You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave. (Eagles. Hotel California)
As I remarked a day or two back, I’m currently reading The Great Deception, and I’ve been thinking about one passage early in the book, which sets out the rationale of what was firstly to be the European Coal and Steel Community, and was to grow to become the EU:
Thus, Loucheur came to reflect, industrial organisation was the key to waging war. From this he developed the idea that, if key industries from different countries, above all their coal and steel industries on which modern warfare so much depended, were removed from the control of individual nations and vested in a ‘higher authority’, this might be the means of preserving peace. (p. 7)
A day or two back I argued that, while this might have been true in 1914, it was no longer true today. War has moved on, and we now have nuclear weapons and ‘smart’ weapons, neither of which require large coal and steel industries. The original rationale for the European Coal and Steel Community has simply melted away.
Nevertheless, today I’ve been thinking about the ‘higher authority’ bit of the above passage. And I began by wondering where one would find such a ‘higher authority’ – until it occurred me that when some company of men forms a military unit, they will usually elect one of their number to be their captain, and other men to other posts: authority (in the form of the captain) is created ex nihilo when people agree that such an authority is needed, and consent to abide by its decisions. So also with the EU/ECSC. Once the nations of Europe had agreed to create this ‘higher authority’, it came into existence, and started its work. That the place where this happened was Brussels was a bit of an accident.
Initially, one may suppose, the ‘competence’ of the ECSC extended only to the iron and steel industries of member states. But gradually further ‘competences’ were added, much as if the captain of the company was also given the job of blowing the bugle at dawn, and reading prayers, and so on. And this was what happened with the EU/ECSC. It gradually acquired more and more ‘competences’.
But the catch in all this was that once a new ‘competence’ was acquired by the EU/ECSC, it remained one of its competences thereafter, unless it revoked that competence itself. Once the company of men had given their captain the ‘competence’ to blow the bugle, they could not override his ‘higher authority’ and ask him to stop doing so: only he could make that decision himself.
And so also with the EU, which set out to gather and retain as many competences as possible from as many members as possible. And this was fully the intention of Jean Monnet that it should do this, and grow to become a European government, by a process of engrénage.
‘Our Community is not a coal and steel producers association. It is the beginning of Europe.’ Jean Monnet.
And in this manner it slowly grew for the next 50 years, gradually sucking in more and more competences, and more and more member states, and in the process building larger and larger offices in Brussels to house more and more staff.
There was a remorseless logic to it. The EU would slowly get bigger and bigger, and gradually suck all the competences of the nations of Europe into itself. And as it did so it inevitably became a centre of growing political power. Ambitious politicians began to aim to join its inner Council and Commission, not just for its power and its perks, but also its freedom from political interference. After all, that was the whole point of becoming a ‘higher authority’. Mere sovereign states might be subject to the whims of electorates, but the ‘higher authority’ of the EU stood above such mundane concerns.
It might also be remarked that, if the ECSC was designed to prevent war between France and Germany, the EU that grew out of it was also preventative in many other respects. The mounting numbers of rules and regulations that it generated were intended to prevent not just war, but also food poisoning and industrial accidents and any number of other mishaps. All of which made it a natural ally and meeting ground for practitioners of preventative medicine – such as Tobacco Control. Shielded behind its ‘higher authority’, they could together propose and enact a variety of tobacco control measures. After all, if the numbers of people killed by active and passive smoking every year rivals the casualties of WW1, it clearly fell within the competence of an organisation dedicated to preventing such a catastrophe ever being repeated.
But if the primary purpose of the EU is to prevent things from happening, it might be suggested that it is likely to end up preventing anything from happening. The tidal wave of rules and regulations coming out of Brussels is asphyxiating the European economy, and European democracy, and European community.
Nor is it ever likely that the EU can be made any more democratic than it is. It is what it has become because it is a ‘higher authority’ beyond the reach of meddling politicians and populists. To allow them in now would be to undermine the entire rationale of the EU, and invalidate its status as a ‘higher authority’.
At present, most of the arguments in favour of the EU focus on the purely economic benefits of EU membership, and ignore the political disadvantages. But politics and economics cannot be decoupled. The EU’s ‘higher authority’ has generated multiple adverse economic effects (for example with its myriad stifling and hobbling rules and regulations) which mean that its present economic downturn is likely to only deepen. Furthermore, it might be suggested that the EU’s many ‘competences’ might better be regarded as ‘incompetences’ – such as the ill-conceived euro. Not only are there few political benefits in membership, but there are also precious few economic benefits either.
There is a relentless logic to what is happening. And it is a logic which would appear to lead to the eventual disintegration of the EU, either as one country after another breaks away and deregulates their over-regulated economies and recovers their political sovereignty, or as the EU keeps on growing and becomes ever more tyrannical – perhaps assisted by its own army -, and the increasingly impoverished and desperate peoples inside it begin fighting to escape its grip, or to overthrow it.