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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With Lisbon in force, little is left of the already sharply curtailed ability of any one member-state (or its voters) to veto the inroads of fresh EU legislation. In Hans's view, the treaty means that the momentum towards a European super-state is now irreversible. With their sovereignty emasculated and, in many cases, their sense of identity crumbling under the linked assaults of multiculturalism and mass immigration, the old nation states of Europe have neither the ability nor the inclination to say no. Euroskepticism will now be portrayed (not always inaccurately) as the mark of the crank or the Quixote. "And that," added Hans, a man still at a relatively early stage in his career, "is not the way to go either politically or professionally."

Signing up, however unenthusiastically, for the orthodoxies of the European Union is now de rigueur in the continent's ruling class. And if there was once idealism behind the Brussels project it has long since been overwhelmed by another of the beliefs that lay behind it--that neither nations nor their electorates could be trusted to do the right thing. Sovereignty, whether national or democratic or both, is being replaced by oligarchy, technocracy, and the pieties of the "social market." If you live in an oligarchy, it's best to be an oligarch.

This realization is one of the reasons that the EU has got as far as it has. It has provided excellent opportunities for some of Europe's best, brightest, and lightest-fingered to move back and forth between the union's hierarchy and those parts of the private sector (and indeed the national civil services) that feed off it.

Yet all was not gloom, said Hans. A stronger sense of their own identity and a still distinct political culture meant, he thought, that it wasn't too late for the Brits to do the right thing (as he sees it) and quit the EU. He is too optimistic. While correct that most Britons are irritated by the EU and its presumptions, he overlooks the fact that they have not yet shown any signs of wanting to end this most miserable of marriages. Hans also underestimates the subtler factors standing in the way of the long-promised punch-up between any incoming Tory government and Brussels--an event that in any case has now been postponed. David Cameron's party has shelved its plans for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Now that it has come into force, modifying the treaty to accommodate the U.K. would require the assent of all the other member-states and that won't be forthcoming. A British referendum, Cameron claims, would therefore be pointless. How convenient for him.

Cameron has also made it clear that he has no intention of revisiting the U.K.'s relations with the EU in any serious way for quite some time. With Britain's economy in ruins, any incoming government will have more pressing priorities. And the passing of time only further entrenches the EU's new constitutional settlement deeper into the U.K.'s fabric--and especially the landscape in which the country's able and ambitious build their careers. That's something that Cameron may also have recognized. He appears to have concluded that it is better to win a premiership diminished by Brussels than no premiership at all, and a major row over Britain's role within the EU could yet cost the Tory leader the keys to 10 Downing Street.

The additional complication is debt-burdened Britain's dependence on the financial markets as a source of fresh funds. Investors are averse to uncertainty. They are already twitchy about Britain's disintegrating balance sheet, and a savage row between Britain and the rest of the EU would set nerves even further on edge. Then there's the small matter that such a conflict is hardly likely to help Britain persuade its European partners to bail the U.K. out in the event that this should prove necessary--and it might.

The more time passes, the more an empowered EU will insinuate itself within national life (rule from Brussels is a fairly subtle form of foreign occupation: No panzers will trundle down Whitehall). It will come to be seen as "normal," not perfect, by any means, and certainly the cause of sporadic outbreaks of grumbling, but if handled with enough discretion (it will be a while before the Commission resumes efforts to sign Britain up for the "borderless" EU of the Schengen Agreement) and enough dishonesty, it will benefit from the traditional British reluctance to make a fuss. As on the continent, protesting deeper integration within the union, let alone trying to reverse it, will be depicted--and regarded--as the preserve of the eccentric and the obsessive.

With Britain hogtied, the Lisbon structure will endure unchanged unless a prolonged economic slowdown (or worse) finally shatters the gimcrack foundations on which the EU rests. That cannot be ruled out, but if Lisbon holds, the implications will be profound for the international environment in which the United States has to operate. There is already chatter (from the Italian foreign minister, for instance) about a European army. Can it be long before there is a drive by Brussels to replace the British and French seats on the U.N. Security Council with one that represents the entire EU, a move that would eliminate the one vote in that body on which the United States has almost always been able to rely?

And to ask that question is to wonder what sort of partner the EU will be for the United States. One clue can be found in the fact that the new High representative for foreign affairs and security policy was treasurer and then a vice chairman of Britain's unilateralist Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the end of the Brezh-nev era. Another comes from remarks by Austria's Social Democratic chancellor Werner Faymann in response to the speculation that Tony Blair would be appointed to the new presidency during the fall: "The candidate .  .  . should have an especially good -relationship with Obama and not stand for a good working relationship with Bush."

Leaving aside the minor matter that George W. Bush has not been president for nearly a year, it's not difficult to get Faymann's drift. The Obama administration will find the EU a reasonably congenial partner, even ally, so long as it sticks to the sort of transnationalist agenda that could have been cooked up in Turtle Bay, the Berlaymont, or Al Gore's fevered imagination. If on the other hand, Obama, or any subsequent president, should turn to policies that are more avowedly in this country's national interest, the EU could well turn out to be an obstacle. After all, in the absence of any authentic EU identity, its leadership has often defined their union by what it is not. And what it is not, Eurocrats stress, is America.

Washington will have to learn to accept surly neutrality, if not active antagonism, from the oligarchs of Brussels. The EU may not be able to do much to hinder the United States directly, but, as its "common" foreign (and, increasingly, defense) policy develops, there's a clear risk that it will be at the expense of NATO. Shared EU projects will drain both cohesion and resources away from the Atlantic alliance, not to speak of the ability of America's closer European allies to go it alone and help Uncle Sam out.

Some of this will be deliberate, but more often than not it will be the result of institutional paralysis. As a profoundly artificial construction, the EU lacks--beyond the shared prejudices of some of its elite--any sense of the idea of us and them that lies at the root of a nation or even an empire, and, therefore, the ability to shape a foreign policy acceptable to enough of its constituent parts for it to take any form of effective action. But if the EU might find it difficult to decide what it will do, it will find it easy to agree what its members cannot do. The days when Britain will have the right, let alone the ability, to send its troops to aid America over the protests of Germany and France are coming to a close.

Bowing, but this time to the inevitable, Obama has welcomed the completion of the Lisbon Treaty process, saying that "a strengthened and renewed EU will be an even better transatlantic partner with the United States," an absurd claim that one can only hope he does not believe.

Ah yes, hope.

Andrew Stuttaford, who writes frequently about cultural and political issues, works in the international financial markets.