Ronnie Smith’s article on Brexit last week in MercatorNet is only half the story. The British who moan about EU Overlords tend to forget that not everyone on the Continent is happy with the European Union as it is now. It’s not just Britain which is facing a crisis; it’s the EU as well.
Explaining the Brexit mess as a uniquely British problem is like explaining American Independence as if King George III did not exist. History shows that many separations have been a posteriori reactions to abuses by the central government, rather than a priori positions. Take Catalonia, for instance. Until Madrid botched its relations with Barcelona, the Catalans were much less interested in independence than the Basques. And if Euro-scepticism is growing, Brussels has to take some of the blame. Few people (even in Great Britain) oppose the theory of some form of European integration. It’s just how the theory has been put into practice over the last 25 years.
My point is that the EU has serious flaws which are very unlikely to be mended whether the United Kingdom remains or leaves. But Britain has never been, and is never going to be, an average EU member, so let’s look at the EU through Spanish eyes. Spain is a member of the Eurozone, the Germany of southern Europe.
To start with, one of the EU’s problems is its authoritarian style. Before the 2008 global financial crisis, Brussels was a busybody but not an autocrat. Over the past ten years, however, it has become far more directive. This stems from the so-called Monnet Method of gradually surrendering sovereignty via regulating more and more little things. It was an idea that was effective in the Sixties at the beginning of integration, but it should have stopped years ago. As Machiavelli shrewdly observed, one does not use the same method in founding a polity as in ruling it.
The Monnet Method, with its reliance upon technocrats and regulation of minutiae, was born as a strategy but over time it has become second nature to Brussels. It is the EU’s genetic code. Is it realistic to expect Europe to abandon it in the foreseeable future?
To make things worse, over-regulation of laying hens in, say, rural Romania coexists with the EU’s helplessness when it has to tackle serious problems, be they global warming or immigration or defence. Just compare the first 60 years of American federalism with the comparable period of de facto federalism in the EU. Americans realised that it would take decades to develop a mature federalist spirit and Washington gained power very slowly.
Brussels, by contrast, is not fond of a light touch in government; its instinct is to regulate everything within reach. The EU is unlikely to stop absorbing powers from member states in the foreseeable future. As for devolving some of them, as the 2001 Laeken Declaration on the Future of the EU demanded: the prospect is laughable. After the financial crisis, no one in Brussels seriously defends decentralisation or changing to a US-style federalism.
The EU is elitist. We all know that. However, this would be not so serious provided reasonably robust democracies existed in its member states. But recent history shows that decades of suffocating regulation and control, as well as the activism of the Luxembourg and Strasbourg Courts and EU interference in everyday life, have put a straightjacket upon national parliaments, governments, and judges. The sovereignty of democratic states has been hollowed out as more and more responsibilities are transferred to Brussels.
For instance, should Spain try to fight rural depopulation seriously, she could not do so without disobeying many EU law and policies. The 2008 crisis made this clear that under the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding, Portugal could not duly protect its weak people (the Portuguese Constitution is very socially protective). Over time, Portugal behaved as the EU wanted. However, as of March 2019, the EU Commission webpage informs us that although Portugal is doing well, the Post Programme Surveillance will last till 2035.
I have mentioned that the EU is a giant when dealing with regulatory details and a dwarf when dealing with real problems. Its relations with China are a case in point. Chinese shops are burgeoning even in the remotest villages of Spain while local shops have disappeared. It is the EU which is responsible for this barbarity.
In countries like Spain, which was not fully internationalised before joining the EU, globalisation and Sinification have gone hand in hand, courtesy of EU regulation. Instead of protecting us against China and excessive globalisation, Brussels has left us naked and exposed to every wind. China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative could turn us into a medium-sized Eurasian peninsula centred in Beijing. Orthodox Europeans do battle with the scoundrels of Poland, Hungary and Britain and despise Trump while doing little to prevent the most severe challenge that Europe faces.
If this trend continues, the EU risks making itself irrelevant. A customs union and a single market for the UK and the EU after Brexit? Let us quarrel about it if you like, but we are on our way to becoming a customs union and single market headed by China unless Trump & Co prevent it.
The homogenisation of the law follows the same pattern nearly everywhere – with the exception of China and Muslim countries. Most human rights codes are the same because new rights are crafted by activist UN Committees who then extend them to most of the planet. In 2016 the UN appointed a czar for enforcing LGBT rights everywhere. Could global integration outpace European integration, with the implicit consent of Brussels?
As a Spaniard, I am delighted with the fracas about Brexit. It gives Europeans a chance to debate their future instead of slowly drifting into it.
If global integration continues at its current pace, European integration will lose part of its raison d'etre. What Robert Schumann and most of the founding fathers of the modern European project intended was to unite Europe while reinforcing national identities by building on shared foundations of Christendom. It was not to create a homogenised European identity based on everyone selling the same Chinese goods.
Although European integration was in itself a good thing, over time I have become a Brexiteer. If the UK remains in the EU, an ominous message will be sent to the Remainers on the Continent: your right to self-determination is gone. The EU will no longer be a sort of a cooperative, which you are free to join and free to leave (under certain circumstances). It will be a centralised nation-state: you may join, but lasciate ogni speranza, abandon all hope, if you leave. It’s little wonder that Euro-sceptics across Europe are becoming more and more radical.
Antonio-Carlos Pereira Menaut is Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, and the co-author of “Resetting the EU Constitutional Engine” (Regensburg, 2012)