Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sic Transit EUtopia

In this week's briefing from Stratfor, (go here to receive these highly useful briefings --and a few gentle nags to purchase full membership), founder George Friedman discusses last week's rejection by the Irish people of the Lisbon Treaty, and its implications for the status and form of the EU going forward. Among other things, this document proposed the revamping of voting procedures, formation of a full-time President of the European Council, and the creation of a functional Foreign minister post. In short, it would have moved the EU several steps further along in a transformation from free trade zone to federated super-state. And it appears that a majority of the Irish have added themselves to the list of those who are not at all keen on that idea. Says Friedman:

Europe is not going to become a nation-state in the way the United States is. It is increasingly clear that Europeans are not going to reach a consensus on a European constitution. They are not in agreement on what European institutions should look like, how elections should be held and, above all, about the relation between individual nations and a central government. The Europeans have achieved all they are going to achieve. They have achieved a free trade zone with a regulatory body managing it. They have created a currency that is optional to EU members, and from which we expect some members to withdraw from [sic] at times while others join in. There will be no collective European foreign or defense policy simply because the Europeans do not have a common interest in foreign and defense policy.

What the proponents of a European State are finding is that, despite their aspirations for the softening of national boundaries with an eye toward subsuming them within a superordinate political entity, people are still rather more attached to their pre-existing national identities than expected. The US was created de novo from a set of colonies peopled largely by those who sought to escape from their circumscribed roles within their country of origin. Its constitution established it as a new set of relationships within a new identity which nominally --and, over the course of its history, functionally -- existed in a form which was transcendent of prior cultural and national heritage. It was a New World.

The nations of Europe, by sharp contrast, are far more heavily invested in the cultural lineages which tie them to the land and to the national identities which have arisen from their tempestuous histories. Oceans of blood have been spilled in the formation of those identities, and it appears that it will take more than the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen to erase them. True enough, the geopolitics of the Cold War may have lent themselves to a degree of complacency with respect to the armed defense of European nation states so recently ravaged by the horrors of WW2. The zone and form of inter-state wrangling on the Continent did shift from the battlefield to the board rooms and embassies and the General Assembly, and the specter of armed conflict among major powers wilted under the prospect of the mushroom clouds which it was generally understood that it could spawn. It is, then, understandable that some would entertain the fantasy that such a process could be linearly extrapolated to a condition in which the nation state itself could be gently and rationally dissolved into a wider confederacy.

But it is one thing to reduce trade barriers and come to a consensus on currency, and quite another to voluntarily surrender sovereignty to the bureaucrats of Brussels. The former seems a perfectly reasonable response to the nightmarish hodgepodge of tariffs and arbitrage which hobbled the interoperability of trade among the cheek-and-jowl nations of Europe before the advent of the EU. The latter, however, is seeming more and more like an untenable proposition for countries which have shown quite a bit more pride and possessiveness of their independent identities than their would-be transnational overlords had banked on. In the simplest sense, Friedman points out, the EU did not have enough to offer in exchange for the precious commodity which it demanded in return.

There is a saying that some people are exhausted and confuse their state with virtue. If that is true, then it is surely true of Europe in the last couple of generations. The European Union reflected these origins. It began as a pact — the European Community — of nations looking to reduce tariff barriers. It evolved into a nearly Europe-wide grouping of countries bound together in a trade bloc, with many of those countries sharing a common currency. Its goal was not the creation of a more perfect union, or, as the Americans put it, a “novus ordo seclorum.” It was not to be the city on the hill. Its commitment was to a more prosperous life, without genocide. Though not exactly inspiring, given the brutality of European history, it was not a trivial goal.

Still, this is fairly weak tea compared to the deep-seated and hard-won character of a nation. Who better than the Irish to recognize this, and to push back the skinny end of the wedge which would have torn that national identity asunder. Frankly, I'm amazed that the margin of that defeat was a slim as it was. But defeated it was, and with it the misguided dream of a European regime. At least for now.

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