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Europe's inspiring project

by parisien Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 04:01:43 AM EST

What is the real spirit and purpose of the European project? Some think of Europe, with  enthusiasm or with distaste, as no more than a free-trade area. Yet from its beginnings the European dream has been far more than that. It was designed to bring stability and lasting peace to a war-ravaged continent. It offers a modern antidote to the ancient and continuing curse of international anarchy.

Historically, the only practical antidote was empire. One dominant nation ruled over many others and thus provided law and order, in place of anarchy, at international level. This is no longer feasible. The world has drunk deeply of the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, he who proposed in his Peace without Victory speech of 1917 "that no nation should seek to extend its polity over any other nation". Even if quarrelling tribes and nations were willing to accept imperial order, what state in the world today is able and willing to impose it?

Europe has another and better solution. The European Union is a "co-operative empire", a supranational authority in which every member state is subject to a common framework of laws, but also has a share in the making and administration of those laws. Here is a way to achieve international order without the dominance of one nation over others.

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[editor's note, by Migeru] Fold inserted here for the Front Page
"Be you never so high, the Law is above you" : that famous epigram comes from Thomas Fuller, a seventeenth-century English clergyman and historian who had a talent for pithy sayings. Others of his are "Let not your will roar, when your power can but whisper" and "Good clothes open all doors". Most of us readily accept Fuller's words of wisdom on the law, provided it means the rule of law within our own countries. We want none of the anarchy that erupts when individuals or groups within a country set  themselves above the law.

Yet we are loath to endorse the same principle at international level. Many find it hard to accept that the Law should be above Britain, or France, or Israel, or Argentina, or Nigeria; let alone that God's own Country, the United States of America, should bow to the dictates of international law. So Americans decline to recognise the International Criminal Court; the English jeer at the Eurocrats in Brussels and Strasbourg; in 2005, French and Dutch nationalists helped to derail the proposed new constitution for the European Union.

The basic purpose of supranational order is to prevent wars between nations. Disputing parties within England very rarely fight each other; if they cannot agree between themselves, the court exerts its authority and arbitrates. Between nations, the same rule should apply. International courts should have the power to impose arbitration where necessary. But that means that nations must not be totally sovereign; they must recognise a higher Law above themselves.

A second purpose is to prevent national governments from abusing their own citizens. Traditional sovereignty means that, within its own territory, a government can do as it pleases until its own citizens throw it out; but they may be unable, or unwilling, to do so. The principle of sovereignty implies that, had he refrained from invading other countries, Hitler (aged 56 in 1945) could have misruled Germany with impunity for decades.  

A third purpose is to uphold adequate standards. Any country that falls short of them should suffer restraints on its trade. For otherwise, bad environmental or employment practice drives out good. Industries in countries that tolerate uncontrolled pollution or sweated labour have low costs; in a world of freely competitive trade, they can destroy the industries of countries whose better standards entail higher costs. Some economists see nothing wrong with this; others display a little common sense.  

A fourth purpose is co-ordinate changes such as those that are urgently needed to curb pollution and waste of resources. Left to themselves, individual states find it hard to make such changes, which may well harm their competitiveness in international markets.

The eastern Europeans recently released from the Russian empire have followed a course quite different from that of the African states that quit the British empire half a century ago. The Africans, following the mood of the times, demanded total independence; and some of them have made a terrible mess of it. By contrast, east European countries have chosen to join the European Union, which makes stringent demands on standards of democratic practice and economic management, but which provides in return solidarity and practical help.

Here is the commonwealth of the future, a new kind of civilised international order, free from the old imperial dominance of nation over nation that hitherto was the only alternative to anarchic sovereignties. Never mind the naysayers! This new Europe, whatever its difficulties, represents a new and forward-looking  concept in international relations, an example to inspire the world.  

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I can tell you right now that...

Europe has another and better solution. The European Union is a "co-operative empire", a supranational authority in which every member state is subject to a common framework of laws, but also has a share in the making and administration of those laws.

stands against the nationalist sentiment of most British EU sceptics and British Europhobes.

These groups will fight tooth and nail not to make what you espouse as a solution happen.

In my own family and circle of relatives alone, there is a split over EU with one side believing that EU is the best way forward and the other being anti-EU.

by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 12:51:22 PM EST
Same goes here.

It's hard to think of anything more contentious in the UK. I find that few people in my circle talk about it much, but when they do there happens to be some very strong opinions. Sometimes I feel that many of the opinions are second hand, and that they have not taken the time to consider things for themselves. Other times, I agree that they point out some very real flaws which are hard to apologise for.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:15:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course the EU has all sorts of flaws. Not as many as most national set-ups do. (Single MP constituencies? Massive majorities with less than 50% of the vote? What sort of "democracy" would allow that???)

The difference is that the media - and thus the debate - concentrate on the problems, not the positives.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:17:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, that's too right. But people don't demand explanations for ancient flaws, as 'that's the way it's always been', but pick the most stupid faults with new things. Like the head of the reigning monarch appearing on banknotes, which would have to end were we to join the euro. Completely in ignorance of the fact that her face doesn't appear on all sterling notes, and used to appear on none.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.
by Ephemera on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:38:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
once and for all and just leave.

They're not European, they never were and each passing treaty they prove it yet again.

Then we should fast track Scotland and Wales if they're interested in membership.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:18:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Might be difficult as there are confirmed Europhobes and Eurosceptics in Scotland and Wales too.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:45:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are in France too. Marginal, very marginal, but they do exist.

Not sure ghow marginal they are in Wales and Scotland. Any thoughts? Anyhow, the Scots with all that oil and gas may also have Norwegian reasons to not want to join.

Basic point is that I wouldn't want to tar Scotland and Wales with the same brush that the English so roundly deserve to be tarred with. Even the putatively "Europhile" English (see Tony Blair) aren't pro-European in any real sense. De Gaulle was is and always will have been right to not want them in.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 02:16:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hold it -- how can you see Tony Blair as English when let's face it, the man is a Jock!

And as in anything, there's always exception -- you will be doing great disservice to the English who are supportive of the EU, eg, half of my family. So, let's cool it, shal we?

by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 02:39:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well yes, but if I understand correctly, you've upgraded your surroundings and are now actually living in Europe.

I'll be joining you shortly...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:07:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Expat in Brussels to be exact but not for long. And understand that I'm speaking of the English Europhiles who are living in England -- not good to alienate them by casting aspersion on their being English.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:26:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing wrong with being English in and of itself!

Just note that there seems to be more than a bit of a problem with most English and their feeling of belonging to Europe. And, I'm sure, many of those English who now reside in France could always ask for an EU passport if ever their home country were to leave it. As long as they cheer for the right 6 nations team.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:31:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's fair to assume that this is not completely an English problem -- Euroscepticsm and Europhobia are a British wide problem and exist in Scotland, Wales as well as in Northern Ireland.

Note that the current UK Labour Government is run by a lot of Scots led no less by a Scot.

by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:39:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe the Scots should give England back to the English and then we'll see what happens.

Somehow I'm not sanguine about how pro-European they will be left ot their own devices...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:00:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, judging from what Blair and Brown have done or have not done, I don't see how you can be sanguine about how the Jocks can be pro-European either.

Scotman Blair had 10 years to his own devices and see where that got Britain on Europe.

by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 05:18:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget it was an Englishman who took Britain into the EU.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 05:23:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And an Englishwoman who reminded us all what a big mistake it was to accept the application.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 10:23:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At least Brown talks the part though I suppose Blair remotely resembles in speech his heritage - though his accent is firmly British, he talks like he has a thistle up his arse.

If Blair is a Jock he's been throughly detribalised, though it's likely true he's unpopular enough to qualify for one of these passports Salmond will be issuing before long.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 10:23:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as they cheer for the right 6 nations team

Ireland? Wales?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:39:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wales is ok by me it's their national sport and this demands respect in my book.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:58:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
redstar:
As long as they cheer for the right 6 nations team.

Well that's me stuffed then. being born English. What happens if the more sever Welsh Nats take over decide to expell all English born people back to england and it's already left the EU?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:40:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh. I dunno, the Baltic nations let all the Russians stay, right?

That'd be up to the Welsh. Maybe require 'em to learn the language?

Plus, cheer for the right 6 nations team.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:59:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You should really stop confusing the majority of the English populace with the British political and media elite. We showed you enough evidence in Eurobarometer polls and so on.

There are strong sovereignist Eurosceptics on the continent, too - from Austria to Flemish Belgium. And then there is the separate breed of Nordic Euroscepticism.

If you practice No True Scotsman-ism, you'll end up with 'Europe' as no more than the original EU-6. Or even less: in France, Le Pen is not so marginal, and you can add former Chevènement members and regrettably not a few hard-leftists to that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 06:40:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you'll end up with 'Europe' as no more than the original EU-6.

I dunno, I think we could properly add Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Austria, maybe Denmark, probably Greece and even most of the "New European" (tm) nations for sure (some notable exceptions) and we'd end up with a proper Europe.

But the EU-6 would have been much easier to make a properly social Europe than the one which was expanded to include the Brits. That goes without saying.

And make it a properly social Europe and you won't find any lefties opposed to it anymore.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 10:18:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course there are many Eurosceptics in France (not only among the extreme right-wingers but also even among the French left), in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and everywhere else. Bound to happen.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 03:30:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the idea of a co-operative empire is very good. However, despite being a strong europhile I think it has some way to go to demonstrate its committment to these goals.

Organisationally it is secretive and obviously careless with the cash. It is far too easily bent to the will of large corporate interests and strong national vetoes.

Each of these things may seem mild or even innocuous taken separately, but together you really shouldn't be surprised if it seems democratically unaccountable and distant, which only breeds  suspicion and, ultimately, resistance.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:08:09 PM EST
It what way is the EU secretive? Or careless with the cash for that matter?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:10:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Council with its closed meetings is certainly secretive. Though the common meme in British tabloids refers to the Commission and its supporting bureaucracy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 06:32:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Spot on, Helen!
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:13:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What you say is precisely what many of the Brits I know who are Europhiles say too. And these are that must be properly addressed to convince Eurosceptics to look at Europe in a different light.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:15:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe you can explain what she means. The EU - except at the council level, which consists of the national leaders - is, as I understand it, more transparent than almost all national governments.

Most of the problems with EU budgets are in the disbursement of funds by those national governments. Like the one responsible to a certain "Her Majesty".

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:19:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman, I agree with you that there is a certain amount of transparency at that level but this is not how Euro sceptics see it and since I'm not armed with documents containing financial data and what have you when visiting my British friends and relatives, it's very difficult to convince those that are already confirmed EU sceptics that transparency does exist in the EU. The thing is the issues that Eurosceptics and Europhobes raised must be addressed properly, publicly and as you know there is a huge tendency for British media to exacerbate this problem rather than clarify it.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:30:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But then the problem isn't fundamentally in the EU. It's in the dishonesty of the debate in the UK.

It does not matter one whit what the EU does or how it reforms or improves if the debate in the UK is going to be based on lies, exaggerations and gross and wilful ignorance.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:44:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I say, gross and wifull ignorance tops the list followed by deliberate ommission of facts.
by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:51:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
good points helen...

i think england's trauma from nearly losing WW2 prevents many english from trusting 'the continent' for anything but summer hideaways and a change of cuisine.

as time goes by, the old ones with the memories die off, but at this rate it'll take another couple of generations, especially with active sabotage from over the atlantic and murdoch moulding public opinion.

if america goes down, england may re-evaluate its loyalties... i can't see anything less shifting the incredible animosity some have there for europe, whipped up for decades by the yellow press.

as long as there are the likes of mandelson representing england, maybe many of the feelings are mutual.

what pisses most people off that i talk to about it is that england has a superiority complex and wants to have it both ways, in when convenient, and out when not. unsustainable, no matter how clever-clever brit pols play it...

whole hearted IN, or go play poodle, till the people see through the media looking glass and would show up for a yes-vote in referendum.

till then... what they offer seems mostly interference and subversion, fickle albion!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 04:07:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
as long as there are the likes of mandelson representing england(????), maybe many of the feelings are mutual.

representing england(????)

Hang on Melo, surely you are referring to Britain and not just England.

Good God! Tony Blair the poodle is not even English!

by The3rdColumn on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 08:27:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
oops, i get so kornfused sometimes...

fractal identity syndrome!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 10:44:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's that big old word again: sovereignty. It seems to be a vexed question everywhere, not just in the EU, though it takes on a particular form here.

Is the EU a sovereign entity? or simply the outcome of treaties concluded between sovereign entities?

I don't know the answer, properly, and nor do I think many people even care to make the distinction. Those who call for more direct democratic input the formation and governance of the EU have to face up to the fact that by doing so, they will be embodying the EU with some kind of sovereign right. The only defensible position for a Eurosceptic is to fight against referenda and plebiscites, holding that any treaties signed by the government of a state are done so in full power of being able to sign such a treaty.

For these people, the only way out of any treaty is to claim that the excutive cannot possibly sign to recognise 'a power higher than itself'. I have a book called 'Treason at Maastricht', where some British eurosceptics attempt to do just that.

Personally, I don't know where I stand on this. For me, the EU is a positive thing, and needs to continue on, with Britain being a full member. I used to think that the 'superstate' idea was the ideal goal for this, but not long ago I was reading something by Habermas and various other writers, and now I'm not too sure.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Wed Mar 5th, 2008 at 01:32:31 PM EST
Personally, I don't know where I stand on this. For me, the EU is a positive thing, and needs to continue on, with Britain being a full member. I used to think that the 'superstate' idea was the ideal goal for this, but not long ago I was reading something by Habermas and various other writers, and now I'm not too sure.

Once again, I will not claim that anything is perfect, but I really am inspired by the concern for social issues, the welfare of ordinary Europeans on the part of Europe's elites. The value of human rights and human dignity as European value are something that is inspiring. The idea of the European project has taken is to create a Europe for most of its citizens.

Contrast that with the American society and culture, where society is created to benefit the upper income. America has a mean and punitive culture. There is no concern about welfare of ordinary Americans, if they have jobs or homes, but only the ability of the rich to make more money. American culture is dirty, mean, and nasty - and American government is attempting to export this, especially in the form of criminal justice practices, to the rest of the world.

My feeling is that there is an attempt to import American-style "conservatism" into especially Europe in the form of phony "Christian Democrats" like Angela Merkel and child-like dupes like Nicolas Sarkozy. There are other "American" European leaders that seem to think that America is some kind of "outstanding rich nation" that should be mimicked. So, it is good governance of a "rich nation" to have some of your people sleeping in the streets and not give an damn?!

There is NO real opposition to the import of "American ideals" to Europe other than screaming lunatic leftists and throw back communists, who no one listens to...

The liberal democrats appear to be the only sane and rational opposition to American "activism" in Europe.

What Europe should do is join the global competition of ideas in the international community after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. This means crafting association agreements with other nations and regions that include human rights, social market economy, social cohesion, and universal health care. Responsible governance for a government means the ability to take responsibility (to the best of your nation's ability) and DO something about joblessness, homelessness and poverty in you own country. Africa and Latin American and the rest of of the world can benefit if Europe can export these ideas to the rest of the world and we can create a more just order for everyone..!

Rather than being the "second pillar of the Atlantic Alliance" - Europe should be totally independent and through a vigorous foreign policy and international action without American interference.

But - hold up - there are "American" European leaders that would hinder a vigorous and strong European foreign policy if it started to compete with success against the United States, just as they are now screaming about the value of the euro over the dollar...

by euamerican on Fri Mar 7th, 2008 at 10:15:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of our ideas we got from the continent at some point, I'm not really sure that its really all that accurate to call them "American Ideals", you have plenty of people just salivating to slip you social protections.  I also disagree that our culture and society were created to benefit the upper crust-they've figured out how to get the reins, but I seem to have read about them getting the reins in Europe a time or two also, so I think maybe a little more precision might be in order.

The fundamental problem is the struggle to contain power, and to diffuse it safely into broader contexts, right now we are at a very bad place and our old-style of Federal system is difficult to move, especially when the corpocracy has gained such control, but thats a problem that crosses boundaries.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 05:40:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My job is to protect EuroTrib from America-bashing, not England-bashing, but it sure looks to me like there's a lot of pot-calling-kettle-black in here.

From this side of the pond, Europe looks like a bunch of smallish nation-states that are peckishly fighting about stuff on the fringes rather than confronting the central issues. I don't see a huge difference between EU-phobia or EU-philia in France and England, or Poland, or Italy, for example. You've got a bunch of politicians who are trying to protect their own mayoral-scale empires instead of thinking about the overall European situation.

Seriously, the argument in Belgium, for example, is like the argument between Western Rhode Islanders and Narragansett Bay Rhode Islanders about the highway through Providence. So local as to be painful.

by asdf on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 08:18:51 AM EST
I keep thinking of the old Dylan song when I think about my country these days:

"Once upon a time ya dressed so fine
threw the bums a dime in your prime
People call, say, "beware doll"
you thought they were all, kidding you..."

I suspect a lot of changes are close at hand in this country, more out of necessity than choice.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 05:18:10 PM EST


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