July 16, 2013/ 9 Menachem-Av, 5773
United Europe --- Bad Idea?
By Paul Johnson
One aspect of American foreign policy that remains a mystery in London is Washington's manifest desire for Britain to play a leading part in maintaining and strengthening the EU. Every U.S. President since Eisenhower has taken the view that a British withdrawal from the EU would be a disaster for the West, but none has given a detailed explanation of why. The time has come for Washington to make its position clearer, as Britain will soon hold a referendum on whether to continue its membership in the EU. Current indications suggest that a "No" vote will carry—and by a large margin.
The British public, as opposed to the political and financial establishments, has never been keen on the European experiment. And now that financial opinion has turned against it—a result of consistent attempts by the Brussels bureaucracy to marginalize the City of London through hostile regulations—there's no force left to push for the country's remaining in it.
There is also the lamentable and continuing spectacle of European leaders failing to agree upon a response to the global economic downturn, which has been particularly severe in Europe. If the EU was designed for any specific purpose, it was to meet such a crisis and solve it—or, at the least, mitigate it.
The consensus is that the EU leadership's countless meetings on the issue have actually made matters worse. This is partly because of the characters of those involved. The French president, Francois Hollande, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, don't get along. Hollande is overwhelmed by his own internal problems, particularly the evidence of corruption and rule-breaking by members of his government. Merkel is disgusted by the way Hollande runs his affairs and can barely hold her temper when they meet. Hollande's failure has stiffened Merkel's resolve to stick to her formula of spending cuts and austerity, which, she insists, is the only way to eliminate the EU's enormous deficits.
The result has been a breakdown in Franco-German friendship, accompanied by acrimony and mud-slinging. This is a very serious matter, for the Franco-German axis is the essential mechanism that allows the EU to work. Unless it functions smoothly the Union is bound, sooner or later, to dissolve.
There isn't much chance of other members bringing the French and Germans together. Spain is crippled by its floundering economy. Italy has only recently managed to form a co alition ministry and is in no position to take its eyes off its own domestic woes. The smaller states, led by Greece, are bitterly anti-German and blame Merkel for all the sacrifices their previous profligacy is now forcing them to make. The Germans themselves believe that if Germany were on its own and didn't have to bail out bankrupt states like Ireland, Portugal and Greece the banking crisis would be history by now—a pretty universal view among business leaders. Disillusionment among disgruntled voters is seen in the emergence of new and often extreme political parties, which are invading the cozy consensus that has hitherto kept countries loyal to rule by Brussels.
RETURN TO REALISM
Hence, no British leader can afford to be seen as being in favor of the EU as a working system. The Liberal Democrats remain keen but are in real danger of being wiped out at the next elections. The Labour Party, in order to solve its own disagreements, is quite capable of turning on the EU. And the Conservatives are mortally threatened by the U.K. Independence Party, which is ferociously anti-EU.
U.S. policy ought to take note of the general air of hostility toward Brussels. Mr. Obama faces the prospect of Britain leaving the EU and of France, Germany, Italy and Spain all weakening their links. This will have little effect on American prosperity, but it is a return to realism that Washington should welcome, if quietly. The United States is a concept that works very well, even in bad times. But that's no reason to think its structure can be superimposed with success on any other part of the world, particularly when times are terrible.