Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Europeans, but just a bit

The marathon negotiations held 10 days ago in Brussels saw the foreign ministers of Europe confront the migrant issue head on in a spirit of heightening temper. The negotiations, however, ended up almost entirely centered around David Cameron, the British conservative prime minister, who can well claim the title of winner.

Let's put it this way: if tomorrow Mrs. Beata Szydlo, the powerful prime minister of Poland, would say to the gentlemen in Brussels: "Look, I don’t like these rules on freedom of expression, so we’ve decided to follow the Polish way,” what would you think? Or if tomorrow Viktor Orban decided that the rules on Hungary’s milk quotas should be flushed down the drain, then how would Po Valley farmers react? Or imagine that…well, for the time being let’s not fantasize knowing that no fancy exercise can reach the peaks of heterodoxy. From this point on, let’s tap into European Disunity (for which we now propose the new acronym “DU”).

The marathon negotiations held ten days ago in Brussels saw the foreign ministers of Europe confront the migrant issue head on in a spirit of heightening temper. The negotiations, however, ended up almost entirely centered around David Cameron, the British Conservative prime minister, who can well claim the title of winner. London got almost everything: a seven-year exemption from providing for the new immigrant workers’ union, and even the power to adjust social welfare contributions according to the average income of country of origin (we can already predict waves of migration from Zambia). But most of all, London showed that its game will never be bound by continental rules or at least those rules which are agreed upon, much less the notion of “common interests.”

Cameron had no difficulty using the stick and the carrot: the stick was the outcome of the next referendum in June which the European club fears, and the carrot was the statement that everyone knows is true, namely that the EU must either change or die.

That being said, someone should explain to the great thinkers governing the Union that the pact with Mister Cameron indirectly authorizes all the others to put one foot out of agreements. Of course, Great Britain is wealthy and important, but does anybody really think that allowing London to go its way will strengthen European cohesion? Unfortunately, in recent days, the issue of migrants has once again demonstrated just how deep the fractures are.

Today’s Europe reminds one of the old stories in which the matchmaker wants to arrange a marriage for a fine, young girl, and shows her picture to a potential suitor. She looks perfect in the photo, but the young man suspiciously asks if she has some disease. “No, she’s very healthy,” is the answer. “Is she poor?” he asks. “No, in fact, she has a nine-fold dowry.” The man asks what the catch is, only to be told: “She’s pregnant, but only a little bit.” The fact should be accepted that, just like in the joke, we are all Europeans, but only a little bit.

 "I do not like Brussels, but I love Britain,” said the British prime minister when the negotiations were about to begin. He went on: “which is to say that there are many ways in which the EU needs to improve. The task of reforming Europe does not end with today's agreement, but I will never say that our country could not go on living outside of Europe.”

Now imagine what would happen - and what probably will happen - if something of the sort was said to Brussels bureaucrats. “I do not like Brussels; I love Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, or Malta.” Of course, none of these countries are comparable to Britain in strength, but before the European Union reform process even began, David Cameron planted the seeds for dissolving the pact. He was certainly not the only one to do this, however, nor the most assiduous.

The UK has always been pragmatic, but in the meantime, the EU has assumed a structure that can be compared to an onion rather than a “union.” The Eastern Europeans are the outer ring, the next ring contains those like the Latin peoples who are uncertain, unable, or do not want to “repeat the little vision of hell that Dante had,” as Andrew Marshall wrote for The Independent in 1994, while the center is made up of the “good Europeans.”

That article deserves to be read again today. That was the year in which the "good Europeans", i.e. the strongest countries, discussed the future of Europe in the post-Maastricht era. Back then the United Kingdom was represented by another conservative, John Major. Marshall wrote of this episode: "Multiple tracks, hard cores, temples, trees, columns, convoys, the heart is a strange vision that politicians evoke when discussing the future of Europe and yet detail the terms used by John Major for his speech to the German Christian Democrats on the new plan for the Union tell us much. They show the growing gap between Britain and its continental partners, but also the extraordinary uncertainty about the future of Europe ".

The British analyst then continued to say that ”The British metaphor, at least, ceased to exist. John Major said he wanted to put Britain at the heart of Europe, but this was reporting more than a simple change of policy by the government of Margaret Thatcher. He was saying that the heart and symbol of the Union are the CDU, the party of Helmut Kohl, which is the main force behind integration.”

Substitute Major with Cameron and Kohl with Merkel and it becomes obvious that things have remained the same today, and perhaps even somewhat deteriorated.

At that time, they were confronted by two visions of Europe, and the winner was the second. Let’s turn to Marshall’s words again: "The negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty was marked by a clash between two rival ideas. One, shared by Germany and smaller states, sees the Union as a tree, with all its activities combined in a series of institutions and the creation of a single federal state, a single living organism with a trunk that has roots deep in the rich soil of Europe. The rival vision, backed by France and Britain, is that of the temple, with the different policy areas divided one from another, and separate pillars, with the drive that is shipped from the gable, i.e. on the side of the Treaty that covers all sectors."

 It was this “architectural vision” that won, although in fact it gave rise more to a saplings theory than an ordered series of columns. This path was followed until now, but after the agreement with Cameron, we are on a road that no one knows where it might lead. If Cameron wins in the referendum, then Great Britain will remain in Europe, but in a blatantly privileged position. In the meanwhile, the idea of the solidarity of nation-states will vanish rather than be strengthened. If in the UK a “yes” for Europe wins, then every state will then be free to decide its allies and allegiances and no longer be compelled to pursue the “common interest.”

Slovakia could decide to ditch the disastrous sanctions against Russia, Cyprus could refuse rigid banking controls, and the Czech Republic could reject all kinds of refugees. Other countries might even want to escape the “stability” of the “union.”  Maybe, Italy?

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