Can The EU Work?

On one of the televised debates about the EU, a youth stated, in reference to the EU, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, as a substantial number of people either can’t comprehend or are in denial of, the EU is severely broken. Now, as anyone who has been following this blog will know, I’m no fan of the EU. But, given that the focus of the case for Brexit is largely on the flaws in the EU, it has to be asked if it can work at all, or is it doomed never to?

The biggest problem with the EU is that it doesn’t know what it is and those who run it are both unwilling to openly admit they want it to be a federal superstate and to press on with the task of unification due to the fact that most Europeans either oppose or are ambivalent about such a union, at least in the near future. Unfortunately, that leaves us a system that does nothing very well and which the refusal to confront the issues leaves stumbling on ineffectively.

There are two alternatives for the future of the EU. The first, which is probably favoured by the majority of Europeans, is effectively a return to a free-trade organisation with minimal intrusions into sovereignty and daily life. The other is to progress the EU towards a federal union, which demands some major changes.

A United States of Europe will require a federal government with real power elected by the people of Europe, not the current mishmash of member state governments, the EU parliament and unelected bureaucrats. It will also require federal laws and a means of enforcing them – that is, a federal legal system across the continent, independent of local judiciaries and lawmakers, and a federal law enforcement body, in the same manner that the USA has the FBI. Individual states, like those in the USA, would retain local governance and judicial and law enforcement powers for non-federal issues, but they would have to give up their militaries and pool them into a central European army (perhaps retaining some ‘National Guard’-style forces for purely defensive purposes). A central army will, necessarily, require a central government with the undivided authority to engage in diplomacy and declare war. In other words, the various states of Europe will cease to exist as sovereign states, being reduced (or their components transformed into) federal states of the Union.

Such a federal state will require a change in thinking and attitudes, not only from the ordinary people of Europe but the elites that currently rule it. Possibly, that change could be used to remove the old and corrupt elites, but it might just see elements of them re-orientate themselves into a new and equally corrupt and powerful elite, which would probably destroy the project in the longer term as such an elite would fail to address the concerns of the ordinary citizens who would need to be engaged with the centre and encouraged to see themselves as Europeans rather than citizens of their individual states (and, as the USA has shown us, far newer states can maintain an identity that is problematic to the central government).

If the needs of a federal Europe are addressed and a functioning federal government created with the organs to do its job of governing, then the EU could work. But, it will need more than that; it will need the nations and citizens of Europe to willingly pool their power and sovereignty. It’s possible, but unlikely. Nationalism remains strong across Europe, making it unlikely that the people will happily agree to such pooling any time soon, and forcing it will probably destroy the EU. It is also unclear whether all the nations of Europe will continue towards  ever-closer integration: some, such as the Baltic states, for example, see their security within the EU and would happily sign-up to an army and the government to run it, but it seems unlikely that Britain, France and Germany, in particular, are going to hand over control of their foreign policies and militaries to the EU unless they can guarantee control or, at least, influence over them. This might seem counterintuitive, given that France and Germany are leading proponents of the EU and the British establishment contains a strong pro-EU streak, but they, ultimately, don’t want an EU that completely overrides their power, which is exactly what is necessary for the experiment to work. If they have their way, the EU won’t unify and will, sooner or later, fall apart.

Given that I oppose the tendency to centralise and engorge states, stripping away the rights of the individual and ability for local determination, I would most like to see the EU cease to exist, or, at least, become nothing more than a free-trade association. But, if the EU is to exist as anything more, it needs to be as a federal entity with the ability to function as a state. To do that, it will need to overcome a great deal of opposition and many practical difficulties. It’s possible, although perhaps not very likely, but the EU could work. But, whether that would be a good thing or not is a whole other question…


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