Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Iron Lady, Frau Fritz and what may be left of the future of the EU

Clive Crook looks at the recently deceased British Prime Minister's one-time criticism of the European Union in Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Prime Euro-Skeptic Bloomberg Businessweek 04/11/2013. He recalls that it was Thatcher's determined opposition to further European political integration that prompted her downfall in 1990, which didn't come as the result of an election but from her rejection by her own party over European policy:

Returning from a European Community meeting in Rome, she gave a speech in Parliament that attacked plans from the European Commission (the Community’s executive branch) for a politically integrated Europe. "No, no, no," she said. Her exasperated deputy prime minister, Geoffrey Howe, decided to quit. Howe, until then a Thatcher loyalist, was one of the most boring speakers the House of Commons ever produced — a former Labour minister once said that facing his criticism was like being "savaged by a dead sheep" — but his resignation statement was electrifying. It dispelled the illusion of Thatcher’s power and sparked the rebellion that brought her down.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thatcher's passing, Barroso on the death of Margaret Thatcher EUXTV 04/08/2013:

He explains that Thatcher had an unattractive combination of two kinds of Euro-skepticism:

When it came to Europe, Thatcher had an attitude problem, one that other Europeans would recognize as characteristically British. She was right on points of substance but expressed and inflamed a national disdain for the European project that served her country badly.

British euro-skepticism has two strands, and Thatcher exemplified both. The rational strand is pragmatic and liberal (in the European sense). It's fearful of big government and hopes to keep a self-replicating bureaucracy in check. It wants to locate democratic accountability mainly at the national level until a real European political identity has established itself, and it thinks that process shouldn't be rushed. It recognizes Britain’s acute dependence on a thriving European economy, celebrates the gains from trade in Europe's single market, and is open to further integration to serve that purpose, but it rejects political union as a goal in its own right.

There’s also an irrational, illiberal strand. Its core is chauvinistic and attached not just to Britain's history — "We will fight them on the beaches," and all that — but also to the myth of its undiminished geopolitical weight. Britain doesn't need Europe, according to this view. What's Europe ever done for us? [my emphasis]
Crook sees present Prime Minister David Cameron as following in the "rational strand" that he identifies. And he discusses how Cameron is using his Euro-skepticism to threaten a new referendum on EU membership as a way to pressure the other EU members into making more special concessions to Britain.

Crook's article does not give a sense of how drastically EU politics has changed. The "European project" was never primarily about making a big ole free trade zone for the corporations to enjoy at the expense of workers. It was primarily about preventing war and promoting democracy. Thanks in no small part to the position of people like Thatcher and Cameron, the EU project has now degenerated into a German-dominated commercial racket.

The three largest powers in the EU are Germany, France and Britain. Their leadership has been critical in making or breaking the European project. And all three countries have been working hard in recent years on policies that will break it. German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel has done the most harm, of course, using the euro crisis to impose conservative German fiscal policies of the Heinrich Brüning type on the eurozone. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was Frau Fritz' partner in doing so. François Hollande got elected President opposing the Merkel-Brüning policies. But after he was elected, he could scarcely wait to reverse himself and become a loyal supporter of those policies, including proposing austerity policies for France.

Cameron and Britain have been worse than useless to the EU during the euro crisis. Britain looks prescient in not joining the euro. But it was more nationalism and lack of support for EU that led them to stay out rather than any astute economic analysis by the British decision-makers. They certainly haven't had any useful advice or material assistance to the eurozone during the crisis. On the contrary, Cameron has been implementing Merkel-Brüning austerity policies in Britain, with the damage to the economy that comes with it. And he's tried to exploit the eurozone crisis to weaken financial regulations affecting Britain and further distance himself from the EU.

The narrow nationalism of Cameron and Frau Fritz is well along in consigning both their nations to be bit players on the world scene. The only way Britain, France or Germany can continue to be major forces in world politics is through a European Union. And they have failed to pull it off, or so it currently appears.

If the European project is to be resuscitated, one of the things that would have to be done in any case is to exclude Britain from it, so long as its foreign policy is so tightly tied to that of the United States. Under the current world-hegemony foreign policy the US is pursuing and has pursued since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US aims to prevent the rise of any "peer competitor" on the world scene. Before Frau Fritz began her current wrecking operation in 2009, the EU was a candidate for such a status. So US policy since the Clinton Administration has favored a weaker EU without a common foreign policy, so that the US can when it wants play the various EU nations off against one another, as the Cheney-Bush Administration did over the Iraq War and "missile defense." For the EU to achieve its full potential as a global power player, it would need a common foreign policy. And that will not be possible with Britain included so long as the "special relationship" to the US holds.

But with the current Merkel-Brüning austerity policies dominant, all talk about any long future for the EU, much less the euro, seems more and more abstract and speculative. Here's the EU putting the squeeze on Spain and Slovenia for insufficient austerity, EU warns Spain, Slovenia over troubled economies EUXTV 04/11/2013:

And the squeeze on Cyprus. And Protugal. EU helps Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland over bailouts - economy Euronews 04/12/2013:

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