Paul Almasy Paris 1950
The concept of the EU might have worked, but still only might have, if a neverending economic boom could have been manufactured to guide it on its way. But there was never going to be such a boom. Or perhaps if the spoils that were available in boom times and bust had been spread out among nations rich and poor and citizens rich and poor a little more equally, that concept might still have carried the days.
Then again, its demise was obvious from well before the Union was ever signed into existence, in the philosophies, deliberations and meetings that paved its way in the era after a second world war in two score years fought largely on the European continent.
In hindsight, it is hard to comprehend how it’s possible that those who met and deliberated to found the Union, in and of itself a beneficial task at least on the surface in the wake of the blood of so many millions shed, were not wiser, smarter, less greedy, less driven by sociopath design and methods. It was never the goal that missed its own target or went awry, it was the execution.
Still, no matter how much we may dream, how much some of the well-meaning ‘founding fathers’ of the Union may have dreamt, without that everlasting economic boom it never stood a chance. The Union was only ever going to be tolerated, accepted, embraced by its citizens if they could feel and see tangible benefits in their daily lives of surrendering parts of their own decision making powers, and the sovereignty of their nations.
There are 28 countries in the Union at this point, and one of them is already preparing to leave. There are 28 different cultures too, and almost as many languages. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, a hill far too steep for mere greed to master and conquer. History soaked Europe in far too much diversity through the ages for that. To unify all the thousands of years of beauty and darkness, of creativity and annihilation, of love and hatred, passed on through the generations, a lot more than a naked and bland lust for wealth, power and shiny objects was needed.
And sure, maybe it just happened on the way, in the moments when everyone was making new friends and not watching their backs for a moment. But they all still should have seen it coming, because of those same thousands of years that culminated in where they found themselves. The European Union is like a wedding and marriage without a prenup, where partners are too afraid to offend each other to do what would make them not regret the ceremony later.
Today, there are far too few of the 28 EU countries that have been lifted out of their poverty and other conditions that made them want to join the Union. And within many of the countries, there are way too many people who are, and feel, left behind. While Brussels has become a bastion of power that none of the disadvantaged feel they can properly address with their grievances.
The main fault of the EU is that the biggest party at the table always in the end, when things get serious, gets its way. The 80 million or so people of Germany de facto rule the 500 million of the Union, or you know, the three handfuls that rule Germany. No important decision can or will ever be taken that Berlin does not agree with. Angela Merkel has been the CEO of Europe Inc. since November 22 2005, gathering more power as time went by. That was never going to work unless she made everyone richer. Ask the Greeks about that one.
Merkel was the leader of both Germany and of Europe, and when things got precarious, she chose to let German interests prevail above Italian or Greek ones. That’s the fundamental flaw and failure of the Union in a nutshell. All other things, the Greek crisis, Salvini, Macron, Brexit, are mere consequences of that flaw. In absence of a forever economic boom, there is nothing left to fall back on.
Traditional right/left parties have been destroyed all across Europe in recent national elections. And it’s those traditional parties that still largely hold power in Brussels. As much as anyone except Germany and perhaps the European Commission hold any power at all. The shifts that happened in the political spectrum of many countries is not yet reflected in the European Parliament. But there are European elections in less than 6 months, May 23-26 2019.
About a quarter of the votes in the last such election, in 2014, went to euroskeptic parties. It’s not a terrible stretch of the imagination to presume that they’ll get half of the votes this time. Then we’ll have half or more of representatives speaking for people who don’t have faith in what they represent.
And on the other hand you have the Brussels elite, who continue to propagate the notion that Europe’s problems can best, nay only, be solved with more Europe. Of that elite Emmanuel Macron is the most recent, and arguable most enthusiastic from the get-go, high priest. Which can’t be seen apart from his domestic nose-diving approval rating, and most certainly not from the yellow vest protests and riots.
Macron won his presidency last year solely because he ran against Marine Le Pen in the second round of the elections, and a vast majority on the French will never vote for her; they’ll literally vote for anyone else instead. In the first round, when it wasn’t one on one, Macron got less than 25% of the votes. And now France wants him to leave. That is the essence of the protests. His presidency appears already over.
Among the 28 EU countries, the UK is a very clear euroskeptic example. It’s supposed to leave on March 2019, but that’s by no means a given. Then there’s Italy, where the last election put a strongly euroskeptic government in charge. There are the four Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. No love lost for Brussels there. In Belgium yesterday, PM Michel’s government ally New Flemish Alliance voted against the UN Global Compact on Migration.
Spain’s Mariana Rajoy was supported by the EU against Catalonia, and subsequently voted out. The next government is left-wing and pro EU, but given the recent right wing victory in Andalusia it’s clear there’s nothing stable there. Austria has a rightwing anti-immigration PM. Germany’s CDU party today elected a successor for Merkel (in the first such vote since 1971!), but they’ve lost bigly in last year’s elections, and their CSU partner has too, pushing both towards the right wing anti-immigrant AfD.
And with Macron gone or going, France can’t be counted on to support Brussels either. So what is left, quo vadis Europa? Well, there’s the European elections. In which national parties, often as members of a ‘voting alliance’, pick their prospective candidates for the European Parliament, then become part of a larger European alliance, and finally often of an even larger alliance. You guessed right, turnout numbers for European elections are very very low.
Of course Brussels is deaf to all the issues besieging it. The largest alliances of parties, the EPP (people’s party) and the “socialists”, have chosen their crown prince ‘spitzenkandidat’ to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission, and they expect for things to continue more or less as usual. The two main contenders are Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans, convinced eurocrats. How that will work out with 50% or more of parliamentarians being euroskeptic, you tell me. How about they form their own alliance?
The Union appears fatally wounded, and that’s even before the next financial crisis has materialized. Speaking of which, the Fed has been hiking rates and can lower them again a little if it wants, but much of Europe ‘works’ on negative rates already. That next crisis could be a doozy.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First thing on the menu is Macron tomorrow, and the yellow vests in the streets of Paris and many other French cities -and rural areas. He has called for 90,000 policemen on the streets, but they’ll come face to face with their peers who are firemen, ambulance personnel, you name it, lots of folks who also work for the government. Will they open fire?
Can Macron allow for French people to be killed in the streets? Almost certainly not. There’ll be pitchforks and guillotines. The only way out for him, the only way to calm things down, may be to announce his resignation. The French don’t fool around when they protest. And who’s going to be left to drive the reform of Europe then? Not Merkel, she’s gone, even if she wants to be German Chancellor for three more years. But then who? I’m trying to think of someone, honest, but I can’t.
It’ll be quite the day Saturday in Paris.