).

[1] https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-in-brief_en

[2] EU Parliamentary questions (16/03/2020): https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2020-001633_EN.html

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-09/covid-19-germany-will-be-a-post-coronavirus-winner

[4] Courting Disaster

[5] https://s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/euobs-media/5a9714601182fbef21eb529b5b72644e.pdf

[6] Themes-12: Evidence and Solidarity

[7] The Meaning of Life


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