Commentary Magazine


The EU’s Pursuit of Stability Über Alles

At City Journal, the invaluable Theodore Dalrymple reviews the equally invaluable Dan Hannan’s A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, and predicts pessimistically that it will change few minds about the EU, since “in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation.” By way of explaining why the EU has a stranglehold on elite opinion, Dalrymple argues that the EU is good at corrupting business with the promise of controlled markets, politicians with perks far beyond their merits, and civil society with bribes.

All that is true, but not true enough. In Britain, the EU appeals to the elite in part because of the myth of leadership, i.e. the belief that, if only it rolls up its sleeves, Britain will be able to lead the EU in a direction that suits its desires. This is the myth that lies behind the so-called lost opportunity of Britain’s failure to sign the original Treaty of Rome, and it has inspired politicians as diverse as Harold Macmillan and Tony Blair to toss their chips in with Brussels. In reality, the reason why Britain did not sign on was because its interests and ideals led it to prefer different arrangements, and the past 50 years have proven comprehensively that the EU imposes far more on Britain than Britain is able to impose on the EU. Yet the myth lingers.

But the larger reason why the European elite like the EU is simple. From their point of view, Europe tried democracy in the first half of the twentieth century. The result was two world wars, the near-collapse of European civilization, and the rise to superpower status of the U.S.S.R. and (even worse, for many of them) the U.S.

Blaming democracy for the Kaiser and Hitler is poor history, but–as Ben pointed out last week–European voters, unlike British and American ones, do have a predilection for political extremism when times get rough. That’s what comes of not having conservative movements in the Anglo-American tradition of individual liberty. It’s also why Europeans always expect fascism to dawn in the U.S.: they’re looking in the mirror.

The idea behind the EEC, from its start, was to prevent wars, reassert European power, and promote economic growth by removing decisions about portions of the economy from the exclusive control of the nation-state, i.e., from the control of the voters. It was an explicitly elite approach. Add to that the fact that the EU has allowed the image if not the reality of national parliaments to survive–with most laws now made in Brussels, Gladstone would not recognize the House of Commons, even if it still sits in Westminster–and the appeal the EU has long had to France as a way to assert its political superiority over an economically potent Germany, and one does not need to appeal to corruption to explain the EU’s appeal to the powers that be.

But the EU turned from an instrument for restoring a degree of stability to one dedicated to the preservation of the status quo. That approach–and Dalrymple is absolutely right about this–is bound to fail. It means the EU, which still talks a lot about increasing Europe’s power in the world, is more interested in pursuing policies which guarantee Europe’s continued relative decline. It also means that the reality of German dominance of the EU–politics win in the short run, but economics win in the long haul–is becoming ever more obvious to most Europeans, which is one reason why the EU is less popular now than ever. When the Germans take full account of how rapidly they are sinking into the same debt morass that afflicts their profligate neighbors in and out of the euro, they too may well decide that their elites (and their Constitutional Court) have made a hash of it.