Visiting Brussels is like visiting an acquaintance who is well informed but whose company you don’t enjoy. It is not fun but it can be useful. The European Union is in a state of latent crisis which has the potential to turn acute at any moment, but the massive bureaucratic machine in its capital pretends it is business as usual. Moscow felt this way in the late 1980’s.
The mandarins at the top are aware that the peasants are restive. Their current line is that the European Union is under threat from “populists,” evil people who first spread and then exploit supposedly irrational phobias on immigration, economy, sovereignty etc. These “far-right, racist nationalists” risk making the EU “ungovernable” if they win big at the European elections in May, but voters may yet turn to them in revolt against the mainstream European politicians, economic commissioner Pierre Moscovici warned a week ago. “Europe is strong but the European idea is under threat,” he said, adding the EU was “threatened by political disagreements between member states on the meaning of the European project.” The challenge, Mr Moscovici said, isn’t’ just to save Europe but to “remake” it: “We need to give the European idea new meaning and ambition . . . There is tension between those who want to continue the European adventure and those who are fighting it, and it’s a frontal battle.”
To refresh my understanding of “the European adventure” as defined by M. Moscovici and his ilk, I walked past the project’s headquarters on Monday morning. There is a strange statue outside the soon-to-be-contested European Parliament. A heroic female figure (supposedly “Europa Goddess,” according to the official EU guidebook) is triumphantly holding high the euro sign; a man and a woman, emerging from the lower folds of her tunic, vainly reach up with their arms. Whatever the meaning of this eerie image, it is unlikely to inspire the masses with “new meaning and ambition.” The statue, albeit on a more modest scale and grimmer in spirit, exudes the temperament of the 1937 “Worker and Kolkhoz Woman” in Moscow. This is unsurprising: the essence of the EU has always been socialist and (velvet) totalitarian.
The EU Parliament building behind the statue (not to be confused with its official seat in Strasbourg) is dedicated to Paul-Henri Spaak, a Belgian “militant socialist” (as the plaque near its entrance tells us), who was “one of the founding fathers of Europe.” The latter claim is preposterous—Europe’s founding fathers were Greeks, Romans, and early Christians—but Spaak’s political affiliation is accurately described. His militant socialism of the 1930’s was subsequently tempered by Gramscian pragmatism, enabling him and his like-minded French partners to indulge in social and political engineering on a grand scale.
The beginnings were seemingly non-ideological, pragmatic: the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community—as proposed by Spaak and Robert Schuman—seemed like a sound idea. But these 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—to provide foundation for a sense of present and growing common identity—to complement economic integration mechanisms. As Jean Monnet, another key “founding father” of the project (and, significantly, a man never elected to a public office), admitted 65 years ago, “Europe has never existed; one has genuinely to create Europe.”
Monnet, Spaak et al had a long way to go. By the early 1960’s the political 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. France and Germany would lead the way, but all states would retain their substance and identity regardless of the institutional arrangement. This was the “Europe” of the Six. Euro-integralists, notably Spaak and Monnet, 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 any of that, and until the early 1970’s the institutional framework remained essentially the same.
After their departure from the scene came the notion of Europe’s unity in diversity, the reverse of the Gaullist 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 just 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 Spaak and 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.
This 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 that 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 horrid buildings in central Brussels. The strategy was for the states to be drained gradually of statehood and their power transferred to the EU HQ, but without the unwelcome trappings and limitations of statehood itself. Accordingly, 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 17 years ago, 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.
A decade later, Brexit or no Brexit, the federalists will not give up. They will demonize and ever more arbitrarily criminalize all “populists” as racists, xenophobes, fascists etc. They will not give up on trying to impose mandatory migrant quotas on the former Soviet Bloc countries, the Visegrad Four, which refuse to follow the liberal Old Europe on the path of self-annihilation.
On the whole my summary from a previous visit to Brussels six years ago still stands: if those who run the European Union have their way, there will be many more nominal “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 actual Europeans. If Euro-elites (Pope Francis included) have their way, disused churches will be converted into teeming mosques, and all borders will be open all the time to all the people. The EU 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 predictable: the EU relentlessly encourages abortion, deviancy, cultural and spiritual self-destruction of native Europeans, and their demographic replacement by migrant melange as “basic human rights.” Its political process is reduced to the manufacture of ideologically correct outcomes as defined by the Brussels machine.
There is another eccentric statuary edifice just east of the Paul-Henri Spaak building, on the edge of the Leopold Park: a group of ostriches, one alert and watchful, the rest having their heads buried in the ground. It is such an apt metaphor for the goings-on behind those massive glass panes in the background that I am surprised the offending birds have not been removed. It smacks of populist conspiracy. M. Moscovici should be told.