Impressions from Across the Pond, Part 2

 

While we focused entirely on Germany in our last article, we will enlarge our view to Europe as it looks today from a political point of view. Dreams and plans for a united Europe have existed ever since World War I, nearly one hundred years. Some were borne out of the United Sates of America model as history tells us, these dreams remained just that…dreams! Not until about six to ten years after the Second World War did some countries in central Europe take action. By signing the treaty of Rome in 1957, the six nations of Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Luxembourg formed a European Union in 1957. Without going into details what this entailed, these six countries were geographically situated next to each other and formed a strong economic block, while maintaining their own currencies.

In 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the Union and Greece was allowed to join in 1981. The Union enlarged by another two countries in 1986, namely Portugal and Spain. In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the Union. This now brought the membership to 15 countries. The year 2004 saw the biggest enlargement of the EU when ten more countries were allowed to become members, namely; Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This year’s addition of Bulgaria and Romania brings the total number of member states to 27. They represent together a population of just under 500 million people and their combined GDP is estimated to be almost 15 trillion dollars. This makes the EU the largest trading block in the world with the Euro the new currency in almost all of these countries (for example, the United Kingdom has not given up on its Pound Sterling).

But so much for the statistics in this article: While all this on the surface sounds just wonderful in that it is unimaginable that a major war would ever break out again between any of these European countries since they are all members of the same club, the Union is yet struggling with some fundamentals. When the Union was founded, all six member states had a veto on all agreements and treaties. This was only fair since the three countries of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg represented a much smaller share in population compared to France, Germany and Italy. Even the early membership growth did not constitute a problem but when the numbers grew to over twenty countries (2004), it became a problem in that one could not easily maintain this veto right and efforts were started to change the constitution of the European Union. The newly drafted constitution had to be ratified by the voters of each member state. With the exception of France and the Netherlands, the voters in all other countries ratified the new constitution. But since unanimity was required under the old system, the treaty was considered rejected!

So, they tried again and made changes in another draft for ratification that included among other things the removal of the veto power by each member and also the rotating presidency of the European Union. Believe it or not, it changes every six months! There were, of course, immediate objections by member countries Poland and the Czech Republic. They objected to certain provisions in the new constitution, among them the representation of delegates by each country based on population. The Polish President and the Prime Minister, two brothers called Kaczynski played hardball with the rest of the EU members in that they at one time even argued that Poland should be treated as a bigger country, “because so many Poles died during the second world war” (a war that ended over sixty years ago). A summit was planned to deal with the European Union treaty in Brussels at the time of our visit in Europe. The hype before the meeting was incredible, what would the outcome be? Would the current EU President, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, be able to unite the membership? Would they ratify a new constitution? The media (both print and television) acted for well over a week as if nothing else was happening in the world but the summit in Brussels in June.

Well, the summit came and went. The result was that nobody was really happy. Everybody had hoped for a different outcome but in the end, they all walked away being somewhat content with the outcome. You may wonder, what did they do? The answer is: They put it off into the calendar by almost ten years! Yes, it was agreed to study the matter some more and leave the current constitution in place for another decade. The Germans as host of this summit agreed to leave the current voting rules in play until 2017. It is being reported that this secured the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the successful outcome that she wanted. It was said afterwards that Poland will pay a price for its behaviour, after all, it has received billions and billions of Euros from the other members for bringing its infrastructure up to date among other things. But again, it cannot be implemented since the EU is incapable of being vengeful against any specific member.

Call it what you want, for us here at ‘Back to Common Sense’, it looks like a classic case of democratic gridlock where nothing can change because everybody has to agree! By putting off a decision of consequence for the EU, it was simply pushed for ten years into the future, this is great in that the status quo is being maintained. Everybody will not like it, in fact, almost everybody will hate it, but so what. Democracy is still the best form of governance, no matter how hard it is. By putting off what was supposed to be settled, the country’s leaders with few exceptions washed their hands of any responsibility in that they will most likely no longer be in charge and do not have to vote on anything like this ever again.

Democracy by gridlock has, however, one major benefit. The European Union will not be able to ever act expeditiously when times of trouble arrive. If it keeps Europe as a whole out of future wars, then something very beneficial has happened. On the other hand, we here in the United States, have to be realistic to ever count on the European Union members as allies in future events, be they economic or otherwise.

 This article and others on Back to Common Sense are designed to provoke further thought and investigation.   It is not the intent for the articles to be politically biased. Sources are referenced in each article to encourage readers to delve into the supporting material.  We welcome all readers to participate with their point of view either in support or contrary with additional information sources.

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