Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Let the Storm Break Loose
“Is the EU mortally wounded?”, Larry Sidentop asked in an article published in the July issue of Prospect (A crisis of belief). I hope so, Larry, I certainly hope so. I would like to update Voltaire’s observation about the Holy Roman Empire, that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The European Union is neither European nor a union. Rather it’s the most awful hybrid, something that might very well have been created on the island of Doctor Moreau.
There they were, those ‘idealists’, the politicians and bureaucrats who tortured this creature into existence, determined that they knew what was best for the peoples of Europe. The best was to escape history, democracy and destiny; the best was to submerge our unique and varied identities in something unreal, a structure cosmopolitan beyond the definition of cosmopolitan. The reaction is setting in, touching on things that go far deeper than sovereign debt.
"Are Europeans willing to shed national identities?", another question put by Sidentop. No, the answer is coming, from Finland to France. There is no secret here. A little bit of sense, an understanding of history, should have demonstrated that change happens slowly; that it takes centuries for a common identity to emerge.
But Europe has been transformed almost overnight; transformed by rapid expansion of membership from the east; by massive migration of peoples, something, I would hazard, that has rarely been paralleled since the time of the late Roman Empire; by the abolition of so many national currencies in favour of the one size fits all euro, a unit of value that really should have been called the Procrustean (thanks Calvin!)
Above all there is the migration of power, away from national parliaments to the super bureaucracy in Brussels, a system of decision making and governance which effectively makes democracy irrelevant. As this ‘ideal’ has waxed so support for integration has waned, with half of the citizens of the EU now doubting that it is a 'good thing.'
The problem, you see, is that the European project was at root based on distrust, based on the assumption that the whole business of integration and harmonisation was too complex for ordinary people to understand. Democracy was tried and found wanting, something people who live outside of the new super state may not fully appreciate.
Earlier this decade a new constitution was devised and put to a limited vote. In both France and the Netherlands, the very heart of the original community of six, it was decisively rejected. The constitution is dead; long live the constitution. Yes, the Frankenstein monster was revived and dressed up as the Lisbon Treaty, with no need for more votes. Oh, sorry, the Irish had to keep voting until they got it right.
With Euro-sceptic parties gaining strength across the Continent, the Eurocrats may come to regret their ignorance of history. Sidentop puts the point reasonably well;
From the outset, in promoting integration, they have failed to understand how difficult it was to create the nation states of Europe—overcoming prejudices of tribe and caste, dialect and region. Creating the social solidarity and willingness to make sacrifices for other citizens, which alone offer a stable basis for political union is, inescapably, a very slow process. American national identity took a century to form. When Robert E Lee was invited by the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln to assume command of the federal armies, after 24 hours of deliberation he declined, replying that he was a Virginian before he was an American. And, after a far longer period of time, consider how imperfect European state formation remains. Separatist movements in Catalonia, northern Italy and Scotland testify to that.
Now the Greek crisis looks set to accelerate the process of integration, which means more centralisation, which means an almost complete loss of national sovereignty, of centuries of inherited tradition. It means all power to the Soviet-style technocrats of Brussels, a new kind of Orwellian state, based not on violence and intimidation but malign forms of repressive tolerance, of indifference to the popular will.
Make no mistake, democracy, meaningful democracy, in the sense of popular empowerment, is dying in Europe. We live under a tyranny far less representative, far less responsive, than that which outraged the American rebels of 1776. It really is time to take heed. Come, European people, stand up and let the storm break loose. :-)