On March 25, 1957, six European countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which eventually became the European Union. The Treaty granted Europeans four basic freedoms (free movement of people, goods, capital and services) that taken together promised to take away narrow economic interests from ever again becoming the cause of the fratricidal wars that devastated Europe in the 20th century. As we celebrate the Treaty’s 60th anniversary and the longest period in European history without a major war, there is no doubt that it has been hugely successful in that particular objective.
Yet, the celebrations have been subdued to say the least, as Great Britain has now officially asked to leave the Union and doubts as to its very survival abound. What happened?
What happened in retrospect was very simple. The original ideas of the founders of the European idea, people like Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Shumann, who believed in individual freedom and competition, were gradually replaced by the socialistic schemes of Jean Monnet et al, who dreamed of a United States of Europe and a big benevolent government that knew what was good for the people better than the people themselves. And so they gave us a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which was supposed to result in the cheapest and highest quality food in the world, but instead gave us an expensive and uncompetitive agriculture that must be subsidized ad infinitum. It also gave us an administrative state run by the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission that is progressively less democratic. This is what has caused a popular revulsion about the European project among its citizens and not evil populists like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Victor Orban. Here are just some of the problems that must be urgently solved if the EU is to have a future.
There are currently (2015) 134,500 regulations, standards, court decisions and legislation that are binding for every citizen and government of the EU. Among the examples of European Commission logic were regulations limiting the curvature of bananas and cucumbers before they can legally aspire to be bananas and cucumbers, and a regulation that claimed that drinking water does not prevent dehydration. How a sane person can make sense of this government folly run amuck is another question. It is high time for the EU to reform the monster state it has become and return to the national governments the tasks that they do better.
The Treaty of Rome was signed at a time when Europe had pretty much recovered economically from WWII devastation, but still needed the NATO umbrella to defend it from communist totalitarianism, which, in turn, obligated it to maintain a robust defense posture. Yet, when the Cold War ended with a resounding victory for the West and the Soviet Union collapsed, the Europeans decided unilaterally that there will never be another war in Europe and stopped spending money on defense. In short order, the number of tanks in the German army went from 3500 to 250 and defense capabilities were similarly emasculated throughout Europe. And when today, the U.S. administration asks its NATO partners to boost defense spending, German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, argues that expenditures for bringing migrants to Germany should count as defense expenditures. The disingenuous nonsense peddled by Gabriel and others must be put an end to. A union worth having is a union worth defending and the Eastern Europeans fear of Russian aggression is real and justified whatever the likes of Gabriel peddle. Further, to expect America to be more interested in the defense of Europe than the Europeans themselves more than 70 years after the end of WWII is a suicidal illusion.
With respect to migrant policy, the unilateral decision by Angela Merkel, who is the chancellor of Germany, not of Europe, to open the borders of the European Union and threatening to force migrants quotas on the reluctant Eastern Europeans was not only foolish in the extreme, but also opened a new and serious fault line between East and West in the EU. The EU must openly admit that Merkel’s policies were disastrous, seriously reinforce its external borders and start playing hardball with wannabe dictators like Erdogan.
Finance and the Economy
The EU economy and especially that of its southern tier has been badly mismanaged. The main culprit here was the introduction of the Euro, which was a failed effort to achieve political integration by economic means. It has misfired badly and is bringing countries like Greece, Spain and Italy to the brink of economic ruin. The introduction of artificially low interest rates after the euro created an illusion of prosperity and a classic bubble that has now burst. In many southern EU members banks extended credit to the private sector that exceeded its economic output. In Spain in 2002 bank lending was 100% of GDP, increasing to 160% by 2007. It was even worse in Greece, which will never pay its debts. Neither will debtors to the bank system in Italy which is close to the precipice. It is time to put an end to the nonsense spouted by Merkel, that the end of the euro will mean the end of the EU. Countries like Greece should be allowed to leave the euro temporarily to get their house in order. Otherwise the whole Euro house of cards is likely to go bust.
By Alex Alexiev