Is the E.U. America's Friend or Foe?
December 22, 2006
by John Blundell
On May 1, 2004, ten new countries, with a combined population of 74 million, became members of the European Union, bringing the total E.U. populaion to 454 million. This means that the E.U. now has a population more than 50 percent larger than that of the United States. And with Romania and Bulgaria joining on January 1, 2007, another 30 million will take that to 484 million.
The European Union now stretches from the Latvian–Russian border in the east to Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland, and from the Arctic wastes of Finand and Sweden in the north to Cyprus in the south.
The question which I wish to pose is: Is the E.U. America's friend or—dare I say it—foe?
Without U.S. support it is doubtful whether the project of European political integration could have gotten off the ground or developed in the way that it has.
But from the very beginning the U.S. gave its unconditional backing. During the 1970s the success of the project was judged to be sufficiently important to U.S. interests for the CIA to funnel millions of U.S. dollars into the European movement.
The U.S. has also tolerated the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) surely the most inefficient and inhumane system of agricultural support ever devised.
Why? Because American policymakers believed that the process of European political integration would lead to the creation of a democratic, market-based Atlantic ally—an ally with whom a heavy burden of economic and security responsibilities might be shared.
It was taken for granted that the emerging European Union would share America's core values.
The reality is quite different. As this hugely ambitious but flawed project has taken shape, policy differences between Europe and the U.S. have both multiplied and deepened. Recent differences between the E.U. and the U.S. include those over Iraq, Palestine, Iran, ballistic missile defense, the international criminal court, genetically modified crops, the Kyoto accords, farm support, China, Taiwan, Cuba, the death penalty, as well as a whole raft of trade issues.
Indeed, while it is possible to name individual European political leaders who genuinely like and admire America, it is difficult to think of a single major issue on which the U.S. and the E.U. hold identical views.
So one is bound to ask: If it is truly the case that Europe and America share common political values, why do they disagree so often? The one statement that I predict you will not hear from a spokesman for the E.U. Commission in Brussels is: "We applaud American leadership, and we will back the U.S. all of the way." Indeed, we have now reached the point where E.U. policy gives every impression of having been defined in opposition to U.S. policy and where it is abundantly clear that the European aspiration is to be a rival, not a partner.
Indeed, there is no escaping the truth that the differences to which I have alluded arise from the very nature of the European project and the ideas on which it is based.
Those ideas are not the consequence of political integration but rather the foundation on which it has been constructed. In addition to hostility to the nation-state, those ideas are characterized by a desire to manage economic and political life in such a way as to create consensus and to exclude or marginalize those whose behavior or views are judged to be out of step. They are also characterized by a preference for group rights over individual rights and an innate dislike and fear of robust or "unmanaged" competition in both the political and economic spheres.
It is worth pausing to describe in concrete terms just how much progress has been achieved towards "ever-closer union"—the goal established in the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which laid the foundations of the present European project.
The European Union now has its own parliament, executive, supreme court, currency, prosecutor, army (of a sort), anthem, and emblem.
The attempt to adopt a European Constitution has been stalled since 2004 when the French and Dutch rejected the proposed text in referenda. But after the attempt to bring in the constitution by the front door failed, considerable success is being achieved as the result of attempts to introduce it through the back door, even though such methods are of questionable legality.
Meanwhile, among European political elites there is growing support for a so-called mini-constitution. The plan is the idea of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister and presidential hopeful, who has suggested that in order to assuage public anxieties the revised document should be called something other than a constitution—just as the autonomous European defense capability is to be referred to as the "European rapid reaction force" rather than an "army."
However, it should be noted that Mr. Sarkozy's mini-constitution will not be as "mini" as all that. Among those attributes of a modern state that are to be added to the European design are full legal personality (which will enable the E.U. to sign treaties and to participate in international organizations as a single entity), a president, and a foreign minister.
In addition, there is to be an extension of qualified majority voting in the European Council, which will end the national veto in a number of areas including justice and criminal affairs. One consequence will be that the protection enjoyed by British subjects for centuries as a result of habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence may disappear. As Simon Heffer wrote in The Daily Telegraph on September 20, 2006:
If we surrender our veto on these matters, EU-set penalties could be imposed on British subjects in Britain, and for breaches of laws that are not crimes or punishable in Britain. Equally, according to some legal opinion, matters that are criminal offences in Britain could be decriminalised by a decision of the EU without any recourse to the will of the British people.
The other horror is that, as EU competence increases, so the ability of member states to propose their own laws for their own people shrinks until it is extinguished. That is the ultimate goal of the ever-closer union: but it entails a stark and anti-democratic removal of sovereignty from this area which impacts directly on our most basic freedoms and liberties.
Now all of this might strike you as being purely Europe's affair. But let me remind you that the principle that U.S. interests are most likely to be served by the extension of democracy wherever possible has been one of the foundations of U.S. foreign policy. In the post-Second World War era this policy was triumphantly vindicated in the case of Western Europe, where war-shattered nations were restored to democracy.
But U.S. policymakers have been remarkably slow to grasp that the supranational institutions of the new top-down Europe (to which the once independent European states have ceded sovereignty) are remarkably undemocratic. In the judgment of a former E.U. commissioner, it is clear that if the E.U. applied to itself the criteria that it recently applied to all new members, it could not be admitted to the E.U. because it is insufficiently democratic!
The political nature of the E.U.—which was sold to the British public as a strictly limited commercial undertaking—raises important questions about the long-term stability of this new political entity, as well as about the future relations between the E.U. and the U.S.
Such doubts are reinforced by the history of other multi-lingual political federations which have been imposed top down by unrepresentative political elites, as in, for example, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
In the list of E.U. attributes which I rehearsed a moment ago you may have noticed that something was missing. In its top-down way Europe may have created many of the attributes of a state, but there is, of course, no such thing as a European people or European nation. There is consequently no such thing as European public opinion or a European public space, or a European demos. Or indeed a common language (there are at least 20 different national languages, of which English is the most widely spoken). And if people do not feel common bonds of allegiance and obligation, and if this problem is compounded by the lack of a common language in which political discourse can take place, there is the ever-present danger that they will not accept majority decisions.
If the U.S. has been disappointed in its expectation that the E.U. would turn out to be a democracy in its own image, it also has ample grounds for disappointment with E.U. policies on the economy and trade.
An outward looking Europe that embraced open markets and free trade would serve U.S. interests. It would also serve those of European consumers who pay much more than they should for their food. The reality is an economy characterized by low growth, rigid labor markets, increasingly intrusive regulation, high taxes, and a high level of trade protection in some sectors. All of which may explain why, measured in per capita terms, the GDP of the United States is 45 percent higher than that for the EU-25.
Nor should it be overlooked that two of the most prosperous European states—Norway, which enjoys a higher GDP per capita than the U.S., and Switzerland, which is only fractionally behind— are not E.U. members. And, those E.U. economies which have recently performed relatively well are those which are the least well integrated economically, i.e., those that remain stubbornly outside the eurozone: Britain, Sweden, and Denmark. This situation scarcely provides grounds for further economic integration of the kind upon which the E.U. is urgently embarked.
Crushing Regulatory Burden
Regulatory hyper-activism is one of the most obvious characteristics of the E.U.
Regulation has been the means by which the E.U. has been created and through which supranational institutions have been established and strengthened. It is the means by which a self-serving, unelected, and largely unaccountable salariat—I refer, of course, to the E.U. Commission in Brussels—buttresses its power and interests.
The fact is that the E.U.'s institutions are hostile to any differences that are perceived to exist among member states and are not prepared to let these differences be evened out over time by the normal processes of competition; instead the E.U. displays a strong desire to "harmonize" and to impose "solutions."
Attempts at harmonization invariably take the form of increased regulation.
It is not even clear how many E.U. regulations there are! When pressed on the matter, a British minister said that "as far as the government has been able to verify" the number of sets of regulations enacted between 1973 (when Britain joined the Union) and 2002 as a result of E.U. membership was 101,811. But Britain, like other applicants, was obliged to adopt the acquis communautaire—the existing body of E.U. regulations and directives—on entry. The total number of sets of regulations to which British citizens are subject as the result of E.U. membership may be in excess of 200,000, with an average 2,500 new sets of regulations being added each year. Maybe a handful at most will be debated and many will be made still more stringent when transposed into British law—a process which is now referred to as "gold plating."
However, following negotiations with the commission, the 10 new members who joined in 2004 have been required to transpose into national law only a mere 26,000 items of legislation (although what portion of these will actually be observed is another matter) running to some 75,000 pages of text.