Yes, England Existed Before the EU!
“What we should grasp, however, from the lessons of European history is that, first, there is nothing necessarily benevolent about programmes of European integration; second, the desire to achieve grand utopian plans often poses a grave threat to freedom; and third, European unity has been tried before, and the outcome was far from happy.” – Margaret Thatcher
It seems as if the entire world has been thrown into chaos. In recent days, I have heard everyone from CNBC reporters to a priest at my church in Old Town Alexandria lament the apocalyptic event that has befallen Great Britain, Europe, the economy, and indeed, the world. I’m not talking about the fact that Russia seems poised to annex more of Eastern Europe. I’m not talking about the fact that Venezuela has literally collapsed into a state beyond anarchy resembling the world of Mad Max. I’m not even referring to the fact that insurance premiums are set to increase again for ordinary Americans.
No, I’m talking about England’s recent democratic vote to exit from the European Union. I’m talking about the fact that, after decades of extreme Liberal Social Engineering from Brussels, the capital of the European Union, the British decided to disassociate from the EU for political and cultural reasons. I know that it seems hard to imagine, but believe it or not, England has long existed before the advent of the European Union…and it did just fine. Something tells me, that England will exist long after the EU…and will do just fine also!
Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
When the EU was formed it was done so as a free trade agreement between the various states of (mostly Western) Europe. The French were a key driver of this attempted Union. Why?
Because the French felt that, after having been soundly defeated in two world wars, after having lost its global empire following those wars, and with its economy in a permanent tailspin, the only way to reinstitute lost French glory was through the creation of a United States of Europe. At the time, the Cold War raged, and most European states were caught between the Soviet Union and the United States on either side of their continent. Looking for a Third Way, the European Union was their only salvation.
For a period of time, the trading alliance that would evolve into the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) worked well. It brought prosperity to those who joined it and it created a synchronized European continent that had never really existed before. Even during the Congress of Vienna, which instituted the balance of power agreement following the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 that kept peace in Europe for a century, there was never the level of coordination that existed in the European Union.
By focusing on economics, also, the supporters of the ECSC (soon-to-be EU)–the so-called “Eurocrats”–were able to subordinate the more nationalistic impulses of European members states to the all-powerful urge to get rich or die tryin’.
Yet, with the European Community there has always been a “Heads I [the Eurocrats] win, tails you [supporters of state sovereignty] lose” mentality. Even as the EU was expanding beyond a simple free trade agreement, there were growing pains. By 1992, at the signing of the Treaty Maastricht, which built the European Union into the supranational entity that we all know and joke about today (at least in my circle of friends), there were already signs of strain. The Thatcher government in England was viscerally opposed to idea of a political union with Europe. Many doubted the efficacy of such a government.
But, most wanted to reap the benefits of the free trade portion of the Union. Indeed, many probably assumed that the political portion of the Union would never be able to complete its objective of creating an actual United States of Europe. As if sensing that doubt, the Eurocrats publicly focused their efforts on expanding the economic zone of the EU to encompass more and more European states, yet, as they publicly did that, privately, they intensified the regulatory power of the supranational regime in Brussels. This constituted a virtual annexation of state sovereignty through undemocratic means.
Under these circumstances, then, there could be no opposition in the member states of the EU. How could there be? The EU and its supporters publicly focused on the economic aspects of the Union. Times were good (it was the 1990s, everything was good back then, right?) and peace had reigned over Europe after centuries of bloodshed. Many proclaimed that the Europeans had reached the “end of history.”
As the Western world proclaimed absolute victory in the name of liberalism, capitalism, democracy, and freedom, the EU government in Brussels, like the rough beast in Yeats’ Second Coming, slouched toward Brussels waiting to be born. That beast was the wholly undemocratic, bloated, inefficient, elephantine regime that now dominates the EU. One way or the other, the Eurocrats were going to have their supranational state designed to replace the national governments of the individual European governments.
The EU: What a Bad Marriage Looks Like
I’ve often compared the European Union to a bad marriage over the years: it looks good on the outside, and, when the going is good the couple is very happy. But, as every married person knows, the real test of a marriage resides in how the couple survives the bad times. When both spouses are successful and the finances are good, any underlying problems can usually be papered over with oodles of money, visits to Elizabeth Arden, fancy dinners, and gloriously over-the-top vacations.
Yet, when a spouse loses their job and cannot find a new one that pays as well, that’s when the marriage is tested. That’s when the spouses have to look at each other for who they are, not what they appear to be. Such is what has happened in the European Union. Especially in the EU’s relationship with Great Britain.
During the expansion period of the EU in the 1990s and the subsequent economic boon that washed over the continent in the early 2000s, the spouses rode high. Whatever differences may have existed, both the different national governments and their partners in the supranational government in Brussels marched in lock-step, singing glorious songs about unity.
However, the fissures were always there. The fault lines that had torn apart Europe for centuries had never been filled. Indeed, like the San Andreas fault line, they were merely lying dormant, waiting to be triggered.
First, it should be noted, that the one time there seemed to be a real chance for political union, during the 2005 EU constitutional referendum, it was overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Europe. Indeed, it was the French, the godfather state of the EU, that led the rejection efforts!
And, while the French can claim that they had problems with the way that the vote occurred and that the process was hijacked by radical Right-Wing elements in France (just as the Eurocrats in Great Britain claim regarding the Brexit vote), the fact is that the French are as parochial as they accuse the British of being today.
Both the French and British have long histories of independence and, despite both being of Western civilization, they are still different from each other. The French proposed the EU and midwifed its birth for strictly geopolitical reasons. Yes, they saw the economic benefits of the EU, but they also wanted to recreate the greatness of France.
Despite every French leader since de Gaulle trying to rebuild French power, the fact is, on their own, the French will always be relegated to a middle power status. The French saw the Union as a means to overcome that. However, in the push for the EU, the French never foresaw themselves being economically displaced by the Germans and British, nor did they understand that the more they sought to incorporate other states into the Union, the less likely they will be able to dominate it.
When the constitutional referendum came about in 2005, the French public overwhelmingly rejected it because the French public did not believe that greater political union served their interests.
In much the same way, the British had supported the EU because it benefited the British economy for a period. Yet, the economic policies that were crafted in Brussels did have a long-term negative effect: they caused massive dislocations in England’s blue-collared working class that dominated the southern and eastern portions of Britain. Free trade, coupled with the EU’s obsessive commitment to open borders within the European trading zone, meant that Londoners got very wealthy and powerful and the rest of Britain got left behind.
To make matters worst, the situation looked as though those Britons who had lost their jobs permanently were also losing their country: the unfettered immigration that occurred began to fundamentally change the makeup of England, threatening the cultural identity of Great Britain. This is why you have had entire books written warning its readers about the impending rise of “Londonistan” and “Eurabia.” This isn’t just a bunch of cranks writing racist screeds in their parents’ basements, as popular media would have us believe. In some cases, these were principled Britons who understood that Europe was not the United States and that Britain is not akin to California. When Great Britain tries to be those things, painful distortions of Britain result.
At this point, the marriage began to sour, but the two spouses soldiered on, if only for their children’s sake (the rest of Europe). Yet, by 2008, as the Great Recession tore the global economy asunder, and the anemic recovery stunted any hope of economic rebirth in the EU members, the British people demanded a reassessment.
You see, as long as there was even the promise of economic opportunity through greater union with Europe, the British were willing to tolerate their political and cultural disagreements with the EU. However, once that promise of economic prosperity evaporated in the Great Recession and its obscene aftermath, all that remained were the political disagreements with and cultural resentment toward the European Union. What followed, naturally, was a referendum that was decided along mostly political and cultural lines. Thus, once the spouses realized that they actually had little in common, the marriage was dissolved.
The Shame of Schengen
The really sad part of this tale is the fact that the Eurocrats, who were nothing more than bunch of Leftist one-worlder-types, took over the EU leadership in Brussels, and tried to make a United States of Europe in the first place. You see, I’m a capitalist and I generally (though not religiously) favor free trade. The concept of a European Free Trade Agreement is a great concept. It’s one that should, theoretically, benefit everyone involved. However, economic prosperity–while the so-called Eurocrats certainly benefited economically from the EU–was not the end goal of the Eurocrats.
Political union with themselves and their fellow Leftists in charge was the goal. These Eurocrats, all of whom generally went to the same schools, dress the same way, eat the same things, travel in the same circles, go to the same places, they are all incapable of leaving well enough alone. The shame of the Schengen Zone (the European countries that drafted common travel visa policies and essentially abolished national borders), is that it could have worked had certain ambitious Leftists not gotten their hands on the levers of power.
If the EU had remained focused on economic development as opposed to Liberal Social Engineering, it might have worked. But the crafting of the Schengen Zone was the most blatant form of the social engineering that the Eurocrats were committed to. This, more than anything, is the reason why Britain left the EU.
Now, as it stands, the European continent is doomed to disunion and fragmentation. Perhaps “doomed” is the wrong word. Great Britain existed before the EU and will continue to do so thereafter. The French have been looking elsewhere the moment that they lost any primacy of power in the EU. Indeed, until a year ago, very serious French leaders were seeking to reassert French greatness by creating a sub-union within the EU.
This sub-union, according to many sources, would have seen France creating an alliance with the southern European states as well as the northern African states in a sort of Mediterranean Union. Thankfully, this concept withered on the vine. Meanwhile, the Germans are the only ones who seem to be holding all of the cards in the European Union.
Indeed, if trends persist, the EU is going to increasingly look like the German Union. It is Germany’s economy that has driven much of the EU’s growth. It is their stable political system that provides the reassurances necessary for the EU to limp on its dilapidated state. What’s more, it is Germany’s commitment to maintaining a unified Europe that has kept the faltering EU giant from totaling collapsing.
However, as the Greek Debt Crisis proved, the more Germany steps in to take the reigns of the EU and guide it to a more stable place, the more political control the Germans will (understandably) require. This will cause consternation among many of the northern European states (which have already begun looking into disassociating with the EU), as well as with the French, and will lead to further resentment with the southern European states who dislike the German attitude toward their economic condition.
Eventually, Germany will be the only one in the driver seat for the EU. This will mean a de facto disunion in Europe, but it will also mean a new geopolitical reality that most states will have to adapt to.
Europe’s Return to History
For Germany, their impending position as the real power of the European Union will make them a highly sought after ally. Indeed, Russia is already making moves to establish a Berlin-Moscow axis. Germany and Russia are tied together, due to Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas (which is only intensifying). The Germans and Russians have a history of alliance (despite the Eastern Front of World War II). Also, they have shared interest in keeping Poland subordinated to both Germany and Russia.
For the Germans, Poland is the manufacturing hub for most German products. In very general terms, what China or Mexico is to American manufacturers, Poland is to Germany. For the Russians, keeping Poland down will mean that it can prevent a key rival with a negative historical view of Russia from forming on its vulnerable western flank.
Plus, the loss of Britain in the EU opens up some strategic, diplomatic, and economic opportunities for Russia that were otherwise lacking. The loss of Britain in the EU means that key sanctions that had been placed upon the Russians following their annexation of Crimea are unlikely to be maintained, as it was the British who were the Russians’ key obstacle. Also, there now exists a chance for Russia to isolate a historical foe with England away from the rest of the European continent.
Plus, there could be some chances of doing business with London, now that the British have parted ways with the Europeans. Mainly, though, this gives Russia an opportunity to play up the division within the EU and mitigate any threat that the U.K. (and, by extension, the U.S.) may pose to Russia’s long-term strategic goals.
Meanwhile, the United States should start to seriously move away from its outdated assumption that Europe will always have its back and that it will always have a say in European affairs through the British. This is no longer the case. Furthermore, while the concept of a unified Europe was beneficial during the Cold War, as recent events have proven, a unified Europe is also likely to be as much of a headache for American interests in Europe as it is to be a boon for American foreign policy.
Better to follow Russia’s suit and play up the divisions forming within Europe rather than trying to keep the square pegs of Europe in the round hole that is the European Union.
The U.S. should move to include Britain and the soon-to-be independent northern European states into a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), that eschews the more ambitious political goals of the European Union and focuses solely on economic prosperity through increased trade. Or, the U.S. should simply include Great Britain in its North American Free Trade Area.
Now, I know that NAFTA and any other Free Trade Agreements are as unpopular in the U.S. today as they are in Great Britain, but despite the unpopularity NAFTA or my proposed TAFTA (which need not be as onerous as NAFTA was, if it is negotiated properly), but the U.S. must do something to capitalize on the fragmentation of the EU. Establishing trade to numb the blow of disunion to the British economy is one thing that the U.S. could do. Plus, such a trade agreement might stimulate the American economy in this time of economic free fall.
What’s more, American foreign policy might be served better by focusing U.S. efforts at alliance and trade on regional blocs in Europe, rather than the whole. Not only has the EU been a difficult entity to deal with economically, but in recent years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has become increasingly sclerotic in its ability to deter threats collectively. Rather than disband NATO outright, which would complicate American foreign policy. The U.S. should start working through NATO to empower sub-regional defense blocs and independent European states, coordinating with them to craft better deterrent policies for the mutual protection of Europe.
For instance, the U.S. should work through NATO to empower the four Baltic states most threatened by recent Russian aggression: the Viségrad Battle Group (led by Poland). The U.S. should also do the same through NATO vìs-a-vìs the group of Nordic states most threatened by Russian revanchism. It should also seek to intensify its bilateral trade with these countries. All of this is absolutely necessary to avoid the impending fragmentation of Europe along traditional geopolitical fault lines from becoming catastrophic to American foreign policy.
As for Great Britain, she’ll be just fine. The spate of recriminations and accusations that followed Brexit is nothing more than the Eurocrats and their Leftist allies in the world throwing a toddler-type temper tantrum. For the most part, the people who are most offended by Brexit are those with the most to lose, either in terms of their reputation as analysts, their beliefs as Liberals, or economically.
The volatility in markets is nothing more than a natural reaction to what is a momentous event, coupled with the Liberal Powers That Be throwing their aforementioned hissy-fit. I lived in England and attended Oxford University for part of my Master’s studies. I have a deep admiration for the English. They are a strong and hearty people. Whatever disagreements have consumed them in recent days does not discount the fact that the British are doing what they have to do for their country. Whether that proves to be a mistake or not is, in the words of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Unknown-Unknown. But that is a determination for history to decide.
Britain has many positives working in its favor. It is the world’s sixth-largest economy. And, while that ranking may have been the result, at least partially, of its association with the EU, the fact is that Britain has everything going for it. They have a vibrant and well-educated workforce. The British legal system is world-class. Their infrastructure, while needing some work (who’s doesn’t?), is among the best in the world.
England remains an integral cultural hub of the West. Its innovation is also a source of strength. Furthermore, its political system lends itself to stability. All of these things remain as true today as they were before the Brexit vote. Just because the British left the EU does not mean that its status as a premiere First World power will go with the EU.
It will remain strong–especially with their link to the United States through the Special Relationship. The presence of all of the trappings of modernity in England means that investors will still seek out Great Britain for business opportunities before, say, Slovenia or Greece, despite the fact that Great Britain has disassociated itself from the European Union. In fact, their disassociation might spur greater investment, from those investors seeking to take advantage of pristine economic opportunity following Brexit.
Also, should the British come to regret their decision, and should the European Union still be in existence, how likely do you think it is that the EU would deny a Breturn, or a British return to the Eurozone? Especially if the British are bringing with them all of those economic advantages that I just mentioned?
The Eurocrats may be behaving like a bunch of babies, but they’re not dumb. In fact, if the British did decide to ever return to the EU, they would likely have a much better negotiating position: they wanted a better deal in the EU and, when they didn’t get it, they left. Should they ever determine to return, the Eurocrats would have no choice but to negotiate a more favorable condition for Britain’s return. This would be especially true if Britain’s exit did, in fact, turn out to be as catastrophic to the EU as the Stay campaigners have been arguing.
And, should Scotland hold a second plebiscite to vote for independence from the U.K., in order to remain in the European Union, so be it. Each country should have the ability to determine its own future. This was the basis of the world order that America built following the end of the Second World War.
Democracy, capitalism, self-determination, and liberty these are all things that must be championed and defended, if the world is to have a chance of stability, peace, and prosperity. In such a world, that sometimes means that disagreements will occur. That sometimes means that divorces will happen. But it doesn’t mean that Mom and Dad don’t still love their kids. It doesn’t mean that they cannot be happy either, or successful.
What’s more, the EU will continue to exist for some time. While the foundations have been eroded, the EU is not just going to collapse overnight. What will likely happen is a series of reforms–much needed, really–that will likely diffuse more power away from Brussels and toward regional power hubs, like Germany. The EU will fragment, but it might not collapse.
It will have to adapt.
When the Greek Debt Crisis exploded, there were calls to create separate zones of the EU: a northern EU for the more prosperous northern European states and a southern EU, to cordon off the economic contagion of the debt crises consuming the countries there. Some variation of this is likely now to happen. That is probably a good thing for everyone involved. This might force the needed changes to occur. It might actually end up saving the EU.
But, even if it doesn’t, how likely was it that a European Union that brought historical adversaries like France and Britain under the same roof likely to succeed? The EU was a product of its times. It was a Cold War institution; a relic of the twentieth century that was likely obsolete by the time it came fully into existence. Obsolescence, especially in the 21st century, is a death knell for corporations and countries. Not only do I think Britain did itself a favor, but I have also come to the conclusion that the European states are being better served. Everyone needs to take a step back and look at the wider picture.
The British are going to be fine. Europe will be fine, too.