Europe or bust?

Since its inception the EU has grown to become one of the predominant forces in global politics. Here Michael Ward profiles the evolution of the union and takes a peek into its’ future.

It started with a dream, born out of ruin and despair. After the devastation of World War Two, Europe was united by a desire to prevent another war from ever again ravaging the continent.

Extreme nationalism seemed to have taken a fatal blow. The time seemed optimal for cooperation instead of competition. The European Union of the twenty-first century is the result of such a dream.

Nevertheless recent economic events have exposed some fatal flaws in the nature of the EU. The crisis which is being experienced throughout the world is being exacerbated in Europe by the Union’s political and structural deficiencies.

Undoubtedly the EU of the twenty-first century is not what the signatories of the Treaty of Rome ever wanted or anticipated. It is an abnormal polity that has devalued sovereignty in the blind pursuit of a vague dream.

As a result, integration is no longer a policy; it is a necessity in order to avert financial turmoil. Today, the starry-eyed dreams of Europhiles all over the continent are being seriously questioned.

The story of the EU has been one of constant change and reform. Rightly evaluating that the root of all wars was economic, the common market aimed to institutionalise peace.

However, laden with this indefinite ambition, the EU has been an institutional mess since its inception as the Economic Community in 1957. Plagued by the constant need to reform itself, it has never found a suitable equilibrium.

Enthusiasm for its vague ideals constantly prevailed however. No finish line has ever been laid down for its development, and the boulder of integration has only ever been rolling in one direction (though its speed may have varied at different points).

All calls for moderation have eventually been dismissed as euroscepticism, as though committing to Europe was an issue of morality and any suggestion otherwise was the preserve of extreme nationalism.

Europe was built by leaders with experiences of war. Mof the main European leaders up until at least the mid-nineties had all lived through major conflict. Unfortunately their social vision prevented a proper anticipation of economic and political realities.

Original talk of a mere free trade area in Europe was replaced by the ideal of a common market. As a complete common market between diverse sovereign states is arguably impossible, a pooling of sovereignty was required.

Thus the idea of a political union kicked off. Continuous enlargement without properly enforced criteria was encouraged with a condescending view to sharing the Utopia that was expected to occur. With enlargement came the expansion of qualified majority voting, the streamlining of EU decision making and the explosion of bureaucracy.

The need to oversee this development saw the empowerment of the European Court of Justice – a supreme court-type institution that has no historical or societal foundation yet has granted itself the power to apply laws directly to citizens and to overrule member states.

The tragedy of this thirst for integration was ultimately the establishment of a common currency for a sub-union of nations that evidently couldn’t sustain it. There was no guarantee of fiscal discipline, nor coordination of budgetary policy.

Furthermore it is evident that there was a lax attitude to economic criteria for certain euro members such as Greece. The dream of an ever more united Europe dominated over all sensibilities.

Now this common currency is threatening our financial security. To save it will require further integration, however, this time there is no choice in the matter.

Evidently the EU is a closely knit conglomeration of very different countries. Those who project the idea of a common European identity can only do so by comparing the EU to far flung places such as China and the US and remarking that their values are different to ours, therefore our values must be similar to each other.

The fact remains that there is no distinct European identity above and beyond shared values brought about by globalisation in general. The nations of Europe are all extremely diverse, each with their own shared history, social outlook and sense of nationhood.

In this manner the EU is an unnatural entity. There is no common linkage and polls of whether people feel European have always shown negative responses dominant. The values of free trade, human rights and democracy are western values in general, not simply specific to Europe.

Nowadays memories of World War Two are faint, and politicians are motivated by different factors. National interest trumps any notion of common good in EU decision making.

More and more the EU is becoming a servant of domestic political agendas. However, the tradition of continuous widening and deepening continues apace, though perhaps with its fundamental reasoning unsure.

The perceived domination of the Merkozy duo in EU decision making demonstrates this, with Germany seeking to amend fiscal rules to protect its own economy and France seeking to promote its influence for electoral reasons.

The periphery is dependent on the centre for funding, and is thus content to blame it for all necessary austerity programs. At the same time the extreme right has been gathering at the political fringes since the nineties and has already made its presence felt in several member state governments such as in Austria and Denmark, while occupying powerful parliamentary positions in Italy, Sweden and Finland.

The irony of years of unrelenting integration is that it has fundamentally weakened Europe. We are now faced with the possibility of fiscal union or bust. The choice is either committing to budgetary centralisation or seeing our economic system fall apart.

To put it dramatically there is no longer any going back. The irrefutable fact is that to ensure that the collapse of the euro is avoided there needs to be centralisation of budgetary powers. The markets have dropped any pretence of faith in the EU as it is structured presently.

The euro itself is on the line, and tighter budgetary centralisation is seen as necessary to protect it. This indicates that there is no longer any aspect of national sovereignty that is not under EU influence. Due to years of irrational and optimistic integration policies, the rolling boulder can no longer be turned without incurring financial collapse.

In this manner the EU integration is now not a choice at all. It is a sad necessity. The nations of the Euro zone are locked into this trajectory simply because no person of influence shouted stop many years ago.

All this is occurring at a point when EU unity of purpose is at its lowest ebb ever. The future does not bode well.