Sunday, 14 March 2010

Europe's balkanisation has already begun

'The sick man of Europe' is a term that has been used to describe, among others, the late Ottoman Empire and Britain in the 1970s (incidentally during Labour's last tenure of government).

I would say this term is no longer relevant - Europe is itself the sick man. In the last six months we have seen strikes and riots rock the continent as the EU's rigid economic system struggles to cope with the financial crisis; we have seen a quangocrat and a 'low grade bank clerk' elected by nobody to represent us; and democracy trampled on in another Brussels power-grab.

We have to ask ourselves how much longer we wish to share membership of an organisation which has, on one extreme, a socialist government that has handled its finances so poorly that it is on the verge of bankruptcy; and on the other a corrupt billionaire plutocrat who, apart from owning large swathes of his country's media, has made himself essentially immune from prosecution while conniving with his equally repulsive counterpart and friend in Moscow to persecute the family of Alexander Litvinenko.

Thankfully David Cameron, Václav Claus and Michał Kamiński already asked themselves this question, taking the courageous decision to form the European Conservatives & Reformists Group.

It would be interesting to see how bad things really have to get before any of these men wholeheartedly put their weight behind outright secession.

In the case of Italy the 'European pattern' is disturbingly familiar. The Prime Minister can now legitimately claim he is too busy to attend court hearings in which he is being prosecuted, making him effectively above the law. This is remarkable because the Italian legislature actually handed him this immunity on a plate.

The parallel with the Roman Senate sycophantically ceding more and more of its power to the caesars is disturbing, but accurate. As President, the Communist Giorgio Napolitano ought to step in, but has so far done nothing. Those monarchists who claim the Queen would refuse to ratify any undemocratic or unconstitutional legislation would do well to learn from this - Napolitano's role is essentially the same and just as toothless.

Berlusconi's flagrant abuse of his position highlights the weakness of the European Union but also its own superficial commitment to democracy. A body which forced the Irish to reconsider their decision on the Lisbon Treaty is unlikely to make its voice heard over the collapse of the rule of law in Italy. The concept has simply never gained any currency in Europe.

Though, harrowing as Italy's situation is (Tatiana Litvinenko's "I thought Europe had 100% rule of law" ought to be invoked at every session of the European Parliament), it is Greece that runs the risk of seriously destabilising the continent. The question over whether to bail out the country with taxpayers' money has already caused conflict between member states and resentment among their electorates.

Of all publications, it was the Independent that ran a piece on why the euro was to blame for the strikes that exploded over Greece and Europe earlier this year. The following paragraph, a stinging indictment of the single currency, is worth printing here in full (my emphasis);

During the relatively benign economic conditions that marked the first decade of the euro, fast growing economies such as Spain were able to enjoy the advantages of currency union, such as low interest rates, but allowed their prices and costs to gradually rise, leaving their economies uncompetitive by comparison with nations such as Germany. Traditionally, that cumulative build-up of cost and price differences would be dealt with by devaluation of the currency, but membership of the euro removes that flexibility. Thus Ireland, Greece , Spain and others are undergoing what economists euphemistically call "internal devaluation", slashing wages and costs and, if necessary, allowing unemployment to climb to record highs. The problem raised by the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz among others, is that those deflationary polices threaten to shrink their economies even more, triggering an even more urgent budget crisis as tax revenues collapse and unemployment payments rise.

I couldn't have put it better myself. Though perhaps more ominous was: "The democratic strains in nations that had been ruled, well within living memory, by fascist leaders or the military are growing."

It appears that the Federalists have learnt nothing from the Balkan conflict. The horrors of war and genocide in the former Yugoslavia ought to have taught the world, and especially Europe, that forcing people even as ethnically similar as the South Slavs into one political entity serves only to exasperate the differences between them.

It is one of those bizarre twists of history that a people who fought so bloodily to tear the Yugoslav union apart should be striving so hard to join a new one in from Brussels. The Yugoslav wars have shown us that multiethnic unions without dictatorial lynchpins like Tito make nationalism and ethnic conflict more, not less, likely.

So it is with great sadness that I receive the Liberal MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's announcement that "The ultimate consequences of identity politics are the gas chambers of Auschwitz" (thanks to Dan Hannan for drawing attention to this). More still to hear that this Nazi analogy is frequently thrown at eurosceptics in Brussels.

The sad thing is the Federalists really cannot see what they are doing. In binding nations with very different economies into a single currency with single interest rates they are manufacturing financial collapse and industrial unrest - fertile soil for for nationalism and extremism to grow.

Worse still, their efforts to redress the problem are fermenting resentment between member states and their electors - who they have already shown their contempt for by their shameful dismissal of Lisbon referendums.

I know I will be mocked for predicting the EU causing the next European war and honestly, I pray that I'm wrong. But Britons should bear in mind that where, in the past, we have always had the option of staying out of such conflicts, we are now directly involved. Right at the heart of Europe, as Tony Blair used to say.

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