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  • Old vs. New Europe?

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on February 4th, 2003 (All posts by )

    The German-French deal for the future of the EU has angered most of the other member nations and has even given rise to the hyperbolic accusation that the two countries are trying to erect a kind of new Holy Roman Empire. I think that it also was a factor that motivated the eight statesmen to write their letter of support for the American position on Iraq. Being thus isolated is embarrassing for Germany and France, but not as dramatic as many American commentators and bloggers think, just as Americans tend to take the EU itself much more seriously than it really deserves. The EU is about to expand to 25 members, which makes the costs of further integration unsustainable for many years to come, rifts in the EU or not. Having the opponents for further integration assert themselves is nothing but an expression of this reality. In a way it also is business as usual to have (mostly smaller) EU members side with the US to counter the influence of France and Germany. The small members of the EU have nothing to complain about anyway. Voting power in European Commision, parliament and council is weighted in favor of the smaller countries. Each country gets to send a representative to the Commision, regardless of population numbers, for example. Some reforms are planned, but a German or British candidate for a seat in the European parliament will still need 800.000 votes to get elected, while a colleague in Luxembourg needs less than 80.000. This bias in favor of small countries makes any talk of a French-German power-grab ridiculous. This dispute won’t endanger the existence of the EU anyway, since without it the small countries would have little sovereignty, making them unwilling to leave it. That is not to say that they would be militarily intimidated or even conquered by the larger countries, they would simply have little choice but to go along with decisions made by others. One example: The European Union effectively was a German Mark zone before the Euro was introduced; the German Bundesbank (central bank) set interest rates as it saw fit and the others (even France, Italy and some extent Britain) had to follow. The Euro meant a loss of formal sovereignty for everybody, but they finally have a say in monetary policy (not always to German delight). This concept of shared instead of formal sovereignty is central to the European Union. It also is anathema to many Britons (and by far the most Americans, of course) and is in my opinion the strongest motivation for the downright visceral hostility against the EU. That the alternative to shared sovereignty would be almost no sovereignty as far as the smaller member are concerned is rarely if ever considered. One example is Norway: They decided to stay out of the EU, but have to follow most of its rules and regulations, without being able to influence them. Denmark, an EU member, has opted out of the Euro, but at the same time has no monetary policy of its own, the Krona being firmly pegged to the Euro. Both examples have nothing to do with any malevolence on part of the EU, they simply follow from the difference in sizes. Based on all this I feel confident to say that the EU will survive and that Britain will very likely remain to a member, Anglosphere or not,. Political and cultural affinity are one thing, trade and economic another. Once the EU finally drops its silly pretense of becoming a competitor to America even a transatlantic free trade zone is not out of the question (it was seriously considered in the 90s, but the French blocked it with their veto-power). In the short term I hope to see some benefits from the more market-friendly attitudes of the Eastern European countries, once they become full members in 2004. One is a comprehensive reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (without quite so many subsidies), the other the abolition of the ban on GMOs.