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The EU “Must Become a State”

The European Union is a curious organization. It has its own Parliament, high court, and executive branches, but no military or common foreign policy. It does not conform at all to the 17th century ideal of a single sovereign authority. Instead, it is an additional authority, sitting astride nominally sovereign governments that have ceded some of their authority to it. I have previously written that the EU is not like the Holy Roman Empire, but it is similar in one respect: it is undefinable in traditional political terms. Samuel Pufendorf said that the Holy Roman Empire was “like a monster,” i.e. it was an agglomeration of different pieces that didn’t fit together into a whole. Compare that to this diagram of the various components of European integration: the EU, the Eurozone, the Schengen Area (common travel), the customs union, the Council of Europe, and others. It is difficult to look at this diagram and not think of the overlapping jurisdictions that defined the feudal period in European history.

Of course, the EU did not start out like this. Originally it was just a customs union; then it added a Parliament, then a common travel zone, and then a common currency. What will happen in the future? A former president of the European Commission compared the organization to riding a bicycle: if you stop pedaling, the bike will fall over. I would question the value of an organization that is so unstable that it has to be continually advancing in order to avoid falling apart, but many people seem to have accepted the principle. Indeed, the founding treaty of the EU, the 1957 Treaty of Rome, called for an “ever-closer union” among members. Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Bank, has declared that the EU must become a state. And, indeed, the latest German government has declared its intention to push for a European federation, instead of the existing confederation of sovereign states. Chancellor Olaf Schultz declared prior to his inauguration that “A sovereign Europe is the key for our foreign policy.” “As an economically strong and the most populous country in the heart of Europe,” he continued, “it is our mission to enable, foster and advance a sovereign Europe.”

Given that Germany is the most powerful member of the EU, it is no wonder that other countries are sceptical of this mission. Poland, which has a lot of history behind being sceptical of Germany, has said that its neighbour wants to turn the EU in a “Fourth Reich.” But other European countries with longer involvement with the EU have been pulling back as well: in Italy, with the election of Georgia Meloni, and now in the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders’s party won a stunning victory at the elections last month. In France, current president Emmanuel Macron is deeply unpopular, and it appears that Euro sceptic Marine Le Pen may the favourite to become the next president. Talks of “Swexit” (Swedish exit from the EU) and “Nexit” (Dutch exit) have been mooted, and many other countries have declared their unwillingness to be brought into a “closer union” that will challenge their national sovereignty.

The EU has already undermined national sovereignty on a number of points. People who support the EU may argue that this is a good thing, but there is no question that having a European Court that can and does overrule national laws is contrary to national sovereignty. The fact that money is managed at a supra-national level is also a limit on national sovereignty.

These are “soft” limit for now, however. Any nation could vote to leave to and the EU would be powerless to stop them. For that matter, a nation could ignore the European Court of Justice and the worst it would face is potential expulsion from the union. This would not be the case if the EU becomes a state with its own military and police force, however. No matter how much lip service the founding documents of such a state might pay to national independence, there is no doubt in my mind that it would become a coercive union that would insist on keeping its members in place for their own good, in much the same way that Spain refuses to allow Catalonia independence, or the U.S. refused to allow the Confederate states to secede. To save democracy, of course.

I generally support the devolution of power to the lowest level possible. I believe in voluntary co-operation, and I think the free trade zone and free movement area are beneficial for the most part. But governments, by which I mean politicians and bureaucrats, never stand still. They won’t fall over if they stop peddling, but they never stop seeking for more things to regulate and administer. Turning the EU into a state would be a disaster for human freedom, in my opinion. It doesn’t look likely at this point, but I will be anxious about it.

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