The Sick Man on the Senne
Contrary to popular belief, Brussels is not the only major European capital which is away from the seacoast as well as devoid of a river. The Senne is a far cry from the similar-sounding Seine further south, however: it is a nasty, brutish, mercifully short waterway. By the mid-1800’s it had become so putrid and unstable that the city elders decided to cover it—the massive project was known as the voûtement de la Senne—and to build boulevards and public edifices on top. The city did not gain much in charm, but its denizens’ life expectancy was instantly improved. (Whether living a long life in Belgium’s capital is a blessing or a curse is a separate issue.)
There is an equally nasty but infinitely more brutish monstrosity in today’s Brussels that cannot be dealt with so neatly. The European Union today is like the “Socialist Community” under Leonid Brezhnev in his dotage: totalitarian yet inefficient, glorified by its self-serving nomenklatura yet unloved by its subjects, devoid of any unifying ideology beyond the worn-out phrases and platitudes parroted by the absurd men and repulsive women in dull suits.
For the reality of this “United Europe,” as it is today, let us be dryly empirical for a moment and look at a few EU-related news items reported on one day—Thursday, March 14, 2013:
- EU leaders gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit in an attempt to negotiate the dilemma between austerity and growth. Thousands of protestors from all over the 27 member nations converged outside the EU HQ.
- Eurozone employment dropped by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared with the third, despite the Christmas shopping season. Experts say the unemployment rate will remain above 11% until early 2018.
- European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi says that “generally unsatisfactory economic developments in Europe” will improve in the course of 2013, but only if governments implement austerity measures and structural reforms. His fellow-Eurocrat, EU-appointed Italian prime minister Mario Monti, nevertheless says he will have to ask his EU partners to grant Italy more “flexibility” in its budget deficit reduction targets.
- The troika of international lenders—the EU, the ECB, and the IMF—left Greece without resolving a dispute with the government in Athens over further budgetary cuts. In the meantime, Greek shipyard workers protested outside the development ministry and hundreds of Greek students blocked up the education ministry to protest cuts resulting from EU-imposed austerity measures. Unemployment in Greece is 26%, up from 24.8% in the third quarter of 2012. Among under-24’s it is 57.8%. The percentage of unemployed Greeks who have been looking for a job for more than one year is 65.3%.
- In Spain, eviction proceedings against defaulters have soared since 2007 to 450,000. The number of repossessions ending in evictions increased by 135% in 2012 from the year before, indicating worsening trends. Spanish retail sales dropped 10.2% in the year to January, continuing the decline of the past 31 months.
- Cyprus bailout talks are crucial to next stage of crisis, but deep divisions remain over how to manage a bailout. Without a cut in the €17bn cost, Cypriot sovereign debt will reach 145% of GDP, by far the highest in the eurozone except for Greece.
- President François Hollande has said that France won’t be able to cut the public deficit to the EU limit of 3% of GDP this year; it was more likely to reach 3.7%. Amazingly, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble subsequently corrected Hollande, saying not that he “hoped,” or “expected,” but that he was “sure that France would, like us, respect the rules” on the public deficit. (Perhaps Herr Schäuble knows a thing or two about France’s future finance policy that Monsieur le Président de la République does not!)
- Germany, meanwhile, smugly claims that its finances are the model for all humanity. Its 2014 budget plans, revealed on March 13, show the structural deficit dropping to zero. “With all modesty [sic!], this is a result of historic proportions,” economy minister Philipp Rösler declared on that occasion. “Germany is in the vanguard in Europe. Our success with a policy of growth-oriented consolidation is the envy of the world.” Ach, modesty—the quintessential German weakness…
This is but a quick selection on a randomly selected day—the day of this writing. The tenor and substance have not changed much in recent months and years; and things will likely change for worse—OK, with that one enviable exception, perhaps—in the months and years ahead.
Unsurprisingly, anti-EU feeling is escalating all over the continent. On March 1, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party was beaten into third place in the Eastleigh by-election, in southern England, by a party that wants Britain to leave the EU. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) supporters were once described by Cameron as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”—but they accounted for 28 percent of the vote in the traditionally Tory constituency. UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared the vote “a protest against an entire political class.” Under pressure from UKIP, Cameron had earlier promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017 if he wins the next election, but many British Euro-skeptics see this as a mere ploy to deflect the threat from UKIP.
Marine Le Pen, who finished third in the French presidential election, also demands a referendum on France’s membership. On Mach 3 she declared that the FN wants France to leave the EU unless four reforms are agreed: the return to the franc; the abolition of the Schengen single-borderarea; the primacy of France’s economic interests over “Europe’s”; and the primacy of national law over EU law. Otherwise, Le Pen has promised to transform the European elections a year from now into a referendum for or against Europe. Having polled 18% of the vote in the presidential election last year, Mlle Le Pen has a solid base to build upon.
In Italy, two anti-austerity, anti-euro parties—led by Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo—captured over half the vote and paralyzed the political system. Berlusconi returned from the dead to take just over 29% of the vote, less than one half of one percentage point behind the first-placed Center-Left. Newcomer Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, Five Star Movement), entirely created via the web outside the traditional party system, took just over 25% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies—and demolished Italy’s balance of political forces. Pro-EU Monti’s coalition came fourth with a paltry ten percent.
Even in Germany, the apparent hegemon, there is little popular enthusiasm for the Euro-project. The recently-founded Alternative for Germany (AfD) is not even a political party yet, but expects to be a serious player come federal elections on September 22. It demands dissolution of the “coercive euro association,” an orderly end of the monetary union, and a referendum to decide if “the Basic Law, the best constitution that Germany ever had,” was violated to allow the transfer of sovereignty to the EU. Dr. Bernd Lucke—the AfD co-founder, economics professor and a life-long CDU supporter until he turned against Merkel in 2011 over her bailout policies—is adamant that Germany “has a government that has failed to comply with the law… and has blatantly broken the word that it had given to the German people.” With 14,000 paid members thus far, the AfD is respectable and distinctly upper-middle-class, with a higher concentration of PhDs than any party. Among its early supporters is Hans-Olaf Henkel, ex-president of the Federation of German Industry representing 100,000 businesses. Let it be added that as of now 26% of Germans say they would consider voting for a party committed to leaving the monetary union.
It will be a tough fight. Political, media and cultural elites in the leading countries of the Union are overwhelmingly pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-immigration, and vehemently opposed to any sign of national or ethno-linguistic coherence. If those elites have their way, there will be many more “Europeans” by the end of this century than today—some atheist, but mostly Muslim; some black, but mostly brown—but there will be precious few great-grandchildren of Europeans. The native populations are aborting and birth-controlling themselves into minorities. If Euro-elites have their way, disused churches will be converted into teeming mosques. Just over a decade ago, they refused to acknowledge Christian heritage as an element of European identity—but today they insist Islam is essential to that identity. Brussels rejects the notion that Europeans are defined by blood ties, collective memories, emotional bonds, culture, and kinship. Instead, “Europe” marches along the path of “civilization, progress and prosperity, for the good of all its inhabitants, including the weakest and most deprived… to deepen the democratic and transparent nature of its public life, and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world…”
This is the mindset of 1792 and 1917 all over again. Its derivative expressions are foreseeable. The EU relentlessly encourages abortion, sexual deviancy, and population replacement as “basic human rights.” Its political process means the manufacture of ideologically correct outcomes as defined by the unelected Brussels machine, before the quasi-democratic machine of the European Parliament and the member countries’ institutions are set in motion. The preamble of the EU Charter on Human Rights claims to be “based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law” (implying the two were not in conflict), and concludes that “Enjoyment of these rights entails responsibilities and duties with regard to other persons, to the human community and to future generations.” Those rights are naturally demarcated by those who reserve the right to decide what exactly one’s obligations to “the human community” and “future generation” happen to be.
The true meaning of “the rule of law” is defined by the European Arrest Warrant, a hideous device created by the Lisbon Treaty, under which any citizen of a member country—or even a visitor from outside the Union—is liable to arrest and extradition at the behest of a judge in any other EU member country, under one of 32 categories of “crime.” Those offenses include murder, terrorism, as well as “racism and xenophobia.” The EU thus came to equate beliefs, opinions and sentiments with the worst of actual crimes, in the best tradition of Soviet and Nazi jurisprudence.
The workings of the machine are mainly in the hands of the European Commission (EC), whose members are appointed by the 27 prime ministers who make up the Council. The EC has the authority to create and impose policies, but it cannot be removed or held accountable by any electorate. Its duty is to uphold the interests of the Union as such: its members swear that they will discard any vestige of loyalty to any nation. The only EU institution that has any claim to democratic credentials is the European Parliament, the least powerful of the three key bodies.
How and why did the monstrosity get this way? Gradually at first, with a great deal of patience and cunning exercised by its visionary creators. In 1945 Western Europe was in ruins, a shadow of what it had been only four decades previously. The old, pre-1914 balance-of-power system had collapsed, and the interwar mechanisms of collective security were neither collective nor secure. The beginnings were seemingly pragmatic: the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community—as engineered by Robert Schuman—seemed like a sound idea, a plus-sum-game if there ever was one. But the upholders of Euro-federalism had a bigger fish to fry. From the outset they held that a sense of common history had to be developed, as well as a sense of an existing and growing common identity, to complement those early economic integration mechanisms. As Jean Monnet, the father of the project (and, significantly, a man never elected to a public office), admitted six decades ago, “Europe has never existed; one has genuinely to create Europe.”
Monnet and his disciples had a long way to go. The initial ideological basis for the project was de Gaulle’s distinctly non-federalist vision of l’Europe des patries. A concert of nation-states, brought together by a common interest, would seek the withering away of their old hostilities—with France and Germany leading the way—but all of them would retain their substance and identity regardless of the institutional arrangement. This was the “Europe” of the Six, a logical heir to the pragmatic Coal and Steel Community. Euro-integralists—notably Belgium’s prime minister Paul-Henri Spaak and Monnet himself—nevertheless kept their powder dry for a more opportune moment when the European Economic Community might be steered in the direction of a political union. De Gaulle and his immediate successor, Georges Pompidou, did not want that; and until the early 1970’s the institutional framework remained essentially the same.
Then came the notion of Europe’s unity in diversity, the reverse of the Europe of the Fatherlands. (In 2000 In varietate concordia was adopted as the official motto of the European Union.) The new concept coincided with the European Community’s expansion to the Nine, then to the Twelve. Its proponents claimed that Europe was not only a mosaic of cultures but an organic whole. The implication that this whole required a single source of decision-making authority gave rise to the method of European integration Monnet had advocated from the outset: a series of gradual yet regular transfers of small slices of national sovereignty—in ostensibly technical areas—from national capitals to Brussels. The Community apparat made a quantum leap toward this goal with the Single European Act (SEA, July 1987). It was a thorough revision of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, but in the direction of a super-authority rather than a superstate.
The distinction is essential. The standard Eurosceptic accusation that the Brussels machine is plotting the creation of a single federal state is incorrect. The people who run the Brussels machine have never wanted the end result to be a superstate modeled after the United States. In the context of pan-European federal statehood they would be held more accountable and would come under far greater public scrutiny than if they remained faceless and continued to operate from the corridors of the monstrous EU HQ at Barleymont. The strategy was for the states to be drained gradually of statehood and their power transferred to Brussels, but without the unwelcome trappings and limitations of statehood itself. Its guiding spirit was then-Commission President Jacques Delors, a French Socialist. From the SEA on, the EU became—in the words of British MEP Roger Helmer—“a slow-motion coup d’etat.” In addition to the creation of the eurozone 12 years ago, which has grown to 17 member-states since, the Schengen Agreement (1990), the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the Amsterdam Treaty (1998), the Treaty of Nice (2000), and the Treaty of Lisbon (2009) have transferred vast powers from national capitals to Brussels.
The era of Delors coincided with the rise of the Generation of 1968 to the positions of power. The activists had cut their hair, put on suits and ties, and discovered that it was more fruitful and comfortable to take the Gramscian long road through the institutions than to blow them up. The veterans of the hard-left era, like Catherine Ashton and Jose Manuel Barroso, still subscribe to the concept of permanent revolution, but it is wrapped into the open-ended evolution of the EU that they now control. The result is a European Union in a state of indeterminacy and permanent flux, a postmodern edifice within which the meaning of sovereignty is relativized and the separation of foreign and domestic policies blurred to the point of interchangeability. What all of these Euro-enthusiasts share—as John Laughland has noted—is a love of indeterminacy and permanent change, and a hostility to what they regard as inadequate, old-fashioned, and simplistic certainties of classical sovereign statehood.
Far from being the “capital of Europe,” Brussels is the regional HQ of the post-Christian anti-Europe, just as Washington DC has morphed into the global HQ of the same project. The goals of the project managers are the same because their degenerate minds are the same. They cannot be shamed into changing their ways through arguments or defeated through the ballot box any more than a malignant cancer can be arrested with aspirin. A stronger medicine is needed.
To paraphrase a bad man from a time much better than our own, écrasez l'infâme!