Sunday, January 28, 2007


Romania and Bulgaria join EUThis may have escaped the radar of many, including in Europe itself, but since January 1, 2007, two more countries, Romania and Bulgaria, have joined the European Union, which de facto now counts 27 members states with a total population of around 480 million people. The borders of the "United States of Europe" in being now stretch from Ireland's Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea. Though small countries for US standards, R&B, as both Eastern European countries jokingly call themselves (though they argue over who stands for the Rhythm and who for the Blues), their entrance is quite significant for the Union. Together they add not only 30 million inhabitants, but also their fast growing economies. Since 1998 e.g. Bulgaria, with capital Sofia and a population of 7.7 million, has known a year-on-year GDP growth of over 4%, with a peak of 5.8% last year, far higher than most EU member states. Romania, with capital Bucharest and a 22-million strong population, does even better: its economy is growing at about 7% per year.

To those who have been following DowneastBlog for awhile, it will come as no surprise that personally, I hail this development - albeit cautiously. That is not to say that I do not understand though that Americans could be fretting about it. After all, in many respects European countries, and the EU itself, have, especially over the past five years but already long before that, proven to be questionable allies at best and downright traitors at worst. Young Dutch ISAF trooper with AIFV in AfghanistanBut... keep in mind that even so, Europe is STILL the closest ally America has on the world stage. We are each others biggest commercial partners, with our bilateral trade flow dwarfing anything else on the planet. Basically, we share the same roots and, theoretically at least, the same values. Americans do not feel aliens in European cities the way they may feel so in Bangalore, Nairobi or Bejing, and the same goes for Europeans in American cities. And don't forget, that even with our lackuster performance in the WOT thus far, European armour and infantry DO stand side by side with our American friends in Afghanistan, battling the same inhuman enemy - though I'd indeed prefer we'd get the effort some more muscle.

The Berlaymont Building in Brussels, Seat of the European Commission, say the European GovernmentNow onto the reasons why I still think of the EU morphing into the USE as a good thing, and even a necessary development. As a Rightwinger, I am in favour of limited government. That is not to say I'm following my pal Scott all the way, when he professes his belief in libertarianism. Or, for that matter, faithful reader Mark, another Cato Institute aficionado. They may say I'm a Euroweenie after all. I say I don't believe in a skeleton state. So, I'm not as appalled as they would be over the inevitability of "more" European state which will invariably follow every further European enlargement or every further move towards more integration. It's something I am willing to accept because I am convinced that the bonuses of more Europe will outweigh the burden of more state. And if as Americans you think the European Union in its present form or in its future form as a "Superstate" is an ugly thing, I would like you to consider that in the early history of your very own country, there too was a dynamic towards more integration, towards more control from a governmental body superimposed over the original thirteen. Articles of ConfederationI am not really an expert in American history, but what I do know is that between the victory of the loose coalition of the nascent American states over Britain and the implementation of the US Constitution on March 4, 1789, there was a period in which the US's political fabric very much resembled the one of the European Union today. I know that the relations between its member states were governed by the Articles of Confederation (1777), and that they were soon deemed imperfect. I know that some states had their own currency, their own army, their own petty navy and some even their own ambassadors abroad. And I know that there was much rivalry and serious potential for conflicts between them. Personally, I would like to compare this crucial, but by no means final step in American history with Europes Treaty of Rome of 1957, where what was then called the European Economic Community was born, but where also the nuclei of a European "government" (the European Commission) and "parliament" (the European Assembly), as well as a European Court of Justice, saw the light. The Treaty of Rome affirmed in its preamble that the signatory States were "determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe" (thus specifically affirming the political objective of a progressive political integration). It almost sounds like an echo of 180 years earlier, when the Articles of Confederation stated in III.) that "The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other."

Treaty of Rome, 1957. Birth of EEC, European Economic CommunityYou, as Americans, may understandably be incensed over Europes lukewarm support until now in the War On Terror. To a considerable degree Europes deficiency as an ally can be attributed to the most widespread political affiliation among the ruling parties in Europes governments: Socialism. Socialists can never be trusted to physically fight for anything - as my compatriot Paul Beliën once aptly remarked "not even for their own hedonistic values". In their sick, perverted logic anyone who defends by force what is dear to him, even if it is his own country - even if it is his own family - becomes morally equivalent to the agressor the moment he picks up that gun. However, when as a result crushing defeat against that agressor becomes a reality, most Socialists have no quarrels siding with the invading party. Hendrik De Man, Marxist in his youth, leading Belgian Socialist in the thirties, Nazi Collaborator in the fortiesIn Belgium during WWII, one of the most notorious collaborators with the Nazis was a key Socialist personage and former Belgian PM, Hendrik De Man, who in summer 1940 exhorted the Belgian population to submit to the Nazi occupier with the words: "Here is what I ask you to do. Do not believe resistance should be offered to the occupier. Accept the fact of his victory and try to draw lessons from it. For the working classes and for socialism, this collapse of a decrepit world, far from being a disaster, is a deliverance." Some forty years later, in the early eighties, the leftwing motto during Europes great anti-American demonstrations, when the US was deploying Cruise Missiles for Europes defense against the Soviet missile threat, was: "Better Red than Dead". Here, too, was an echo. But this time its smell was foul and its aim perverted.

But socialist's inherent cowardness and immorality is only part of the explanation. It seems to me the larger part lies exactly in Europes still not fulfilled mission of complete integration. Imagine America on September 12, 2001 as merely some kind of free trade zone where every state would have had its own sovereign government, only symbolically subordinated to a rather powerless American Union Commission sitting in Washington. Would America's immediate response to 9/11 - the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan - have been as swift as it was now? I doubt it very much, or rather, I'm sure it would not have been. I can, e.g., imagine the state of Texas arguing fiercely in the American Parliament for immediately dispatching the combined fleets and air arms to the Indian Ocean, while the states of California and Massachusetts would veto it, arguing for talks with Kabul instead.

In September 1987, during the Bicentennial Observance of the US Constitution, then President Ronald Reagan recalled the uncertainty of those early days, between the victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781, when the Articles went into effect, and the ratification of the Constitution eight years later. I ask you Americans to ponder for a moment - when you again feel exasperated over Europes seemingly inherent undeciseveness and its lack of moral courage to take the hard decisions - did not America two hundred years ago find herself in a very similar position as Europe over the past decades? To me, as a European, the words of that great President sound emblematic for Europes present dilemmas:

...The consensus that it was necessary to establish a strong national government emerged very early on, when the delegates agreed to scrap the Articles of Confederation and write a new Constitution that would be supreme. The new government was to have three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial. The rest of the negotiations, for all the serious disagreements and famous compromises that occurred, really amounted to working out the details.

...Sometimes we're tempted to think of the birth of our country as one such golden age, a time characterized primarily by harmony and cooperation. In fact, the Constitution and our government were born in crisis. The years leading up to our Constitutional Convention were some of the most difficult our nation ever endured. This young nation, threatened on every side by hostile powers, was on the verge of economic collapse. In some States inflation raged out of control; debt was crushing. In Massachusetts, ruinously high taxes provided—or provoked an uprising of poor farmers led by a former Revolutionary War captain, Daniel Shays.

Trade disputes between the States were bitter and sometimes violent, threatening not only the economy but even the peace. No one thought him guilty of exaggeration when Edmund Randolph described the perilous state of the confederacy. “Look at the public countenance,” he said, “from New Hampshire to Georgia! Are we not on the eve of war, which is only prevented by the hopes from this Convention?”

Maryland State House, where the Annapolis Convention took place. Only 5 states were present. It was a tough road towards the USA.The Articles of Confederation, all could see, were not strong enough to hold this new nation together. But there was no general agreement on how a stronger Federal Government should be constituted—or, indeed, whether one should be constituted at all. There were strong secessionist feelings in many parts of the country. In Boston, some were calling for a separate nation of New England. Others felt the 13 States should divide into three independent nations. And it came as a shock to George Washington, recently traveling in New England, to find that sentiment in favor of returning to a monarchy still ran strong in that region.

We remember, too, that when the Annapolis Convention in September 1786 resolved to ask for a meeting of the states to consider both commercial and political problems of the thirteen states, only five states were present. The resistance to central planning, to the idea of a central, federal government, was so strong that the Continental Congress rejected the idea of calling a “Constitutional Convention.” Their resolution invited states to send delegates to Philadelphia in May, 1787, “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”

Once peace had been achieved, the rivalries and tensions between the states began to surface. What happened was what has happened to every victorious alliance in history; the 13 allies began to fall out; Virginia and Maryland quarreled over boundaries and navigation, Pennsylvania and Connecticut over territory in western Pennsylvania claimed by Connecticut, New Jersey and New York over commercial matters. Since each state was free to maintain its own army and navy, there were threats—and acts—to resolve claims with force. In Massachusetts, Colonel Shays' troops engaged in a small war against state forces. For a time Shays' Rebellion closed courts in Massachusetts....

Personally, I think this is a marvellous speech - and I would ask Americans to look at Europes attempts to integrate further economically, politically and militarily through the prism of their own experience. Yes, more integration will mean more state. But I absolutely reject the dubious claim, repeated over and over again by far too many Americans and, to my great dismay, a large part of the European Right, that "Europe" is merely a bureaucratic colossus where non-elected shadowy officials impose undemocratic rules and laws on the European people. Even though there has now been a law-making European Parliament in various forms for fifty years, the detractors obviously fail to recognize that all Europeans ELECTED their law-makers! I, like all Belgians, have been regularly offered the chance to send people I deemed capable to the European Parliament, and then for sceptics to keep claiming European Laws are simply ordained by some ghastly, omnipresent and unaccountable political entity is gross ignorance at best and a willful lie at worst. I was talking about the European Right and almost naturally, my thoughts wander to my ideological confrères over at The Brussels Journal, who will never fail to rail against "Europe" and its institutions - especially the Brits. It is a very dismaying realizaton for me that with my support for a United States of Europe - the ultimate embodiment of a continent reinventing itself, a unique political project neither matched, parallelled nor approached anywhere on the planet - I find myself virtually alone. European Parliament, BrusselsYes, there's gross abuses of EU funds. Yes, the EU's REACH chemical regulations legislation is likely to give Europes and Americas chemical industry massive headaches. Yes, Europes CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) is not tenable. But WHY do we never hear these pundits at least acknowledge the blessings of the common market? Has not Europes economy benefited enormously from the free traffic of money, goods, persons and services? Is it not a huge step forward to be able to pay your entrance ticket to Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley, or your zurek soup in Zgorzelec just across the German/Polish border, or your Gorenje vacuum cleaner in Ljubljana with the same currency - in Euros? There are setbacks to the integration, but the objections to the European superstate are in the same category as the constant bitching of the average American against his federal government, and guess what? I think that is in se a good thing. Constantly scrutinizing the policy of your big gumint in distant Washington keeps the ones in charge there on tiptoe. But I for one am convinced that as much as ordinary Americans like to rail against Washington DC, in their hearts they would not want to swap the US as it is now for a present-day European alternative - a colourful collection of small geopolitical entities, each of which is virtually powerless on a world stage where the upcoming power players, not necessarily friendly, are monolithic mastodonts like India and China. The time has come for the European Right to quit their old provincial attitudes vis-à-vis the European Union, and to bolster instead the ranks of likeminded dignitaries already present in Europes institutions, to provide an effective counterweight to the Left's paralyzing hold over much of this domain. In other words, quit whining along the sidelines, and flush the Euro Left out of Europes power corridors.

ESAWe have already come a long way. And in many respects, the European Union seems like a close relative of the United States of America. Whereas The US has NASA, the EU has ESA, the European Space Agency, with a staff of about 2,000 and a yearly budget of 2,904 million Euros (2006 estimate). ESA operates EAC, its astronaut training facility in Cologne, Germany. In Noordwijk, The Netherlands, ESA's Tech Hub ESTEC develops its spacecraft. ESA's launching base is in Kourou, French Guyana. Romania and Bulgaria join EUThe EU has its (embryonal) army, the Eurocorps, a now 60,000-strong force drawn from the armies of Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Spain, technically independent from any military HQ within these countries and subordinated to the EU. Eurocorps HQ is in Strasbourg, France, and while most of the 60,000 personnel are just earmarked constituent troops, Eurocorps has one unit on permanent standby, the Franco-German Brigade. The euro, common currency in thirteen European statesThose countries of the EU which fulfill the necessary conditions for membership of the so-called EMU (European Monetary Union), use the same currency. Most of the original 15 are EMU members, with notable exceptions the UK, Denmark and Sweden. The latest member to join the club - and the only one of the "gulf" of ten new eastern european EU states, is little Slovenia, which on January 1, 2007 exchanged its tolar for the new currency. There are other signs of increasing European integration, perhaps less profound, but all the more visible. One of them are European number plates on cars. Each country used to have its own design, now virtually all plates sport the characteristic golden stars on a blue background, and many plates use black numbers on a white background. The one in the photo is on a Finnish car, not looking that much different from its German counterpart. And then there is of course the fact that here and there manufacturers start to dispose with the label "Made in France", "Made in Spain", and replace it quietly by "Made in EU". I suppose I, too, will feel a tinge of nostalgia at having to give up one more reference to my native country, which I still like (I love the country, I loathe the Belgian state). But if we Europeans are to count on the world stage in years to come, we'll have to downplay the romanticism a bit. And after all, I suppose that even by the time that I am able to elect my own European President, I will still be able to cheer for Belgoland the way an American from Keene, New Hampshire, prides himself on being a Granite Stater.


No comments: