The Magazine

Resistance Is Futile

The triumph of the Eurocrats over the peoples of Europe.

Dec 28, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 15 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
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Being a realist means knowing when to fold. In the wake of the Irish vote, a nose-holding, teeth-gritting Polish president committed his country to the treaty. This left the Czech Republic's profoundly Euroskeptic president, Václav Klaus, as the last holdout. If Klaus could delay signing the treaty (which had, awkwardly for him, already been approved by the Czech parliament) until after a likely Conservative victory in the upcoming British general election (due no later than next June), then the whole process could be brought to a halt. The Tories had vowed to withdraw the U.K.'s existing ratification and hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty before proceeding any further. Given most Britons' views (quite unprintable in a respectable publication), the result would have been to kill the treaty. The U.K. isn't Ireland. The U.K. isn't Denmark.

If, if, if .  .  .

It didn't take long for the blunt Klaus to dash those hopes: "The train carrying the treaty is going so fast and it's [gone] so far that it can't be stopped or returned, no matter how much some of us would want that."

Klaus signed the treaty on November 3. Shortly thereafter the EU's leaders began maneuvering to fill two new jobs: "president" (actually president of the European Council) and "foreign minister" (the latter will rejoice in the grandiloquent title of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy). Following a couple of weeks of intrigue, backstabbing, and secretive quid pro quos, it was agreed the new president would be Herman van Rompuy--Belgium's prime minister and thus a man who knows a thing or two about unnatural unions. But the somewhat obscure van Rompuy (what Belgian prime minister is not?) is a world historical figure when compared with the woman who has become High Representative, a Brit by the name of Baroness Ashton of Upholland, a dull hack known--if at all--for her loyalty to the Labour party. The treaty finally came into force on December 1. The age of van Rompuy had begun.

Some commentators are presenting the emergence of the Belgian and the baroness as a triumph for the EU's member states over its bureaucracy's more federalist vision. The thinking goes that by securing the appointment of two nonentities to what are (notionally) the most prestigious jobs in the union's new structure, Sarkozy, Merkel, and the rest of the gang successfully defended what remains of their countries' prerogative to decide the most important matters for themselves. To believe this is to misread just how lose-lose the situation was. In reality, the nonentities will be as damaging (maybe even more so) to what's left of national sovereignty as better-known candidates such as the much-anticipated Tony Blair. Blair would have given the presidency more clout. He would have done so, however, at the expense not only of the EU's member states, but also of the Brussels bureaucracy.

The EU's new president is, as mentioned above, technically the president of the European Council, a body formally incorporated within the EU's architecture by the Lisbon Treaty after years in a curious organizational limbo. With a membership now made up of the union's heads of government, van Rompuy, and the inevitable Barroso, it is theoretically the bloc's supreme political institution. And theoretically therefore, the stronger it is (and with a heavyweight president it would supposedly have been stronger), the more it would be able to operate as a counterweight to the bureaucrats of the EU Commission. I suspect that this would never have been the case, but with van Rompuy, a housetrained federalist (he has already told a meeting arranged by--let a hundred conspiracy theories flower--the Bilderberg Group that he favors giving the EU tax-raising powers), at its helm, the point is moot. The key, van Rompuy reportedly claimed, to high office within the EU is to be a "gray mouse," and so, to the chagrin of Blair and those like him, it has proved. Sarkozy, Merkel, and all the rest of their more colorful kind will continue to prance and to parade, and power will continue to leach away from the nation states and into the unaccountable oligarchy that is "Brussels."

"It's all over," my friend Hans told me when Klaus threw in the towel, "Brussels has won." Hans, thirtysomething, a native of one of the EU's smaller nations, and a former adviser to one of the continent's better-known Euroskeptics, comes as close to anyone I have ever met from the European mainland to being a Burkean Tory--and Hans has now given up. He would, he sighed, have to move on with his life.