Thursday, June 02, 2005

The night they said ‘Nee’

From Anatole Kaletsy in The Times

WHATEVER YOU think of European integration, there is something inspiring about 20 million people who, having been told what to do by their most respected politicians and after listening attentively, then do the exact opposite…

…. On [one] view, which in France has now permeated from the unreconstructed Left to much of the political and media establishment, the constitution should have offered more protection from foreign trade, financial competition, immigration and American culture. The voters would then have welcomed it with open arms.

The obvious problem with this argument is that the French Left’s dream of a protectionist, anti-American Europe has never been feasible because it would be unacceptable to Britain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia or even Germany — not to mention the new members in the east, who rightly see the US as their ultimate military protector against Russia. An anti-American Europe would require nothing less than the dissolution of today’s continent-wide EU and its reconstitution as a tiny club of geopolitically like-minded nations, which might, in the end, be reduced to France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

But there is a deeper error in the Europhiles’ excuse that the referendum results were really a popular protest against globalisation: the vision of Europe as a bastion against globalisation and Anglo-Saxon economic liberalism is not only a political fantasy, but also an economic pipedream.

Europe is more dependent on foreign trade, investment and capital flows than America. Europe’s businesses and banks are more vulnerable than America’s to currency movements and global capital flows. There is no alternative to the capitalist system of economic management which could secure the survival of Europe’s labour-intensive industries against Chinese competition or make its state pensions, welfare benefits and short working hours affordable in an era when pensioner numbers are soaring, while working populations are in decline.

The idea that closer political integration could somehow turn these self-indulgent dreams into a new European “economic model” has been the dirty little secret of the EU project. Of course the citizens of Europe would like ever-rising incomes and ever more job security, in exchange for doing less and less work and retiring earlier and earlier — and they might be tempted to vote for a constitution which guaranteed these fantasies as fundamental human rights. On closer inspection, however, the citizens have begun to realise that their politicians have been selling Europe on a false prospectus.

The single market and the merging of foreign trade policies did genuinely create prosperity, but every subsequent project of European integration not only failed to deliver the results politicians promised but also made conditions worse. The single currency has been the most egregious. In exchange for giving up the basic tenet of sovereignty — the right to mint a currency and thereby manage the national economy — the EU promised economic prosperity and full employment. Instead the single currency has condemned the eurozone to stagnation and mass unemployment.

For years politicians have made Europe a pretext for imposing unpopular policies — cuts in pensions or higher taxes — which they were too cowardly to justify in their own right. But they always promised that giving up sovereignty to Europe would somehow stave off economic reality and make their citizens better off.

After falling for such false promises for decades, voters have finally turned against both Europe and their national leaders. Politicians can no longer abuse the “idea of Europe” as an excuse for failing in their own responsibilities — to manage the economy, to set foreign policy or to balance enterprise with social protection. From now on, Europe will be judged not by rhetoric, but by results. For this, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the voters of France and the Netherlands.

There are just so many reasons, often conflicting, to reject the European Constitution that it is hard to know where to begin. The fact that no sane person could possibly read it and remain conscious is just the most trivial.

The constitution, being designed by the mother of all committees, is an extraordinary mish-mash bearing no relation to reality whatsoever, yet with something in it to offend everyone. It aims to give nation states more power to object to rulings, while also decreasing their power to reject them.

The fundamental problem, of course, is that Europeans just don’t like each other. Never have, never will. In European politics, this problem is compounded by the fact that the two nations at the heart of it, France and Germany, are the ones liked least by everyone else.

The project is doomed.

Europe cannot even conduct an annual song contest without rigged voting, shady alliances, conspiracies and backstabbing.

Anyone who suggests that the Eurovision will one day bring together all nations for one night in a spirit of fairness, joy and a shared celebration of Euro-brotherhood should rightly be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten croissants for being a naïve nincompoop.

So as for those who think we can one day all agree on a common defence policy…


martpol said...

Agreed on many of your points, Andrew. The one area where European co-operation might actually work is trade, which is where the whole thing started. But while it's quite heartening to see Polish tomatoes in Morrison's, it's also depressing to know that vast quantities of European food are dumped in poor countries every day; as an example, Welsh milk has ended up in Jamaica. Apparently it makes sound economic sense to grow too much and undercut markets in developing countries, thus making them poorer, and at the same time to advocate giving them lots more money to ensure that they can lift themselves out of poverty.

As for a common defence policy, this may have worked in the aftermath of World War 2 as a way of ensuring that the Ruskies didn't get too cocky, but it's truly bonkers these days.

Tommo Peaceful said...

I love the idea of a Eurovision style constitutional committee, where one representative from every member of the EU produces a naff clause that they think might appeal to the cluster of drunk students who are prepared to stay up all night watching the TV and sending in text votes.

Some nations will, of course, attempt to gain nul points, thus ensuring that that the next round of votes is not held at their expense.

It would certainly adjust the balance of European politics.