The European Union shows all the signs of worsening economic, social and political decline, with symptoms ranging from tepid economic growth and chronically high unemployment to social unrest and rising political extremism.
The idealistic roots and worthy intentions of early European integration in the wake of two world wars have long given way to a bureaucratic cadre steeped in etatist doctrines.
At its heart, the EU is an elite-driven project that rejects the primacy of market economics over social welfare models, compounded by a disdain for democracy.
Its relentless quest for top-down uniformity ignores what was once Europe’s guiding principle of governance, subsidiarity, which holds that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people and communities affected.
The original noble purpose of saving Europe from itself has now turned into a self-preservation exercise of saving the elites at the expense of the masses. Yet the EU’s answer to widespread loss of public faith in — if not opposition to — ‘ever closer union’ seems to be ‘even closer union’. The rationale for Europe today is thus arguably not peace but power.
Its policymakers flounder on crucial policy issues like energy, finance, and technology; preferring to stoke people’s fears by banning fracking and genetically modified food.
It has repeatedly ignored sensible growth strategies — even those it has commissioned — and refuses to acknowledge that the single currency experiment has been a catastrophic mistake while being of enormous economic advantage to Germany; the nation which needs it least.
Britain’s departure from the European Union was a potent reminder to the Continent’s complacent elites that the forces of local and nationalist sentiment could not indefinitely be suppressed. It was also a powerful vindication of de Gaulle’s prediction that the UK and the EU would never have been a good fit.
Post-Brexit performance has strongly favoured the newly independent nation. While the UK vaccine rollout produced double the number of vaccinations per day of any European country, and its economy is poised to rebound, the EU slipped back into a double-dip recession.
There is no post-Brexit euphoria in Europe — quite the opposite: a slowly dawning awareness that the Union is on the road to nowhere and “ever closer union” is simply an elitist fantasy.
As leading Australian columnist and polymath Henry Ergas has pointed out: “The epicentre of the crisis of democratic institutions is squarely in Europe.” The European project, so beloved of the elites, with its boundless arrogance and anti-democratic “ever closer union” aspiration, has required national governments to transfer crucial elements of sovereignty to European institutions, while still paying lip service to democracy.
There is a redolence of Friedrich Hayek’s exposure of the “fatal conceit” that an individual or group of people could shape the rest of the world.
Until Europe starts to acknowledge the increasing gulf between old and new Europe, and takes economic reform seriously, it will continue to experience tepid growth.
But while it may be only a matter of time before the system collapses, it will probably have to await a major ‘existential’ crisis or the arrival of a new generation of realists.
Richard Alston was a senior cabinet minister in the Howard government and Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK from 2005 to 2008. He is the author of the Centre for Independent Studies paper, Reflections on the EU Project and its Flaws: An unease about markets and the real world.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.