The Right Coast

June 20, 2005
Will the EU Unravel?
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Here is the New York Times report on the failed European summit. The Times rightly says that the EU meeting "ended in failure and mutual recriminations... after the collapse of negotiations over plans for a budget". "Reflecting the turmoil after a series of political setbacks in recent weeks, leaders of the European Union lashed out at one another", adds the report.

But the Times understates, if anything, how openly hostile things have become among the Euro governments. There is more of a flavour of it in this Daily Telegraph story (registration required), published a few days after the French and Dutch referenda ("Non" and "Nee" respectively, of course):
Tempers are fraying among Europe's most fervent federalist leaders as they confront the current EU political crisis.

In the latest outburst of diplomatic pique, the Belgian foreign minister, Karel De Gucht, lashed out at Holland for voting No to the draft EU constitution last week.

Mr De Gucht called the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, a "small-minded Harry Potter" and "a man in whom I detect no trace of charisma".

Mr De Gucht heaped blame on the Dutch government for their management of the Yes campaign and questioned the rise to political prominence of Pim Fortuyn, an outspoken populist politician murdered by an animal rights extremist in 2002.

"[Dutch] public opinion has become very superficial and unreliable since the rise and death of Pim Fortuyn," he said, referring to the late politician as "an extravagant, militant homosexual with deviant opinions and a chauffeur-driven Bentley."
This sort of thing is pretty much unprecedented coming from senior government ministers in the EU.

(Leave aside the Belgian comrade's attitude to gays, which evidently needs some thought reform...)

No doubt, the latest split between Britain vs France and Germany partly reflects the long-simmering differences between Britain and the big continental countries. But the poisonous quality of this week's brawl is partly a hallmark of the Chirac and Schroeder styles, which can best described as short-term demagogic and long-term disastrous for their own interests.

For instance, over several years, Chirac and Schroeder have ginned up popular support for their (not very popular) governments by playing up anti-Americanism. There has been a distinct anti-semitic note as well, albeit somewhat more disguised. This worked for them politically in the very short term. But in the end, the hostile stereotype about Americans (and Jews) is that they are "commercial". So when it came to a referendum on the EU Constitution, a lot of French voters, spun up against "commerce" and free trade, voted "Non". The EU, after all, is partly a free trade area. That was what the "Common Market" was mostly about originally. Can't have that.

So the EU Constitution is dead on non-arrival. Yet Chirac and Schroeder staked their political reputations on it, evidently hoping it would be a charter for an anti-USA United States of Europe: under their leadership of course.

Meantime, there is no way of knowing how deeply the anti-American campaign has poisoned Europe's relations with the US. It's a safe prediction, though, that Americans won't be keen to make sacrifices for France or Germany anytime soon. Perhaps not for a generation or more. It was no help to Candidate Kerry that he gave the general impression of thinking otherwise.

Now, humiliated by the referendum, Jacques Chirac has turned on another "Anglo-Saxon" demon. Britain, of course. Britain should massively subsidise the rest of the EU: otherwise it is "selfish", says Chirac. But the scandalous "Common Agricultural Policy", which subsidises French farming, is untouchable. This may poll well in France, for a while anyway. (Schroeder is probably a goner in any event.) But it weakens the EU, in which Britain is no longer alone in resenting French and German high-handedness.

(The "Common Agricultural Policy" is also very, very bad for the Third World, by keeping farm products from poor countries from competing in European markets. The usual "campaigners" and demonstrators don't notice this, of course, since it's not part of the left-wing anti-free-market script.)

If France can't have a "dirigiste", anti-American Europe, will it continue to play by the rules of the European Common Market at all? It's not clear that it will. Or even that it can, politically, given the domestic passions that Chirac has whipped up. But if France and/or Germany turn against the Common Market, the European Union truly could unravel.

The EU is a hugely unlikely project, after all. Your blogger recently travelled in Europe, where there is uncontrolled entry, and immigration, for citizens of any EU country. In Britain, for instance, this meant until recently that western Europeans could enter as of right; now it means Poles, Hungarians, Cypriots, and many others can do so as well. Yet Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians (and of course Americans) are "foreigners", subject to strict passport and residence controls: lesser breeds without the law.

In fact, by joining the Common Market in 1973, Britain had to give up "Empire free trade", which meant no more special relationship with Australia, New Zealand, and so on. This is one reason the British monarchy is now on life support in these countries. Australians and New Zealanders, and (English) Canadians too, used to think of themselves as essentially British. They felt betrayed when Britain spurned them for the European Common Market.

Yet the idea behind true European Union is that the British, to take the most provocative example, should think of Hungarians and Cypriots as their compatriots, but not Aussies and New Zealanders.

Very improbable, even under favourable circumstances.

And circumstances are less and less favourable.