October 28th, 2019
After suffering through centuries of bloody conflict, the European Union has brought us peace, stability and prosperity fulfilling the visionary goal of the eleven founder fathers, among them the pioneers of the unification: Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer.
As Jean Monnet said “There is no real peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on a basis of national sovereignty. (…) They must have larger markets. Their prosperity is impossible, unless the States of Europe form themselves in a European Federation.”
First established by the Treaty of Paris in 1952, the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 was the first tangible and successful attempt to make the objective of a European Union a reality.
The economic and monetary union was and is a success scored through the Maastricht Treaty and a major step forward in the process of European integration, contrary to that of the political union which is lagging behind.
Today, more than 510 million citizens from 28 Member States enjoy the benefits of European cooperation. And 25 years after the roadmap towards the euro was agreed, the euro has become the world’s second most traded currency and is part of the daily life of 340 million citizens in 19 countries.
But just as there has been progress, there have been, despite the realization of a single market—where goods, persons, services and capitals can freely move, failures in making European citizens and public opinions feel more connected to, and more concerned by what happens and how it happens at European level.
The challenge has always been the reconcile the small minded national interests with the interests of the European union and find consensus in a ever changing world.
Our world has become an global village in which everything is interconnected and no country in Europe is an island. Economies are dependent on the EU and the only conclusion must be individual countries foreign policies are irrelevant without the EU, while the defence budget from the individual countries are irrelevant without the EU-NATO partnership. Most problems are and require a cross-border approach such as crime, energy, technology, environment and refugees.
Despite the renaissance of the poisons of Nationalism and isolationism it’s an illusion of individual European Member States to think that outside the European Union, in our organised world they are as individual countries strong enough to be able to guarantee prosperity and social development for their peoples.
Today we need not less Europe, but more Europe because only a federal European Union is able to ensure progress and control the future in the present global forcefield.
Today France together with Denmark and the Netherlands are to believed strongly opposing the ascension of North Macedonia and Albania into the EU, despite other European ministers calling for the Western Balkan countries to join other member states. This also effects Serbia and Montenegro which are already negotiating membership, and Kosovo and Bosnia would like to start as well.
Perhaps not the best strategic decision given the current activities and interests of China and Russia in the Balkan region and their attempts to reshape the world by building their Eurasian trade union.
But the arguments of Emmanuel Macron are pragmatic and sensible given the internal need to re-prioritize EU strategic interests and address pending issues such as Brexit, slowdown Global economy, rise of radical right and climate change.
Reviewing the position of the EU we must recognize and agree with Emmanuel Macron that the expansion of the European project has its limits, with a Liberal order and EU not in need of expansion, but more in need of consolidation in order to protect the achievements made during the last fifty years whereby the future of the free Liberal order is more conservatism.
Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and Influenced by the events surrounding the German unification the European Union embarked in the 1990’s as it welcomed “the other side of the Berlin wall” on a path of economic expansion and fundamental change and has attempted to build a safe, prosperous and Democratic Europe. Envisioned was the expansion of the international system by essential legal rules, democratic values and economic expansion of the EU at the same time.
At the time the consequences of the rapid development were not overseen, but there was no real alternative at the time, also due to the fact the US and EU have since 1991 no coherent strategy in place and these opportunities to include Russia in the framework of nations during this cycle of history was wasted. This are the bitter fruits of history which made Russia, to its own detriment not to join Europe in its partnership with the US.
We must also recognize the Eastwards expansion, enlargement was a tremendous opportunity, but at the same time Europe failed to reshape the constitutional basis and has failed to do this until today. The warnings of President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors in 1992 to strengthen the Union as a condition for its enlargement fell on deaf ears and narrow minded minds prevailed.
The enlargement slowed down and negatively influenced the integration of the European Union and its institutions after the treaty of Maastricht and has delayed the further integration of the “Political Union.”
The EU would have been better served with a “concentric circles Europe” or a two-speed European Union, instead of including the Eastern European countries as “full”members in the EU which has been an obstacle for further integration.
A two-speed Europe, whereby the “traditional“ EU would have concentrated on faster integration of the EU and its institutions. establishing in earnest the “political union” and the “security and defence union” which already was agreed in 1956 but never ratified given France it objections would have been more sensible.
As François Mitterrand had said years before New Europe is “not less European than us,” but today we see much clearer the difference in values and cultural differences between “Traditional” and “New“ European countries simplified in the “interest of the individual” versus the “interest of the state” are far greater than original thought and will take years to bridge.
These differences in culture and commitments to the democratic-, legal values and human rights and legal values, which serious and persistent breach of these values have led on 20 December 2017, the European Commission decided to activate the preventive arm of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) against Poland on the ground that “there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law”
On 12 September 2018, Article 7(1) TEU was again activated this time with respect to Hungary. The activating institution was not however the European Commission but the European Parliament which, by 488 votes to 197, called on the Council of the EU to examine the situation in Hungary with the view of determining the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach of the values laid down in Article 2 TEU. A number of issues were highlighted by the European Parliament such as the functioning of the constitutional and electoral system, the independence of the judiciary, corruption and academic freedom.
In the ever changing environment the EU is headed for further change, given the change in the global political power which is shifting from the west to the east, just like the relationship with the US has changed since the beginning of the 21st century, which only confirms the benefits of the EU.
This change has been further influenced by the election of the populist nationalist Donald J Trump who has protection of our free Liberal Society, human rights and international law taken off the agenda.
With Trump we have identified a potential autocrat, someone who seeks internal and external destabilization, undermining the institutions, judiciary, free press, freedom of speech and follows the 1932 playbook in which the culture of lying is practiced which leads to nihilism and opens the door to fascism.
Europe must recognize that 70 years of trust and cooperation with the US are ignored by Trump and led in 2018 to the conclusion as made by the German Foreign Minister
“The world order that we once knew and were accustomed to no longer exists. Old pillars of reliability are crumbling under the weight of new crises. Alliances dating back decades are being challenged in the time it takes to write a tweet.”
It’s the question if the trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and policy can exist much longer. But this did not start with Trump, the US squandered their good name in global leadership, first with Bush43 in Iraq which created the Atlantic divisions and then with Obama weaknesses in Syria.
But the trans-Atlantic cooperation was never damaged in the way it has been by Trump and we must recognize the US with Trump has become an security threat and adversary to Europe and its interests. We must also question after recent events the value of US security assurances.
The damage done by Trump to US credibility, reliability and reputation is most likely permanent and it’s doubtful this will ever will be fully repaired, despite some cosmic repairs which are envisaged in the future. A possible re-election of Donald Trump would be disastrous for the US, Europe and the world.
The EU should have recognized in 2003 the changing winds of our times, the erosion in the Atlantic relationship when George W Bush pivoted away from Western Europe towards New Europe due to the criticisms on Bush43 adventure in Iraq, US support for Israel, opposition against the International Criminal Court and climate change (Kyoto). But the Alliance survived the serious disagreements as a result of mutual respects and trust of the Allies.
Next to the US and China as our adversaries, we must recognize Russia is an existential threat to Europe given the recent Russian attacks on international law and state’s sovereignty which have reached an unacceptable level of aggression. So are the attacks by the Putin government or its proxies against American and European democracies, attacks which seek to divide by means of weaponizing information and cyberspace.
These attacks have only one purpose to discredit basic Liberal values and to strengthen isolationist and destructive forces in Western societies in order to destabilize our Free Liberal Society and the foundations of democracy with the help of radical right, which confirms Russia as the existential threat to Europe.
With the rise of national populism weaknesses in US and European democracies have been exposed resulting in the weakening of institutions and value systems which made Russian interference in Western countries internal politics possible.
These vulnerabilities have also contributed to the rise of the radical right. The flow of refugees, increased military engagements, decline of the middle class and increased inequality have contributed to the rise in Nationalism and racism, this cancer which led to fascism and which has played such a destructive role in our common history.
The use “fake reality” or “lügenpresse” which term goes back to 1914 and has a long history as a powerful instrument to influence the general public, a tool Hitler, Stalin used and now Trump uses which no longer distinguishes between analysis and propaganda, or between truth and lies suggesting there are different truth’s, destroying the notion there is one “truth.”
These Russian attacks Western Democracies with fake reality and influence the general public have played a role in the 2016 US elections, however this involvement must be seem as only secondary to other internal factors such as the divisions in US society which has been growing since the Nixon years and a dysfunctional Congress, which are the main factors have resulted in the election of Donald J Trump.
In West Europe despite the support of the growing radical right circles in the US, Israel and Putin’s little helpers, these attacks during the elections in The Netherlands, France and Germany were less successful, but wuth Brexit and in Italy they were effective, but the economic connection between Russia and Italy has always been strong and especial since Berlusconi Russia can count on its friendship.
During the 2016-2019 the US, French, Netherlands, German and EU elections in which more than 200 million people voted were attacked with disinformation so was the Brexit vote, seeking to manipulate public opinion which showed in the US and UK a disturbing level of success.
Influencing of European democracies was done by financial and media support and mutual legitimization of a wide range of populists and radical-right political politician like Victor Orban, Marine Le Pen, Milos Zeman and Geert Wilders and groups in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, UK (Brexit) which all seek to exploit the underbelly of society with the cancer of Nationalism and racism, while seeking at the same time to create illiberal democracies and disintegration of the European Union.
Victor Orban, the former Liberal turned autocrat of Hungary has filled the courts with sympathetic judges and has tampered with the rule of Law damaging the institutions and the economy.
In the tradition of all populist demagogues Orban has claimed to be “Europe’s defenders of Christianity based on nation, family and Christianity” and has infused “xenophobia, racism and nationalism” in the political culture, labelling refugees a treat to Hungary and European Christian values. In 2017 a law was passed forcing all asylum seekers in detention camps.
Orban shows that Religion and Nationalism is a toxic mix which has caused great suffering on humanity by ambitious leaders seeking to control the uneducated, in order to bolster their own authority in their search for unlimited control.
Orban “Brussels must be stopped” has moved away from the Liberal democracies of Europe and has become one of Putin’s closest allies in the attempts to destroy the EU from within, while benefiting from the same European Union and following the Russian narratives on the benefits of ethnicity and the advantages of the Judeo-Christian civilization over multi-culturalism.
Regimes like this which seek to weaken the independency of the courts should more severely be censured and not have a vote and seat at the main EU table with Hungary, Poland and Romania as the main candidates given their abuse of Democratic norms. We have reached to point that either these countries follow the norms and commit to Democracy or the EU must stop subsidizing these apriring authoritarian Governments.
The position of the EU will be also further influenced by changing demographics and shrinking populations, declining economic importance and political in significance, unless resources are combined and by working together in order to be able to influence the international political agenda and the solution of global problems.
To abandon European unification would be a fool’s errand now and would mean an irrevocable departure of the world table and for individual Nation States accept total insignificance, with the EU and the individual members becoming toys to be played with at the whim of others.
As the United Kingdom is moving toward an economically damaging form of Brexit, provoked by populist politicians who risk inflicting the most harm on the very people who are railing most strongly for Brexit.
Brexit shows Britain has great difficulty understanding the world of today and Imperial nostalgia lives in their heads which is going to create a terrible hangover in the years to come. As Secretary Dean Acheson said fifty years ago “Britain lost an empire and not yet found a role.
This is also the lesson Putin’s little dwarfs have learned from Brexit, the expected long term economic effects have resulted in a better understanding and increased popularity of the EU, uncomfortable facts which are difficult to ignore by nationalist populists.
In order to avoid this the EU needs to consolidate and put an end to the illusion of continuing national sovereignty by establish the principle of collective responsibility, The EU needs to move forward with further integration and consolidations including a transfer of sovereignty to European institutions in order to impose effective fiscal discipline and guarantee a stable financial system.
At the same time we need closer coordination of financial, economic, defence and social policies in the member countries, with the aim of correcting the structural imbalances within the common area. In order to avoid the return to nationalism we need to begin the process of moving towards political, monetary and fiscal union.
The requirement in the Council to vote unanimously on sensitive issues and some other cases should be modified into majority voting and trans-National voting in EU elections should as a first step be agreed to. As the French President Emmanuel Macron noted “We need to change the rules… As long as we have not reformed the functioning of our intergovernmental method, we will not be credible at an international level or to our constituents, and it will be impossible to enlarge the EU in any way.”
Instead of being dependent on the US, the EU should next to its financial and economic influence consider a multi-speed Europe and to speed up the “political union” and given the threats to our freedom and democracy Europe needs to move forward with the “security & defence union.”
This is influenced by the current US Administration which is questioning the transatlantic unity and withdrawing from arms controls agreements that had been the foundation of our European security for the last decades. This in order to make Europe more independent and increase its strategic position and geopolitical influence.
Such a unified force cannot be done without further integration of the political union and in the meantime the national forces fighting capacity should pool their assets and centralize its R&D budgets, increase its defence budget and integrate the European defence industry prioritizing EU hardware purchases.
However the EU has yet to prove that its defence initiatives will pay off in terms of operational capability and actually can create a strong entity.
Indeed a tall, but necessary order.
William J J Houtzager