We have been writing about the faults and failings of the European Union since before the Brexit referendum, for more than six years now. Meanwhile Covid and Ukraine have preoccupied the Government and masked the overall effects of leaving the EU. Is there anything more to say at present?
Brexit got ‘done’, except for resolving the Northern Irish situation, but it isn’t clear that much has been done to take whatever advantages could follow. Some trade deals got done too but nothing that radically changes things for the UK. Former Australian High Commissioner to London, George Brandis, claims that, “The default position in Whitehall was horror at Brexit” so that he and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss were “in a sense, both fighting Whitehall” to agree a trade deal. No change there then but elsewhere things are happening.
The EU’s hesitant response to Russia’s war in Ukraine highlights a dilemma: should it leave important choices affecting the differing interests of member nations to their own governments or greatly increase control from Brussels? Some states are more dependant on Russian oil, coal or gas than others, should they decide for themselves how to manage their disengagement or allow the self-interest of the most powerful members to dictate the pace, as they generally do anyway? See, for example Where There is Darkness or EU Treaties-5: Foreign Policy & Defence or D: Foundations, Governance & EU=Europe. Never letting a good crisis go to waste has been a key driver of centralisation but on this issue Hungary vetoed the Commission President’s proposed Russian oil-import ban when even Germany had agreed not to put its own interests first.
The US and UK have led the way with military support and anti-Russian sanctions to help Ukraine but many EU leaders are painfully aware of the moral turpitude and obvious contrast between its declared purpose and effective action if it doesn’t soon catch up. Guy Verhofstadt has urged the Union to get on with banning Russian gas, although his country, Belgium, is far less dependant on it than many other member states, it’s nearer to the UK’s level than Germany’s.
Still, there is plenty to show that leaders do care about the EU’s mission to improve the safety and well-being of the Continent. Only this often conflicts with their urge to put its ambitions ahead of others’ interests and its top-down plans usually run into the sand anyway. We see this time and again in the Treaties and their outcomes. The Lisbon Treaty for example was intended to create better jobs, greater social cohesion, respect for the environment, plus a dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy. Instead it got high unemployment, more right/left wing or ‘populist’ supporters, continuing use of the dirtiest coal (lignite) and little success in challenging the US IT behemoths or UK startups (usually bought up by the former, unfortunately).Even the founding treaty stated the aim of reducing regional imbalances in economic and social performance:
Treaty of Rome, Article 130a. “In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Community shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic and social cohesion. In particular, the Community shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least-favoured regions, including rural areas.“
In practice the EU has failed in all its key mission statements, namely: peace between neighbours, prosperity for all and common (virtuous) values.
Ensuring peace? We argued in our last post that far from deserving a Nobel Prize for preserving peace the EU has more likely been irrelevant. The major theories on how to avoid war – deterrence; the Golden Arches Theory ; a common government – have not been proven. It is not the EU that is leading the response to Russia’s aggression, it is individual nations like the US, UK, Poland, Latvia.
Growing wealthier together? There have been at least three decades of below par economic growth overall  as well as increased inequality between North and South.
Sharing virtuous values? There is a certain arrogance implicit in the concept of ‘European values’. Compare Polish and German responses to the devastation of Ukraine – which is more virtuous? – or the non-independence of Poland’s judiciary – actually the CJEU has a political mission (to further the aims of the EU) and is therefore not independent either.
There have been successes but these did not require such high levels of administrative integration, which has, in fact, taken precedence over all other goals.
So what is the future for the EU? Nobody can know for sure, it may become more realistic and adaptable to avoid collapse from its numerous stresses. Following the dogma of ‘ever closer union’ promises yet more stress, from monetary policy to defence and external relations to sovereign control.
 Thomas Friedman – Golden Arches theory: no two nations with McDonald’s restaurants would go to war … memorable but wrong and therefore replaced by the Dell Theory: if they’re part of the same supply chain they won’t fight – not true if the issue is regarded in some quarters as serious enough, as we now know.
 See, for example Themes-8: Economics-2