June 13th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Ireland has just proved that, at this point, countries whose economies are doing well see no reason to pursue further EU integration. Its voters appear to have rejected the new EU constitution in a referendum on Thursday:

Having spent the last two years honing a treaty which was supposed to benefit 495 million Europeans, the burghers of Brussels looked on helplessly yesterday as it was torn to shreds by fewer than a million Irish voters.

Its spectacular failure yesterday, the “No” vote romping home with 53.4 per cent of the vote, was undoubtedly an indictment of the lacklustre “Yes” campaign, but it was also a sign of growing unease among normal working people about the creeping powers of a faceless body which is unchallenged by the political elite.

Ireland is one of the few countries where opposition to the EU is strong that is actually holding a referendum – in the UK, where opposition is arguably even stronger, the government reneged on its manifesto promise to hold one, undoubtedly because it would have been defeated had a vote been held.

This is just further proof that the only countries in strong favor of the EU are those that still have something to benefit from membership, whether handouts from Brussels, access to a broader labor market and so on. Those countries that are net contributors to the EU, and whose economies are more flexible than the EU would allow them to be, are straining at the bit to get out, or at least to resist further integration. 

Good for the voters of Ireland, and good for the others who are resisting this latest round of “ever closer union“. It would be nice if this vote really did stymie the process of further integration in the way some seem to think it will – it’s about time for the members of the EU to pause and take stock of the benefits of membership before we move any further forward.

February 26th, 2005 by Rightsideup

The US administration (and previous US administrations, including that of Ronald Reagan) has expressed its support in recent weeks for the institution of the European Union, the multinational body which acts increasingly as a federal state superimposed upon the nation-states of Europe. Interestingly, some of the most enthusiastic comments come today from Colin Powell in a post-resignation interview with the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

From a US perspective, this makes solid strategic sense – endorsing the EU as a valid body for representing the interests of European powers has several advantages:

  • it allows Europe to pull something like its own weight in defence matters – each individual European country’s defence spending and capabilities are dwarfed by that of the US, and joining 25 countries’ capabilities together allows these countries to present something like an equivalent to the US’s immense military power. Since the US has been trying for the last thirty years to get European nations to pull their own weight militarily, this at least seems like a step in the right direction
  • it also allows European nations to speak with one voice – something which would be beneficial if it allowed the US to speak to “Europe” as a single coherent entity rather than as 25 separate nations, each with their own views and needs. The creation of the post of EU Foreign Minister under the proposed new EU Constitution would be a large step in this direction
  • it allows Europe to solve the problems in its own backyard directly without reference to Nato, the UN or other supranational bodies, thus excluding the US from situations which would best be handled locally.

For all of these reasons, US administrations have endorsed the creation and strengthening of the EU and the extending of its powers into the military sphere in particular over the last thirty to forty years. However, in a greater sense, this endorsement of the EU is not in the US’s best interests.

An obvious example is the recent war in Iraq, where a number of European nations endorsed and supported the stance of the US, while the two most powerful EU nations – France and Germany – and others did not. Under the proposed changes to the EU, the 25 countries would either have to speak with one voice, in which case they would not have supported the war in Iraq, or the creation of the post of EU Foreign Minister will be simply a hollow gesture, in which case it does not actually benefit the US at all. In Colin Powell’s interview in the Telegraph, he says, “I’ve always viewed [Javier] Solana as something like the EU foreign minister, anyway.” In which case, why bother to create the position formally?

Another problem with this approach, especially with Republican administrations, is that their ideological counterparts in the UK especially but also in the rest of Europe are actually the least enthusiastic about expansion of the EU’s powers. Thus, when Reagan endorsed the EU during the 80s, he actually was going against the grain as far as his closest ally in Europe, Margaret Thatcher, was concerned, since she was vehemently against any expansion of the EU’s powers.

This is more readily seen when one imagines US Republicans’ response to proposals to give the UN much broader powers, to regulate all industries at a supranational level, give it its own military force to be used as the broad membership wished, to over-ride the decisions of individual nation states within it, etc. If the UN tried to take on these powers there would be outrage in the US, and yet this is exactly the role the EU plays in Europe.

So, it would be far better if the US were to take a more moderate stance on the EU, not endorsing its expansion nor advocating its dismantling, while bolstering support for Nato, an institution which truly serves the needs of both the US and European nations militarily, without the headaches that a strengthened EU creates.