Gillingham’s case for the prosecution is damning. But what is the case for defence? Definitely, defence in the present climate is no easy task. Assessments of the EU record that business as usual points to a downward track of growth at home and reduced influence abroad. Demography shrinking. Leisure rather than work. Bankrupt governments. Frustrated publics and growth of radical movements. North–South tensions. Major differences between western and eastern European attitudes. The stasis in Franco-German relations since 2010 at the latest. Mass immigration from non European cultures. Inability of Europe as an entity to absorb the multiple challenges of globalisation, and the ongoing evolution of the global system, with the concomitant diffusion of power and wealth around the world.
No longer is it possible, if we accept this diagnosis, to sit back and enjoy decadence before it starts getting nasty. It already is turning very nasty, measured in the highest unemployment in parts of the EU since the early 1930s; the real and present danger of radical Islam; the public disenchantment with élites, and the rise of populisms.
The purpose of the EU.
The case for the defence invariably starts in reference to the disastrous first half of the twentieth century. The case was forcefully put by Edward Heath, the Prime Minister who brought the UK into the EU. These are his words:
“Why was the Common Market formed in the first place? Quite simply, in order to stop a third European war this century. The wars of 1914 and 1939 were both triggered off in our own continent of Europe. On each occasion the old arch enemies, France and Germany, were at each other’s throats. Each time, Britain tried to steer clear of what was happening. But each time we found ourselves sucked in. The price we paid was immeasurable…The reality of the modern world is that no country, however powerful, can hope to be entirely independent-not even the US…We live in an interdependent world…Inside the European Community we can influence the development of Europe and so increase the effective sovereignty of Britain…If only we had had that increased sovereignty and influence in 1914 or 1939! Not one anti-European has so far been able to demolish this argument”. (cited in Michael McManus, Edward Heath: A Singular Life, London, Elliott an Thompson, 2016. p175)
Heath was speaking in the campaign during the 1975 referendum on continued UK membership in the EU. Over four decades on, the EU policy process–through the workings of spillover, élite interactions and key political decisions such as at Maastricht or the Lisbon Treaty—has deepened integration, pooled a widening range of sovereign powers, and created a Europe wide economy, including some of the richest countries ever, and representing the largest emporium in the world. The process has no doubt helped to anesthetize old feuds, socialise national leaders into a shared project for the common good, and shown by policy the benefits of solidarity among the peoples. The process has sponsored a European debate, discussed differently in each one of the national media spheres, but nonetheless focusing (differentially) on the existence of common problems, from the lack of competitiveness in the early 1980s, to the current challenges of international terrorism, of migration or the causes and possible solutions to high unemployment.
Even the rise of “populisms” is cited as evidence of the EU’s impact: national politics across the EU is seen as realigning around European issues, very closely related or identical to the phenomenon of globalisation. Europe is on the way to reinventing itself, it is argued, into becoming a post modern polity informed by a narrative about human rights and democracy, and most importantly of a Europe beyond nationalism. Such is the aspiration that drives the ambition.
The EU not a federal state.
There are two problems though. The first is that the post-modern view of Europe is not a description, but a wish. The EU is better described as a mosaic of like-minded sovereign states, interdependent among each other and with the rest of the world. They form neither a new sovereign nor constitute an international organisation. That is the conclusion of Germany’s Constitutional Court which has judged that the Lisbon Treaty does not constitute the EU as a federal state. Rather, it is an international treaty, agreed to by sovereign member states, and reversible. The EU, the court opines, is no more nor less than an alliance of sovereign states. German citizens’ rights to shape their own laws through the ballot box, it insists, are irrevocable. Were the EU to consider moving to federal form, the German government would be legally bound to call a Constitutional Convention to re-write the Constitution, the Basic Law, of 1949.
This has not prevented “Brussels” forging ahead on the project to bring a federal Europe closer. The club now has five presidents, a parliament, a college of commissioners and a court, but each one of its 28 member states are legally constituted, and active members of the global society of states. The Five President’s Report, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, proposes advance on four fronts (note the military analogy): “first, towards a genuine European Union that ensures each economy has the structural features to prosper within the Monetary Union. Second towards a Financial Union…a Fiscal Union…and a Political Union that provides the foundation for all of the above through genuine democratic accountability, legitimacy and institutional strengthening”.
The ambition is to ensure that EU federal governance structures are characterised by a division of powers between legislature, executive and court, and informed by subsidiarity—ie leaving most policy to local, regional or national governments.
Now it is true, if you search hard, that you will find components of a common public opinion across the 28 member states—as an outer limit, possibly 30 million people in the EU consider themselves first and foremost EU citizens. They tend to be affluent, well educated and cosmopolitan in outlook. Thirty million is a lot of supporters. But that leaves a European population of around 480 million, who are not too affluent, well educated often, but definitely not cosmopolitan in outlook. Their loyalties go overwhelmingly to their national institutions. They provide the recruiting ground for “populists”, support their national football teams and view abroad as over the nearest frontier. They form the deadweight which ensures that federalist ambitions to sprint to union rarely leave the starting blocks, and only do so, as Andrew Moravcsik shows in his magisterial, The Choice For Europe, Cornell University Press, 1999, when backed by state power and diplomacy.
As long as the EU is not a federal state, diplomacy between the sovereign states is its politics. The substance of that diplomacy may be about trade and welfare, but that is not too different to diplomacy on the world stage. And because EU states are recognised sovereigns on the global scene, international diplomacy between its member states and their diverse external partners remains an integral part of intra-European politics. One of the major frustrations of those pushing ahead to a fully fledged federal European entity is that given the constant reality of global diplomacy, non European powers are permanent participants in intra European politics. That may well constitute one of the factors informing the EU’s constant efforts to grasp for an ever wider spectrum of competences, despite promises to ensure “subsidiarity”(bringing decisions close to citizens) and despite ever scarcer means to implement an ever wider pallet of policies. The hub of European diplomacy is Brussels, but “Brussels” has become a by-word for incompetence, as Gillingham harshly points out. I would prefer to speak of overstretch. Incompetence though is the result.
The second problem is that the post-modern view of Europe does not chime well with the rest of the world. Russia, China, India, Japan and Brazil make the assertion of national sovereignty the kernel of their development policy at home, and the assertion of their influence abroad. This is the path that all of them have chosen in order to to modernise, and the choice at different times in the past has been cast as resistance to European imperial pretentions.(Henry R. Nau, Deepa M. Ollapally, The Worldview of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan and Russia, Oxford University Press, 2012). Indeed the rest of the world has absorbed the prime lesson from the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which is that the hypocrisy of a sovereign being in charge of his own territory is a precious tool to preserve, by war if need be. (Stephen D. Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, Princeton University Press, 1999). The possession of sovereignty involves an assertion of identity, and rejection of dominion. It is the foundation of opposition to imperial pretensions by great powers.
Not surprisingly, the ethos of the EU—the language in which the Brussels village talks to itself about itself, the rest of Europe and the world—that the concept of sovereignty is old hat evokes both mockery and fear. Outside powers are clearly not very impressed because they are quite capable of observing the yawning gap between EU rhetoric and the European reality. But national populations of member states are only too aware that “Brussels” imperial ambitions bite. Not surprisingly, as EU activism has accelerated following the passage of the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, opposition to whatever is associated with “Brussels” has multiplied.
Europeans are first and foremost nationals
The vast majority of Europeans remain firmly national in their loyalties. This is amply recorded in the Commission’s own publication, Eurobarometer, 83 Spring 2015. It reports that only 2% of EU citizens view themselves as “Europeans”(ie favouring EU aspirations) with only 6% regarding a European identity as more important than their national identity.
All authors making the case for the EU, from Barry Eichengreen in his excellent The European Economy since 1945, Princeton University Press, 2007, to Keith Middlemas’ Orchestrating Europe, The Informal Politics of European Union, 1973-1995, London, Fontana Press, 1995, recognise the continued centrality of national loyalties in the member states. While praising what has been achieved, yet recognising failings, they inevitably become less confident of how a future EU will evolve. There is a seeming paradox here between the stated ex post success of a project with a teleological endpoint, and the difficulty of seeing into the project’s future, where economic policy choices in the EU can assuredly be said to be shaped, in the future as in the past, by a myriad of political forces, most importantly located in each one of the 28 member states. Complexity in European affairs is a constant, making disintegration as much a possibility as further integration.
Being a fully signed up European federalist has not prevented my colleague, Douglas Webber, from asking the question: How likely is it that the European Union will disintegrate? (European Journal of International Relations, January 4, 2013). His answer is: not improbable. The reasons he gives are twofold: first, pro-EU integration political parties have lost, and continue to lose votes, to “anti-European“ parties. Domestic support in the member states is ebbing away for the project. Second, political integration depends on the engagement and support of the region’s economically most powerful “semi-hegemonic” state, Germany. This, he suggests, should not be taken for granted.
Even though, Webber observes, a fundamental reorientation of German European policy at the present time seems unlikely, it is, he writes, not inconceivable. I have written on similar lines in this blog, that Germany has made quite clear in actions, rather than in words, and with regard to Euroland, that further integration can only occur on its terms. The implication is that there is an alternative, not of a return to European power politics (which never went away and prospered in muted form within the confines of the EU as well as outside of it), so much as acceptance, not to say, reinforcement of a European alliance of constitutional states-rooted in the irrevocable rights of citizens of member states to shape their national future by sanctioning legislators regularly at the ballot box. This is in effect the European alliance described by the German Constitutional Court in its judgement on the Lisbon Treaty.
The idea behind “ever closer union” is to banish war in Europe, and doing so, the argument runs, requires Europeans to overcome the fragmentation of their continent into a mosaic of national states, the largest of which would fit into Texas, as George Bush Sr was reported once as saying. European nationalisms caused the wars of 1914 and 1939, it is said; fragment the European market space; drive up costs through duplication; seriously reduce efficiency; perpetuate intra European rivalries in a variety of ways; ensure that the rule of law is politicised; and perpetuates Europe’s continued dwarfing on the world stage. Delors Napoleonic vision for Europe is an expression of this view.
Yet it has one fundamental flaw, beyond that pointed out by Gillingham between aspiration and delivery. The fundamental flaw in the Schuman-Monnet-Hallstein-Delors-Giscard design for Europe, is the idea that democracy is a hindrance to sound government. Monnet of course was thinking about his experience in two world wars. The lesson that he, and many others, drew was that democratic electorates could not be trusted. They should be kept at arms length. A parallel lesson in academe may be drawn from the study of crowds in revolution, driven as they may have been by economic injustices—the theme of the communist historian Georges Rudé in his The Crowd in History. A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England, 1730–1848, New York: Wiley & Sons, 1964. But crowds were also readily swayed by demagogues—Napoleon III, Wilhelm II, Hitler, Mussolini, who fell in love with their own words, and became trapped in their own fallacies.
For Monnet, the crowds of democracy had to be kept at bay, tamed, and their enthusiasms channeled. That could best be done by élites from member states gathering in enclave to settle complex business in the European interest, yet able to explain or excuse their common decisions separately to their provincial audiences. Through the methods he initiated and encouraged-the myth making, the acquis communautaire, the Commission’s and Court’s opportunism–the result over the years has been, as more and more legislative powers accrue to EU institutions, that the powers of member states have been seriously impaired, and with that the voter’s rights to sanction legislators. Member state powers have been hollowed out, without the EU gaining in legitimacy. As Peter Mair writes in Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy, London, Verso, 2013, the EEC/EU was devised by politicians who sought to take the politics out of politics. Complex problems have to be left to technocrats, was the guiding idea, those who know better what is in the general interest.
As Peter Mair points out, the EU does not do opposition. Member states do, though. Their constitutional democracies in effect institutionalize public debate, often involving fierce differences in opinion, expressed in parliaments, in the media, through the regular drumbeat of electoral battlegrounds where opponents gather their armies to capture office, if not power, in the hope that they can implement their particular programmes and sanction them in the name of the national interest.
It is this gap between the turbulent democratic politics of member states, and the supranational/federal ambition to create a United States of Europe, that has opened wide in the years following the financial crash of 2008, followed by the Greek drama of 2010, the European depression, the drama of mass immigration and the vote for Brexit on June 23 2016. In every case, the old recipe which had enabled the EU to evade or sidetrack problems in the past—to locate an indefinite agenda of unsettled business in the future–no longer worked. Global pressures demanded effective action now, rather than decisions for ever postponed. The margins for EU fudge have narrowed.
Two major forces at work.
Two forces are at work here: first, the dynamic of globalization, taking protean shape from multinationals, to global terror and social media, exerts constant but differentiating impact on European societies; second, the ever more urgent demands from member states that their citizens shape public policies.
Gillingham’s book is a shout rather than a call, a warning that business cannot carry on as usual. I agree. Monnet’s Europe, over sixty years after its birth, is in danger of being swept away by a tide of challenges it cannot possibly meet. Nor for that matter can Germany, the “semi hegemon” of the EU. Take the Brexit vote of June 23. There is the foolish temptation to argue in Brussels that the UK is no longer a member (false), that Brexit is a side issue (false) and that now the UK is out, the major hindrance to EU ambitions has disappeared (doubly false).
On the first point, that the UK is de facto out, the referendum is advisory; Mrs May’s statement that “Brexit is Brexit” rings much like Charles de Gaulle’s appeal in 1961, arms outstretched, from the balcony in Algiers, “Je vous ai compris” . The pieds noirs learnt what de Gaulle meant within a year: exit from Algeria. It is a reasonable bet that a Remainer like Mrs May considers ambiguity an ally for the moment. But there is a difference to the France of 1961. Vote Leave was a national, not a colonial vote. It will have to be implemented.
On the second, the Brexit vote is not a side issue: it is the key issue for the EU. The electorate in the UK voted in a large turnout, 52.5% in favour of having their own laws made in parliament. That was what won the Leave camp support. As Bruce Stokes wrote for the Pew Research Center,
“ A majority of the Greeks (68%) and pluralities of the Dutch (44%), Germans (43%), Italians (39%) and French (39%) all want some EU power returned to their national governments. Both the Dutch and the French have a history of holding referendums on major and not-so-major issues, and Euroskeptic parties in both countries have already voiced support for a public vote on their relationship with the EU.” Brexit vote highlighted UK’s discontent with EU, but other European countries are grumbling too, Pew Research Center June 24, 2016.
The third assumption that now the UK is out, the major hindrance to EU ambitions has disappeared is doubly false. The late Michel Rocard, a Prime Minister under President Mitterrand, implored the UK to leave in order to allow France to achieve its dream of creating a USE. Now that a narrow majority of UK voters have pointed the UK in that direction, the many sources of discord between member states will likely have full play. That is not to say, that the EU will disintegrate from its present form, but it is to say that binding the multiple strands of Europe together will require an unconscionably high level of statesmanship—as Gillingham rightly points out, sadly absent in recent times.
In other words, “Brexit is Brexit” can already be interpreted in two ways. One points to the UK leaving a Europe on a federal path; the other points to the EU changing to a European association of constitutional states, that the UK would like to stay in.
There are early signs that the Brexit vote is being seen as one manifestation of a shared and highly varied European challenge. To take two examples, Leonhard Fischer writes in the FT that Brexit is an opportunity to fix Europe. Europe, he rightly points out, cannot operate in a one-size-fits all strait jacket. He proposes closer integration in Euroland, and a loser association of non Euroland member states. Gideon Rachman makes much the same suggestion, after interviews held in capitals around the EU since the Brexit vote. (“Forget the blame game: Brexit is a chance to fix Europe”, FT.com, August 8, 2016; Gideon Rachman, “A Two-tier model to revive Europe”, FT.com; September 12, 2016) There are significant problems in the way of such a suggestion, but the point is that there are welcome signs of constructive thinking going on.
Gillingham’s proposals are more radical but deserve widespread consideration. He has four main proposals:
- The re-nationalisation of political institutions. National political economies experience globalisation differentially, and respond to its multiple challenges in their own way; their own ways are path dependent, and related to their specific business and political cycles. They are not amenable to marching in step in one size fits all regimes, whether one currency or the free movement of people. Nation states is where legitimacy resides. They are the building blocks of the EU. They must not be emptied of content, as has been happening. Quite the contrary.
- In his book Design for a new Europe, Cambridge University Press, 2006, he proposes that the Euro be transformed into a parallel currency, providing thereby a common standard against which national or regional currencies could move, thereby ending the asphyxiation of very different national economies at very different levels of development seeking to live amicably in one money. This proposal has the merit of seeking to reconcile the benefits of a common regime, with the variety of conditions present among member states. I approve.
- Drop the 1950s idea of “integration”, which has led to the present impasse in European affairs, and think of networking. Networking involves the development of multiple relations between autonomous nodes, which develop according to their own rhythm, and associate with whomever in the ether. Here there is no distinction between being in or out of the EU, but rather a preference, manifest in policies and initatives, to ensure that networking within Europe is more dense than networking without. That should not be too difficult to achieve, given that international trade tends to be more dense regionally than globally. I support the idea.
- Downsize and focus. Business schools call it KISS: Keep It Simple and Stupid, because if you don’t the world will make hay out of complexity. Gillingham’s proposal is essentially to streamline in favour of what is crucial. For “Brussels” that means the policing of open markets. My suggestion here is that the Commission’s powers be clearly circumscribed by treaty to the maintenance of open markets, and the policing of them. Open markets, not internal/external markets, is much closer to the reality of economic interactions between national, European and global economies. And bestowing circumscribed and specific powers to the European Court of Justice, in order to extract the Court from the legal limbo in which it finds itself by the workings of its own judicial activism, but without treaty underpinnings. The trend to a permanent competence grab by “Brussels” must be reversed. (Not power grab, because without legitimacy Brussels has little power).
In conclusion: against dominion.
I end this Part IV with a brief statement (similar statements have been written up on this blog by me) about how we might profitably think about Europe. The way I may express this is to start by an appeal to relax in the sense of dropping the bad habit of Angst, while seeking to maximise what we are. The point may be made by reference to Henry Kissinger’s apocryphal question, which he was supposed to have asked in 1973, the so-called Year of Europe: “who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The answer provided by the Lisbon Treaty would have been illustrated comically at the EU summit in Madrid in May 2010, had Obama decided to attend. Obama did not come because, the State Department declared, it was not clear whom he would meet. The answer of course was everybody, since no one figure represented “Europe”.
The answer provided by Europe as it is, and even more so, as it could become, is “Henry, that’s your problem”. The two key conditions which hold for this to be an effective answer are: a deepening of interdependence among the 28 member states in flows of trade, investment, people and energy; and a huge strengthening of intra-European networks for research, for universities and schools, for sports clubs, operas and orchestras, for museums and, not least, for companies.
Europe has to be confident that it is sui generis. It is not like others, and because of that it appreciates that they are different. Paradoxically, the barrage on the way to a strongly interdependent and networked EU is the view, widespread in the Brussels village, that we should do as others do. The puritans of EU integration, the Thatchers of “ever deeper union”, aspire for our member states and peoples to be exclusively married to Brussels. We should do what others do, they say, like the sovereign powers of the United States and China There IS No Alternative, they cry. Well, there is. Our member states, and their peoples, think and act polygamously. They like to pick and choose who they live with. They get claustrophobia about the idea of monogamy.
Polygamy is the European way of life, and has been for centuries. That is why Europe has so many links into the rest of the world, unparalleled by any other continent. There is no part of the world with which one or other member state or citizen is not in touch with through formal bilateral ties, through membership in a plethora or international organizations or through corporate ties. Europe is the world’s No 1 economy, and trader. As the world’s prime importer, it has no alternative but to maintain open markets, not least because 16 of its member states have below 2% of the EU total, while a further 6 have below 5% each. Most of these have anywhere between 60 to 80% of their national economies accounted for by trade. Germany, the biggest, is entirely bound in to the global economy, and represents no more than 19% of the club’s total.
No member state could go protectionist than the EU could collectively adopt the Chinese script. Its labour force is 228 million strong, and yields a per capita income of $34,000, less than the high productivity labour force of the US at but five times that of China. The EU is China’s prime trade partner, as it is for Africa,Russia, the Mid East and Gulf, the Mediterranean countries, while counting among the top trade partners of Latin American countries andIndia.
More importantly, the European footprint on the world economy is giant size. It is overwhelmingly the world’s prime recipient of inward investment, and by far the largest source of foreign direct investment in the world—with a stock of historic cost based foreign assets about twice that of the US. Even more to the point, given the central role in the global economy of multinational corporations, the EU and the US both chose to place the great part of their stock in each other, while over the past two decades EU corporations have accounted for over 70% of the total inward investment to the US. The total stock of US investment in Spain alone is greater than the combined position of the US in China and India together, and the EU investment stock in China is barely 5% that in the US. In essence, the Chinese surplus with the EU runs through foreign corporates manufacturing in China, adding some value from offshore component suppliers, and re-exporting to the world’s prime importer.
In short, Europe is a giant, but cannot think of itself clearly. Take sport. EU sources tweeted that at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the EU with 325 medals trumped the US with 121, and China with 70. In fact, the medals were won by national teams, running under national flags. What makes Europe the centre of global sport is competition between clubs and nations.
The building blocs of Europe are the states. Monnet took a wrong turning. The revival of Europe can only happen by the European project downsizing, networking, renationalising politics. The EU has to be recast as a European alliance of constitutional states, placing democracy at the heart and building on nations at ease with themselves and their neighbours. In the words of Richard Bellamy, what is required is “the alternative of a republican association of sovereign states that allows sovereign states to mutually regulate their external sovereignty in non-dominating ways. It offers a more plausible and defensible means for sustaining the requisite fund of popular sovereignty in contemporary conditions, and a more appropriate vision of the EU”. Richard Bellamy, A European Republic of Sovereign States: Sovereignty, Republicanism and the EU”, Forthcoming in the European Journal of Political Thought.
I phrase very similar thoughts slightly differently: the EU’s re-foundation should be as a European alliance of constitutional sovereign states. There is little sign so far that this is on the agenda.