Thursday, 13 December 2012

The European Union as an empire

Top Brussels bureaucrats seem to enjoy describing the European Union in imperial terms. We all remember how José Barroso characterized the EU as an empire. Now another EU grandee, the European External Action Service Counsellor Robert Cooper, "one of the intellectual architects of EU foreign policy" (whatever that is), is comparing the EU with the Habsburg Empire:

Above all, both the Habsburg Monarchy and the EU have provided a home for the small nations of Europe who would have difficulty surviving alone: in the nineteenth century, their need was to avoid being at the mercy of the less liberal German and Russian Empires. In the twentieth, belonging to a larger framework has brought both political and economic security. Had it not been for the catastrophe of war, the Habsburg Monarchy would have continued to develop in its haphazard way, no doubt giving more autonomy to those who wanted it but still providing the smaller states with things that mattered a lot to them.

What was unique in the Habsburg zone was that it enabled the small nationalities to survive, keep their culture, some level of autonomy, and even to thrive with it. The security it provided was political; but was backed – for this was the nineteenth century – by military force.

A further curious resemblance to the European Union is that the Monarchy was (as Robert Kann puts it) a power without a name; or rather a power with several names, none of them quite right: Habsburg Empire? Austro-Hungarian Empire? Habsburg Monarchy? None quite expresses its nature, because, like the European Union, it was complicated and did not fit into any convenient category. For Europe today, Common Market and European Economic Community are too little; European Union is too much: the EU is not a union in the sense that the United States or the United Kingdom is. This last name is an aspiration; but what is the use of an aspiration if nobody knows what it amounts to?

Cooper appears to realize that not everything is well in his beloved European "empire":

But the threat that the EU now faces is, in its way, as deadly as the one that confronted the Habsburg Monarchy a hundred years ago. Instead of the uncontrolled expansion of armies and navies of the early twentieth century, when few understood the implications of the new military technology, we live today in a world of uncontrolled global financial markets dealing in instruments that few comprehend. And the crisis strikes at the heart of the EU. If the EU ceases to be a bringer of prosperity but becomes instead a cause of impoverishment, it too will collapse. Because, unlike the Habsburg Monarchy, the EU is not a state but a community of states, its collapse will not begin at the centre, but at the edges. If it ever dies, it will do so with a whimper, rather than a bang. This fish rots from the tail, not the head. The explosion will come not in Brussels but on the streets of Athens, Rome or Madrid. Perhaps we are seeing the first signs. And if the explosion comes, it will bring down with it the open borders, the single market, the practice of cooperative relations with others, the collaboration in many fields, and at its centre the good political relations that have delivered peace and a sense of community over fifty-five years.

The stakes in the Euro-game are high: monetary union was meant to bring prosperity (and to bind Germany closer!). If the result is penury and political instability, then the EU will share the fate of the Habsburg Monarchy.

A good description of the EU malaise. But the distinguished "intellectual architect of EU foreign policy" does not have very much to offer in the way of curing the disease:

Unlike war, there are no winners when financial markets collapse (no, not even George Soros). If we fail, it will be by errors in our economics or misjudgments of our politics or through collective stupidity. Getting it right does not need a miracle. It requires only open debate, open minds, a readiness to listen and to learn. Intellectual clarity and human sympathy is all that we need, plus some understanding what we stand to lose.

Of course, Cooper does not really want an "open debate", because that is what the entire EU establishment has been - and still is - avoiding like a plague. The EU leaders do not want a really open debate, because  it would lead to the reconsideration of the entire failed project.  

On the highest EU level, there is one head of state, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who is head and shoulders above the rest. But Cooper and the the other EU grandees, who talk and write about an "open debate" and "readiness to listen", have during the last ten or so years done their utmost in order to shut him out. 

1 comment:

Joe Daniels said...

What arrogance: since when were the streets of Berlin, Athens and Rome at the EDGE of Europe? Has anybody told the inhabitants of these streets of their periphery?