The Founding Fathers of the EU had a dream. There was an almost religious eschatology about the EU. There was a manifest destiny about the project, it was surely written in the stars that after two world wars, Europe would progress on the following lines. European countries would give more and more powers to the central policy and law making HQ in Brussels. More and more countries would join the EU, dazzled by its power and humanitarianism. Over time, the citizens of different countries would feel their primary identity was European. This would ultimately lead to a European super state, a United States of Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. This super state would then be a major force in the world, dominating and shaping the world in its ideological image. The founding fathers of the EU no doubt believed this would happen. I often wonder what they would feel if they could see the EU now?
Far from a slick super state, the EU has become a clumsy hybrid of supranational and intergovernmental governance, comprised of different states with highly variable levels of enthusiasm for the project. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, one wonders what animal is appropriate to describe the disorganised, divided and clumsy EU. As the founding fathers predicted, more and more countries want to join the EU. But what type of countries are they? They are not peaceful, stable democracies voluntarily joining the EU due to their awe of its liberal soft power. They are impoverished, corrupt countries desperate for a hand out. Countries like Moldova, the poorest country in a European time zone. Countries like Albania, a semi-failed state where organised crime are said to dominate policy making. Some of the countries wanting to join test the geographic definition of Europe to the breaking point. Azerbaijan for example hopes to join the EU, a country whose capital city Baku is further East than cities like Damascus and Baghdad.
Poor and corrupt EU countries are lining up to join the EU. What added value countries like Moldova and Kosovo could offer the EU is somewhat questionable. By contrast, the rich and stable liberal democracies the EU genuinely would benefit from taking in are no longer interested. In the last European Parliament life cycle, the Norwegian Foreign Minister told the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that, despite his best efforts, there was no chance of Norway’s people wanting to join the EU. In 2015, Iceland announced it was withdrawing its bid to join the EU, regarding a highly lucrative free trade with China as preferable to EU membership. In 2016, Switzerland also withdrew its bid. The blow in prestige to the EU of rich, stable countries turning their back on EU membership is tangible.
The founding fathers hoped the EU would shape world affairs. As for shaping international affairs, the EU is a failure here too. When Yugoslavia erupted in the 1990s, the EU boomed that ‘The hour of Europe has come’. Years later, the EU had still done nothing as a previously stable country in the heart of Europe descended in to mass murder. Had it not been for American air strikes forcing warring parties to negotiate a peace deal, who knows how long the EU would have fiddled whilst Yugoslavia burned. In 2009, the US and China famously met at the climate change conference in Copenhagen to discuss their views on climate change. The EU, who was hosting the event, was not even felt important enough to consult. One Russian diplomat was asked what the EU was, to which he replied ‘It is the place people fly over on the way to Asia’.
But it is Brexit that has most profoundly shaken the faith of the Eurocrats in the manifest destiny of Ever Closer Union.
The notion that the route to EU membership can also work in reverse is one the EU never seriously considered. The Lisbon Treaty theoretically allows for countries to leave, but surely no one would ever actually do it? The EU is, after all, the wave of the future and eschatology has predicted countries will only join, not leave the EU. After all, the founding fathers predicted history could only work in one direction. The morning of June 24th 2016 is to Europhiles what the announcement of the German surrender at Stalingrad was to the German people in 1943. That is, an unexpected and shattering piece of news that showed their strategic goals had suffered a catastrophic and probably irreversible defeat. The morning of June 24th saw several Eurocrats give speeches about Brexit. European Parliament President Martin Schulz gave a speech, and at one stage genuinely looked as though he was struggling with his emotions. Shell shocked Eurocrats gave statements all day long, and men renowned for their dull exterior all showed unmistakable signs of being deeply and visibly haunted by the events of the previous 24 hours.
Yet the strangest thing is that despite all this, the EU leaders had one solution to Brexit: more Europe! Speech after speech spoke of how the union of 27 countries would continue, no doubt following exactly the same founding father play book of more Europe, more enlargement and more harmonisation until our United States of Europe is complete. After decades of only having one idea, even an event like Brexit appears to have not moved them. As the saying goes about another European regime doomed to ultimate failure, they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.
There are only two responses to Brexit. Firstly, to scale back the integration process and stop taking in new countries. Stop making more and more areas of policy EU and not national state responsibilities. Stop harmonising laws and practises and instead allow some diversity. Who knows, maybe certain things the EU runs should be given back to member states? However, this would all mean the end of the European Project’s ultimate goal of a European super state. The Eurocrat true believers cannot ever tolerate this. The founding fathers are held in god-like reverence in Brussels, and how could they possibly be so wrong? No, if there are problems in Europe, it is not because the plan was flawed, but because the plan was not being executed with enough ruthlessness and commitment. This means that the second solution to Brexit is the one that is playing out. The EU is now planning to federalise everything. Seize more powers and fully create a fully-fledged European super state before nascent sceptic groups in other countries derail the project permanently. This lurch to full federalisation will obviously fail, and far from killing off scepticism in the remaining 27 states, will only give them new urgency and popularity. The European Dream is dead.