In his World Tour of Tact and Diplomacy last week, President Donald Trump caused a stir by announcing that the EU was “a foe, what they do to us on trade.” This caused outrage among the usual people who are paid very well to be outraged by everything Trump says. Yet for thoughtful observers, Trump’s statement was wrong only that it did not go far enough. Because of its self-frustrating structure, voter-hostile bureaucrats and imperious, Marxist-central-planning leadership, the EU is a foe not just to the U.S. and to Britain as it struggles vainly to break free from it, but to its own member countries and their citizens.
The fundamental problem of the European Union is the phrase “ever closer union” in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. At the time that was inserted, as now, there was no assurance whatever that the people of Europe wanted an “ever closer union” inching nearer and nearer to a full federation between peoples of very different languages, lifestyles, incomes and cultures. No referendum was taken on that question at the time, and no general referendum has been taken since. Only a tiny minority of European-oriented bureaucrats and statesmen, mostly warped by that generation’s experience of two world wars, had such an ambition then, and as the two world wars have receded into history it has become ever more doubtful whether anyone who is not paid to do so wants “ever closer union” at all.
There would have been nothing anti-democratic about a simple free trade area, or even the 1992 Single Market, in which European product standards were agreed to be “harmonized” (though that harmonization is itself damaging to the people of Europe, as I shall discuss below). However, the Maastricht Treaty, which committed EU members to a common currency and to a level of common decision-making greater than had previously been envisioned, and to a powerful unelected central bureaucracy, had no democratic legitimacy as it stood and should have been put to referendums in every member country of the EU.
Had John Major allowed such a referendum in the United Kingdom, there can be no doubt whatever that the Maastricht Treaty would have failed, probably by a majority of around 60% to 40%. At that point, the EU’s centralization enthusiasts, with Britain and several other countries rejecting their ghastly handiwork, would have had no choice but to tear up the draft Maastricht Treaty and accept that a free trade zone was all they were ever going to get, without complete free movement of people, and with countries maintaining their own currencies and control of their borders.
In such circumstances, assuming the sneaky bureaucrats had retired thwarted and not attempted to contravene the clearly expressed will of the people, Britain would probably not have voted against membership of a European free trade zone in 2016, so the Remainers would presumably be happier than they are now. Such are the virtues of democracy, for ignoring which John Major deserves to rot in eternal ignominy and for belatedly taking note of which David Cameron deserves an honored place in the top third of Britain’s Prime Ministers.
Because of the “ever closer union” nonsense, the EU acts as a giant vortex sucking power away from the local levels, where people have some chance of controlling it, to a central bureaucracy over which the populace has no control at all. Matters that should be settled at a local level are “harmonized” by EU diktats. This process was first instituted in 1985, supposedly for the !992 Single Market, it has now been extended far beyond product standards to all areas of human life.
To take one product standards example, since 1516, first in Bavaria and then throughout Germany, beer purity has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot, allowing only water, barley and hops to be used in the production of beer. However, in 1987, in a case brought by French brewers, the European Court of Justice found that the Reinheitsgebot was protectionist and was therefore in violation of Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome. Germany was permitted to continue using it for beer brewed in Germany but was forced to allow imported beers brewed from any old rubbish that would pass muster with a possibly corrupt EU regulator.
In consequence all kinds of imported beers, not fulfilling German product quality standards, are allowed into the German market. Of course, in small print it must say on the bottle that the new beer is brewed in, say, Romania, but it is given a German name and marketed with pictures of people drinking it at beer festivals, so soon the less sophisticated German consumers buy this cheaper adulterated product instead of the real thing. Add in the millions of foreign immigrants who have been allowed into Germany in recent decades, and the East German consumers who were not allowed access to West German products until 1990, and you have a recipe for German brewers losing market share. Naturally, the larger German brewers will fight this, setting up production lines for adulterated pseudo-German beer in say Cyprus, so they will survive, but meanwhile true German beer, produced by the Reinheitsgebot, is reduced to a specialty product. In another generation it may disappear altogether.
If German consumers have for 500 years wanted to consume only the purest German beers, they should be allowed to decide this at a local level. Of course, French, Romanian and Cypriot brewers should be allowed to enter the German market, but their products must be brewed only to the standards of the Reinheitsgebot, so that they compete on a level playing field against German beers, and German consumers can enjoy their unique cultural beer heritage. For a product that is so important to a domestic culture, there is no excuse for 27 foreign countries to get together and impose product standards that bear no relation to domestic consumer tastes.
What is more, Germany was only allowed to keep the Reinheitsgebot for domestic beer because it was such an important member of the EU, and beer was such a culturally significant product to the German people. In countless other instances, EU harmonization has been used not only to permit inferior (to local tastes) foreign products into the market, but to prohibit production of long-standing domestic products whose product standards offend some PC-generated whim of a Brussels commissar. True living standards, measured by the hedonic satisfaction of the European people, have been immeasurably degraded by this imposition of foreign norms on treasured local cultures.
The damage done by “harmonization” is even more clearly illustrated in immigration policy. Societies differ in the need for labor, skilled and unskilled, their demographics, their wish to preserve a unique indigenous culture, their level of religious fervor and the efficiency and enthusiasm with which they exercise their border controls. Therefore, imposing a “one size fits all” immigration policy across a continent is most unlikely to be economically, culturally or hedonically optimal.
This is especially the case if that policy is designed by a central cadre of politically-correct bureaucrats, who believe themselves (wrongly) to be above the prejudices felt by ordinary mortals, but who in any case, cocooned in multinational upper-middle-class monocultural enclaves, never have to bear the costs of the immigration policy they impose. To meet the needs of local populations, immigration policy should be set locally, and immigrants who slip past the lax and corrupt Greek immigration controls should have no right to migrate within the EU to countries where self-respect is greater, corruption less and the burden of mass immigration by low-skill foreigners more intolerable. Free movement of labor may be an important component of a Single Market, but it should be limited to labor that was actually born in the EU and is a citizen of a member state. Immigrants should be confined to the country that originally admitted them.
Finally, the EU’s mechanism for democratic accountability, the European Parliament is hopelessly compromised and incapable of representing the will of the European people. Because it contains MEPs from 28 countries, the Parliament is incapable of achieving a stable government majority and must therefore work its will through weak coalitions between parties of widely differing approaches to life.
As is seen in countries such as Italy, Slovenia and Germany where the electoral system is excessively proportional, government formation is carried out between groups of politicians, with the electorate having almost no input – thus a heavy defeat for Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU group in Germany nevertheless resulted in the formation of yet another CDU-CSU-SPD “grand coalition” representing nobody but the bureaucrats, while in Slovenia Janez Jansa’s position at the head of a center-right party with twice the electoral support of any other party will nonetheless result shortly in the formation of yet another inept leftist coalition that excludes him. The European Parliament suffers this lack of accountability to an inordinate degree; its members continue collecting gigantic allowances while the unfortunate EU electorate has no control over it whatever.
The EU was inordinately satisfied earlier this year by the UN’s finding that four of the ten happiest countries in the world are EU members. Yet the total population of the four happy countries is less than 40 million, less than 10% of the EU’s inhabitants. What’s more three of the other “Top 10” members, Norway (top), Iceland (3rd) and Switzerland (4th) are although European notably not EU members, while the highest large-population EU country, Germany, is a lowly 16th, two places below the United States (the figures are for 2014-16 so the United States would presumably rank higher today!) France, Italy and Spain, all rich EU countries, are not in the top 20. In other words, by this scientific and impartial ranking, the EU’s people, given their wealth, are considerably more miserable than they would be if the EU did not exist. The EU itself is undoubtedly to blame for this.
(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)