While it is, nearly, impossible for one to contemplate what the next steps might be in the Brexit fiasco, the remainder of the European Union chugs along … in a way. I see, in an article in the Express, that French President Emmanuel Marcon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have, in a ceremony in the German border city of Aachen (formerly Aix la Chapelle, Charlemagne’s capital in the 8th century) and reaffirmed the Elysée Treaty (1963). Now, the Elysée Treaty was intended, by Charles de Gaulle, to harness Germany to France’s ambitions while Konrad Adenauer wanted to affirm Germany’s position as a new pillar of the liberal-democratic, US led, West. The treaty called for closer cooperation in two broad areas: foreign and defence policies and education and youth policies. Many people saw it, then, as a pledge, by Germany, to be a good, stolid, placid European milch cow rather than being a raging bull, stampeding across Europe, as it had been perceived for nearly a century.
A reaffirmation of Franco-German unity, as the EU is being torn by the strife of the (maybe) Brexit, may seem like a small thing, but not to EU Council President Donald Trusk (from Poland) who is quoted, in the Express article, as saying that “I will put it bluntly – today Europe needs a clear signal from Paris and from Berlin, that strengthened cooperation in small formats is not an alternative to the cooperation of all of Europe … [and, being more specific, he added that] … To the east of Germany there are hundreds of places where the European spirit of a place – genius loci – is felt as strongly as in Aachen, Paris or Berlin, and where millions of people live whose hearts beat for Europe, a Europe of mutually supportive and equal nations.” This is in addition to the attacks, by the so-called New Hanseatic League (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden) on President Marcon’s ambitions to bend the Eurozone to France’s will.
The article also says that “Czech MEP Jan Zahradil also waded in to attack the pair, saying: “A Franco-German axis that goes around other Member States to stitch up EU business is exactly what we feared when the UK announced their intention to leave.”” Some, perhaps many of the EU’s members fear that the French and Germans might be ganging up on the smaller members and that the Chancellor Merkel, who is in serious political trouble at home, might be bending to France’s desires to have the EU work harder and harder for the benefit of France and, collaterally for the benefit of of Italy, Portugal and Spain, too, all of which are, often, seen as being unproductive ‘takers‘ rather than, like the Dutch, Finns and Germans, productive contributors to the common wealth.
The EU is at risk of even further turmoil, France is embroiled in internal strife (Mouvement des gilets jaunes)and President Marcon is very, very unpopular. Germany is also in turmoil, for different reasons, and Chancellor Merkel appears to be finished. Italy cannot manage its finances in accordance with the Eurozone‘s rules and, hanging over it all are a) the Brexit and b) the continuing rise of nationalist-populist political movements which are, often, anti EU and which might even want to leave the union or remake it in radical new ways.
There is a perception, amongst some Europeans, that the EU was never quite finished: it lacks, for example, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland and the ever troublesome Balkan states. Others think that it went too far when it admitted e.g. Bulgaria and Romania. There seem to be four or five “unions” emerging:
- First, the previously mentioned New Hanseatic League of mainly Northern European states with quite enviable socio-economic characteristics;
- Second, what I have termed the Roman Union composed, mainly, of France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain which have rather unenviable socio-economic attributes;
- Third, the hard working newcomers, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland that are also experiencing strong nationalist-populist movements;
- Fourth, perhaps, the less productive newcomers, which likely includes Bulgaria and Romania; and
- Fifth, the Germans, including the Austrians.
Chancellor Merkel is quoted as saying: “”Seventy-four years, a single human lifetime, after the end of World War II, what seems self-evident is being called into question again … [and] … “That’s why, first of all, there needs to be a new commitment toward our responsibility within the European Union, a responsibility held by Germany and France.”” The first is an affirmation of what so many wanted after 1939-45: peace in Europe, secured by trade and commerce, not force of arms. The second is what too many fear: just what, beyond sheer size, is so special about France and Germany that is not equally special about Estonia or Finland, or Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden?
The EU is in very real danger; it has accomplished wonderful things ~ wonderful socio-cultural things, wonderful economic things and wonderful political things, too, but it risks being a victim of its own successes and its own inherent weaknesses. A United States if Europe is not in the cards, not in my lifetime or yours, likely not ever, so long as ethno-nationalism is alive and well; but a Confederation of smaller unions and of individual states (the different tiers on the cake) is possible but it will require Brussels, in particular, to be radically reformed.
There needs to be an overall (bottom layer) structure that is a simple free trade area which may imply some bilateral and multilateral harmonization of standards ~ if Britain, for example, wants to sell sausages, free of duty and taxes and border inspections, to Denmark then Britain and Denmark must, mutually, agree on what can (and cannot) be inside a sausage; ditto if France wants to sell cheese to Poland. What’s not needed, by the bottom layer, is the excessive regulatory framework provided, now, by Brussels. Upper layers will be more deeply integrated and will require transnational and even federal bureaucracies … but each higher layer will be totally voluntary and self governing. Brussels will have to share power with more than just Berlin and Paris; Amsterdam, Oslo, Prague, Vienna and Vilnius will want some, too.