by Ramin Mazaheri
Keep asking the fundamental question: Has the European Union brought the prosperity and security it promised?
Then that will always be a perfectly valid reason for exiting.
Because it hasn’t brought prosperity and security, can the European Union be reformed?
I have said “no” for years, but it’s been a month of historic changes in Europe, with more to come.
After years of rejecting such an idea, Europe’s leaders are expected to unveil a new plan for a “two-speed” European Union – where countries can choose their level of involvement – on March 25th, the 60th anniversary of the EU.
This is a rather shocking about-face, but will it save the Union?
Let’s be honest: The EU is nearly 60 and the bloom is off the rose, especially if she cuts her hair any shorter.
The timing is clear: France’s anti-Euroeverything Marine Le Pen seems assured of making it to the 2nd round presidential vote 8 weeks from now.
Le Pen has promised a Frexit vote this year if elected? Yes, she’s still losing in the 2nd round of all polls, but it has been a year of upsetting the political establishment: Cameron, Renzi, Hollande, Sarkozy, Clinton, etc.
My question is: Why not earlier, Brussels?
Yes, all governments move slowly, but the Brexit vote was last year.
A year ago is also when the uber-neoliberal International Monetary Fund admitted that austerity policies don’t work, which is something proven by the fact that they have never worked anywhere in recorded human history.
If Brussels thinks this can be a game changer in the French election, it may be too late.
That will all depend on if the EU/mainstream media’s preferred candidate – neoliberal globalist Emmanuel Macron – picks up the ball and runs with it or not.
But how can an unprecedented plan to unify a continent work if Brussels is always behind the curve, instead of setting it? The European Union is a revolutionary idea, but it bypassed the formation of a revolutionary leadership class and went straight to a middling, self-protective, corrupt bureaucratic guardianship.
Monday morning quarterbacking aside, 2 historic events just occurred
First, on March 1st European Commission President and Luxembourgeois Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled a White Paper on the future of the EU. He described five different scenarios about what the EU could be like in 2025.
Hardly an inspiring leader who can unify a bloc, eh? Castro, he ain’t! Juncker’s (non) leadership is only inspiring to Eurosceptics.
The five options were presented to give the impression of democratic choice. Had they presented just one option…well, that would have been straightforward – and a bureaucratic class always rely on obfuscation to maintain power.
Hidden and middling to the maximum – at number 3 – among outgoing president Juncker’s five different plans was a two-speed Europe.
We aren’t going to waste time with the other four, because a two-speed Europe is the only one that really matters.
It is already a fact that it’s the only one that really matters because this week the heads of Germany, France, Italy and Spain met in Paris and said this is what they will push for.
This is a veritable political earthquake, even if people don’t realize it yet. It’s also an overturning of years of explicitly rejecting such changes.
But after Brexit the EU knows they have a problem, and that changes must be made.
Waitaminut: Yer telling me the EU is actually gonna change?
Is there any chance any major changes – such as a two-speed Europe – will be implemented, and quickly?
That depends – do you mean “democratically implemented”?
Firstly, let’s recall that a lack of democratic approval has never stopped the EU before: 8 times since 1992 national referendums have rejected key aspects of the EU, only to be totally and undemocratically ignored or subverted.
Amazing how such facts of history get ignored by the rabidly pro-EU supporters….
What would “democratically implemented” actually look like?
Well, European PMs are up for re-election in 2019. To give any changes the democratic approval they certainly require, EU leaders would need to decide, agree and campaign on the proposed changes well before this next legislative vote. That would give the public the chance to give their say – via vote – on the new changes.
But democratically proposing, debating and voting on structural changes to the EU’s political foundations by 2019?
It’s not impossible, but that’s still a very ambitious goal.
It would be ambitious of any single nation to hold a referendum on radically altering its very political structure.
But we are not talking about a single nation – we are talking about 28 of them. Well, 27 after Brexit.
More importantly, I have repeatedly stated that the EU is structurally incapable of reform because any major change requires the unanimous approval of all 27 members. Getting just 27 people to agree on anything is an arduous process, much less 27 nations.
Case in point: On Friday the EU was stymied in their effort get Poland’s Donald Tusk’s re-elected as president of the European Council. One country voted against him, so the body was nearly brought to a halt.
The dissenting country? Poland.
Noble Poland! Free Poland! Partitioned…Poland.
Why? Because there is both intense Euroscepticism in Poland, and also intense pro-EU sentiment…and this is the same everywhere. It’s complicated and emotional.
Perhaps EU “founders” realized this by installing this principle of unanimity, one which was likely taken from…Poland again!
The “liberum veto” was used during the era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a dominant and important (if unfairly ignored) European power. The veto was a major democratic advancement against absolute monarchy, and the PLC produced just the 2nd codified constitution in modern history, after the US.
When all the nobles were truly noble and in agreement, the unanimity principle worked out fine and the union peaked in the early 17th century. But when some aristocrats were bought off by foreign powers…proceedings could easily come to a dead halt and thus stagnation set in.
And then partition. And more partition.
In the case of Tusk, the liberum veto principle was not technically in play, but it had been common precedent for the council president to be elected unanimously.
Furthermore, Poland persuasively argued that the EU had no right to elect Tusk as their president when he was not even backed by his home country, LOL!
Poland expected the unanimity principle to be followed, but it wasn’t technically enshrined in this case, and so the bureaucrats got their way.
A new precedent has also been set: The EU can apparently dragoon anyone they want into power.
However, it is still this liberum veto system which ultimately defines the political structure of the European Union and which will make any change – two, three, 18-speed – seemingly impossible to democratically implement.
News flash: A multi-speed Europe is already legal, so they don’t need democracy
EU rules already permit groups of at least nine member states to pursue “enhanced cooperation”.
Barring a major earthquake that brings the EU to a halt – like a Frexit – the bureaucrats already have all the tools at their disposal to enforce the will of the elites. They don’t need any “referendum” – they’ll say “the rules for a multi-speed Europe have already been democratically approved” (except when they were rejected).
The basis of a multi-speed Europe is already permitted, it’s going to happen with or without a vote, and you can check the Rome Summit on March 25 to find that out for sure.
That’s the reality.
I predict they will use this rationale to create a two-speed Europe, regardless of the democratic preference of over 500 million people. Perhaps they will put it to a vote…in which case March 25th will announce the start of that campaign, and this is all we’ll be talking about for 2 years.
But I am Eurosceptical because the EU, and especially the Eurozone, was never a very democratic project. The EU is, fundamentally, a bureaucrat and lobby-dominated institution, after all – it was never truly revolutionary.
So what is a multi-speed Europe? We do have to move on….
A multi-speed Europe is basically a “coalition of the willing” – countries can join or not join multinational policies on economic growth, border protection, common defense, tax systems and others as they wish.
That’s the positive spin on it.
The negative spin is: This allows Western Europe to integrate at an even more breakneck pace, which is something many Western Europeans already do not want (see, “Brexit”).
Secondly, I hardly doubt the 27 nations of the EU will be democratically consulting their citizens for each and every multinational policy they join. The EU’s policies of economic austerity have been rammed through over the will of their people, so why will the future be any different?
Thirdly, a multi-speed Europe is already deeply opposed by many members in Central/Eastern Europe, who see themselves as being left out. Opposition to this plan was a major reason why Poland refused to vote in favor of native son Tusk.
Is a multi-speed Europe a good idea?
The existential crisis of the EU has always boiled down to this: Should there be “more Europe” or “less Europe”?
Clearly, changes are needed, because countries which have followed EU and Eurozone dictates have gone into a prolonged crisis.
EU economic growth since 2010 is just 1.3%, which is below the 1.5% required to start producing jobs. And this is me being charitable: I’m ignoring the -4.4% growth of 2009.
The best gauge of economic policies is how long and how deep an economic downturn lasts, as capitalism guarantees there will definitely be downturns, after all. For an alternative system, please check the stable long-term growth rates of communist behemoths like China as well as international blockade victims like Cuba.
The need to end the EU’s economic woes is immediate and clear.
Also clear is that there are huge economic divergences between EU countries – standard of living, borrowing rates, economic output, etc.
The EU was supposed to end this divergence. It was going to bring prosperity and stability, remember?
But capitalists never waste a good crisis and the 2009 European Sovereign Debt Crisis will go down in history as the time when the EU stopped working and started dying.
It is now abundantly clear that the economic solidarity which would be required from the richer nations of the EU to make “more Europe” work…simply does not exist.
Germany, France and the Netherlands only had the stomach to economically gut and destroy weaker nations like Greece and Portugal.
The rich nations got what they wanted – ports, airports, water departments, laws favoring their own industries against local industries – and now they want to take their money and leave “more Europe” behind.
Thus we will have “multiple speed” Europe on the table for the first time ever.
A “multiple-speed Europe” could indeed be a great option – it recognizes the fact that the required economic solidarity does not exist amid economically divergent countries.
The best option would be for Germany to leave, as many economists suggest – their economy is too strong and it upsets the entire balance. This is quite logical, if you think about it. You never read about that, though.
Germany can take their stupid, economically-blind, false-morality ideology of “We refuse to recognize that for us to export means someone has to import, and thus imbalances are required to exist, ” and not come back, as far as the rest of Europe is concerned.
Germany wants to stay in because neoliberal plundering is very profitable, after all.
Or countries like Greece could leave and start choosing their own economic policies to benefit their own citizens instead of French and German bankers.
They could drop out of the Euro and re-adopt the drachma, allowing them to set their own exchange rates, pay off their debt (read: interest on debt) and regain economic competitiveness.
But there are no guarantees on what a “multiple speed” Europe will actually look like, however….
Two-speed Europe will be “Rich Eurozone, poor everyone else”
It seems difficult to believe that high finance won’t win the day, as this is Europe and it is capitalist.
Therefore, the dividing line is likely to be set by Eurozone members banding together to form the top speed.
This why I don’t see “multiple speed” Europe being decided in March, or implemented by 2019, because the EU/Eurozone has to punish the hell out of Britain for Brexit.
That is a serious job!
Brexit is expected to be formally trigged this week (March 15), which means it’s not until 2019 that France and Germany can prove to Greece, Portugal and anyone else thinking of existing just how costly it will be to quit the club. If “multiple speed EU” is decided before Britain pays, we should see a rash of Euro exits.
And doesn’t France and Germany want to intimidate anyone from exiting? Doesn’t France and Germany want the neoliberal looting of poor countries to continue ?
Because there’s money still to be had! Smaller native industries to be bankrupted! Key infrastructure to be privatized! What kind of a half-hearted bust-out scheme are they running?!
Did they grow a conscience, maybe?
Well, I don’t think like a capitalist, so maybe I’m not seeing the bigger picture.
However, the Eurozone-speed group will almost certainly put up tariffs against the non-Eurozone speed members, and the latter will lose time after time.
How can they compete economically in a two-speed system when they were already behind during the time of single-EU unity?
The countries which didn’t adopt the Euro will band together, and you’ll basically have Western Europe versus Central Europe, economically. Capitalism is “the biggest corporation wins, not the best”, of course, and Western Europe has many more huge corporations set to dominate.
Also, the EU is currently in a crisis – why would the weaker EU countries even want to renegotiate the structure of the EU right now?
They are worse off than anyone else in the bloc, so they have even less pull than usual, therefore the solution can only entrench the current state of increased inequality.
So, given that it looks so bad for the lower gear of 2-speed Europe, why will Central Europe even stay in the European Union? They won’t, and the EU will ultimately disintegrate.
This is the path I foresee for the EU: Slow, painful, and the current winners will remain winners because that’s capitalism, which lacks the multinational solidarity of communism.
Frankly, Central Europe would do much better to join up with Russia, Iran and China and become the easternmost point of China’s “One Belt, One Road” program, which is going to be the new McDonald’s.
Another option: A zero-speed Europe
Why go through this slow, painful, inevitable process I just described?
There is another option: a zero-speed Europe.
That is what will happen if Marine Le Pen wins (though I prefer Jean-Luc Melenchon, of course), as France has historically been the biggest advocate of a unified Europe – lose France, and Europe goes down.
Why choose an inherently elitist 2-speed solution – how is entrenching inequality any form of progress?
The EU would do better to bring a total halt to the project in order to debate and make totally new changes. A “2nd Federal Republic of Europe” or something like that. It should be communist, of course.
The biggest obstacle is changing the idea that a total halt is equivalent to death.
This is true firstly on the most-simple literal level: pro-EU propagandists say that the death of the European Union means the return of European war.
This type of logic is not logic at all, as it based on the ultimate fear: massive death. We deserve better than that; we should think more of ourselves than that.
So why must a halt to the European Union mean the end of the concept of a united Europe?
Is THIS version of a united Europe the only possible version?
Must it continue because it has lasted 60 years and it must last another 60, or another 160?
A resounding “No” is the only logical answer to all of these. There IS an alternative.
Monetary systems and political unions come and go, and this crazy blue marble keeps on spinning, and mankind keeps advancing in knowledge just the same.
If the system is not working, why not replace it? Why try to patch up a clearly-flawed system?
The world has changed drastically in the last 30 years, the rise of computers and digital finance being two sweeping societal changes – why not start fresh with a new system that confines the vast powers of these two behemoths? That’s just a start.
Must we continue with the new lack of limits on the spying powers of national governments? With the neoliberal ideas that have gutted European industry and its social safety net?
The European Union can be entirely remade – that IS a real alternative.
It would be a true revolution which sweeps away a dead, undemocratic and structurally unworkable version.
Detractors will say that there is not a clear plan, but neither is there a clear plan for this version of the EU’s future!
The difference is: we are actually talking about and working on the latter instead of the former. This is the same rationale intelligently used by environmentalists: “Well of course renewable energies aren’t as good as nuclear, oil or coal yet – we put all of our funding and R&D into those three options!”
The European Union can, should and must be reborn if it is going to start ending economic inequality and start promoting true unity, solidarity and mutually-beneficial cooperation.
A new European Union must reject what has clearly failed and what has been rejected: neoliberalism and capitalism.
A return to socialism is the only logical choice – history’s pendulum can only swing this way for Europe.
People need to grasp – and they don’t, and the mainstream media purposely obscures it – just how far to the right we currently are economically: Neoliberalism, European austerity, Trump’s domestic economic agenda – we cannot get much more unregulated and thus more unequal.
But working within the current structure of the EU is not going to work.
No one knows what a “multi-speed Europe” option will even look like, but for many it seems like: institutionalized 2nd-class citizenry for Central Europe; the cementing of the neo-imperial looting of countries like Greece; the cementing of right-wing roll backs to social rights and living standards in countries like France.
It’s been a historic fortnight. In another fortnight we’ll see what the aristocratic leaders of the European Union actually propose. On March 25th “two-speed Europe” is going to get very real!
More interestingly and more importantly, we’ll see what democratic votes in France and the Netherlands produce. In an intelligent world it would be more communism, but sometimes people just have to hit bottom before they turn themselves around.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.