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Europe's Dream Disturbed

Europe's Dream Disturbed

Mini Teaser: Now that the EU constitution has been defeated, the Euro-elites can come down from the clouds.

by Author(s): Conrad Black

A day of reckoning was inevitable for the European Union. The debacle of the European constitution has brought to a boil a crisis that was long-simmering and unavoidable.

The president of the EU, Romano Prodi, accurately described the constitution as a "change of centuries" from "the basic concept of the nation state." Instead of being an organization to administer inter-governmental treaties, the EU was to become a sovereign entity, legitimized by the European Parliament and an upper house consisting of the new European Council of Ministers. There would be an EU foreign minister, and the EU would have considerable leeway in implementing agreed foreign policy and requiring member states to avoid acting against the central interpretation of that agreed policy. Indeed, the European Commission effectively would have been able to decide the extent of its own powers; the "Flexibility Clause" in the proposed constitution would have allowed the Commission to extend its powers over member states in any new area not explicitly covered by the constitution. (This is the exact opposite of the Residual Powers clause of the U.S. Constitution, which leaves all unallocated powers with the states and the people.) Meanwhile, the EU Court of Justice would be empowered to strike down any national legislation that it interpreted as contrary to the socialistic European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Finally, the Union would also play an imprecise "coordinating role" in economic, employment, and defense and security policies.

The first message of the French and Dutch rejection of the constitution (and almost certain British rejection if the question had been put to the British public), is that those Europeans more interested in a common market and a high level of cooperation among states--but not the surrender of national sovereignty--have finally punctured the Euro-balloon that all Europe wanted to be emancipated from the straitjacket of national identity. It has been obvious for many years that the public enthusiasm for a federal Europe was a good deal less effusive than the evident ambitions of many of Europe's politicians and senior civil servants for a larger jurisdiction. The vision of a Europe of nations that cooperate and have surmounted ancient and stubborn animosities deserves admiration. But that vision, contrary to the scare tactics usually deployed by its most zealous advocates, does not require the political immersion of all Europe into a federal state.

The beleaguered Euro-federalists of the United Kingdom are of two groups: the continuing subscribers to the original great European vision and the forces of the Left of all three parties--Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democratic--that resent the pre-eminence of the United States in the Western alliance, especially in the so-called "special relationship" of the United States and the UK. The second group rarely enunciates its real motives, unlike its kindred spirits in continental Europe, where traditional, unalloyed anti-Americanism is a respectable argument in itself, which it has rarely been in Britain since the debate over the deployment of the Euromissiles twenty years ago.

The British are generally almost as wary of Europe as they have always been, but they want the Europeans to stop squabbling with each other and are prepared to assist in assuring such a state of tranquility by participating fairly actively in Europe. And they want to be able to travel and trade with Europe with a minimum of bother.

The British national consensus, despite the present government's desire to adopt the euro and ratify the constitution, has been to avoid Euro-integration until the political institutions of Europe work as well as the institutions Britain has developed for itself over the last 800 years; until there is no danger of backsliding into pre-Thatcher taxing, spending and labor relations; and until its relations with the United States will not be subsumed into the much less productive relationships between France and Germany and the United States. British judicial and legislative jurisdiction has been seriously, but not terminally, eroded.

The second British Euro-federalist group, the anti-Americans, is in a more ambiguous position than the true believers. The Left of the British Labour Party still cleaves to ancient notions of socialist brotherhood and wants to de-Thatcherize Britain through the back door, by the imposition of Euro-socialism. The Left of the Conservative Party--the followers of the late Sir Edward Heath, Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clark--dream of standing on the shoulders of the Europeans, so they need no longer look up at and endlessly defer to the Americans.

This sentiment blends fairly well with a mad continental egotism that dreams, after the elimination of the Soviet threat, of casting off the soft hegemony of the United States and restoring Europe to its supposedly rightful place as the center of the universe, the cradle of civilization, and rolling the clock back a century, to before Europe gave the world two unprecedentedly horrible wars and the scourges of communism and Nazism.

It is a romantic and, to some otherwise sensible people, alluring vision. But the core of western continental Europe, the EU's founding six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), has a collapsed birthrate, stagnant economic growth in France and Germany, double-digit unemployment, impending pension crises, and demographic levels sustained by relatively unassimilable immigration from Islamic countries, which has become a sensitive political issue, manipulated by disreputable local political elements.

It is not the least irony of the present conditions that the United States was the chief sponsor of European cooperation and the leader of the alliance in which France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey first acquired the habits of neighborly cooperation. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been the most successful alliance in world history and ultimately produced the bloodless collapse of its Soviet adversary. The United States has also been a consistent sponsor of almost every move toward European unification, and the United States is the butt of the resentment of the Euro-nationalistic federalists, who have always been more interested in being a rival than an ally of the United States.

On balance, successive American administrations of both parties have been wise to turn the other cheek to most Euro-provocations, such as the open animosity of France, Germany and Belgium to American and British Iraq policy in 2003; the ambivalence of the present French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, about which side France favored in that war; and the rank anti-American re-election campaign of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2002.

The United States endured in virtual silence the assertion by the then-European president in 1991 that the Bosnian crisis heralded "the hour of Europe" and that there was no place in it for the United States. It was only a few months before the Europeans were beseeching American assistance. The U.S. administration showed great forbearance when French President Jacques Chirac announced that the European Rapid Deployment Force, which would be carved out of NATO and would be almost entirely dependent on American airlift capability, would project European power in the world. Of course, it will do nothing of the kind.

U.S. administrations supported a more cohesive Europe during the Cold War, when they were seeking more robust Cold Warriors as allies. Since then, as the anti-American nature of much Euro-enthusiasm has become clearer, they have been much more ambivalent. Now not even the most rabid European Americophobe can blame the present fiasco on the United States.

Germany's affection for Euro-federalism bears little resemblance to Britain's. Helmut Kohl is the chief architect of the recent German policy. The former four-term chancellor still speaks often and spontaneously about his brother and uncles who died in the world wars on the Western Front and is clearly concerned about German political maturity if it is not locked tightly into a friendly alliance where it is respected but not dominant.

He was undoubtedly sincere when he spoke of "a European Germany and not a German Europe." He did his very best to allay the fears of those who looked upon a resurgent and reunified Germany with distaste and fear, for obvious historic reasons. The Russian, French and British governments all opposed German reunification, and it would not have occurred, or at least not as soon and as painlessly, without the creative assistance of the senior President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker. Kohl wanted Germany comfortable in a Euro-cocoon and secured by an American-led alliance. Those who imputed Teutonic imperialist motives to him were unjust.

The present governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens remains Euro-federalist, but it has put unnecessary strain on the alliance with the United States, the only ally that has ever been of any real use to Germany. And it has shown the old German tendency to use foreign policy as a substitute for psychiatry, by claiming that just as Germany showed the world how to make war (at which it was, after all, ultimately conspicuously unsuccessful), it will now demonstrate to the world the virtues and practical utility of pacifism. No one is asking for a revival of German militarism, but lectures from German statesmen on the moral superiority of Germany's placatory impulses are tiresome and unconvincing.

Essay Types: Essay