“I appreciate that it is not easy to explain to people back home why we need to cooperate more closely at European level in such a sensitive field as defence and security policy. Protecting its citizens has traditionally been a key task of the nation State and therefore also one of the foundations of its legitimacy. But we cannot close our eyes to reality: the world has changed and we are existentially connected to that world. Nowadays we can only defend our citizens jointly” – Martin Schulz, 2013
Here’s a good rule of thumb: the more powerful and undemocratic the institution, the better it becomes at using weaponised public relations tools in order to present a softer, friendlier, less threatening – and entirely false – picture of themselves.
Thus the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, spent Monday morning hosting a laid back online live-chat on Facebook, in which he fielded carefully-screened softball questions from members of the public. And sneaking back onto the radar during that live-chat today was the prospect of a common European foreign policy, and a European army to enforce it.
From the EU’s own press release today:
To questions concerning the recent proposal on a common European army, Schulz replied “we need a common foreign and security policy”, explaining that combined military capacities would be a way of reducing military spending in a time when “money is certainly needed elsewhere”.
Meanwhile, others in the European Parliament are making rumblings about moving toward “permanent structural co-operation” – meaning there will be no way back once the EU starts taking major steps as an independent actor on the world stage:
“The EU is faced with a radically changed security environment. Russia has broken international law with its actions in Ukraine and undermined the European framework for peace. The recent terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen demonstrate that conflicts in our southern neighbourhood affect our own security. The EU must counter these developments and improve its internal procedures and structures. This is the only way for us to uphold our democratic values and make a vital contribution to strengthening the international order,” said the EP rapporteur and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok (EPP, DE).
“I welcome the proposal for a European army but demand that we now make use of the possibilities enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, such as permanent structural cooperation, procurement and research, and pooling and sharing,” he added.
Protecting European values and interests and enforcing the political and legal order in Europe must be the EU’s top foreign policy goals, says Parliament in the resolution, which was passed by 436 votes to 145, with 64 abstentions.
A common EU foreign policy and standing army is the bad idea of bad ideas, but one that just won’t die. Ask a Eurocrat and they can never explain why all of the other countries in the world are able to handle their national defence on a sovereign basis, but the countries of Europe are mysteriously unable to do so. What uniquely European weakness lies at our core, one wonders, meaning that we can only safeguard our vital national interests by pooling together, while the countries of Asia and South America get by just fine on their own?
Besides which, the twenty-eight countries of the European Union, from the Scandinavian north through the Franco-German central powerhouse to the Mediterranean south, have wildly different cultural and economic ties to different parts of the world, ties which would instantly prove incompatible with a common foreign policy.
To ask EU citizens to accept the kind of sacrifices that a common foreign policy would inevitably entail would require a European government with absolute primacy over national legislatures. Just as the United States of America could never have faced down the Soviet Union in the Cold War if the federal government was a mere bolt-on to state legislatures and governors mansions, so the European Union would never be able to project a robust foreign policy so long as the pesky national governments in London, Berlin, Paris, Rome and Madrid held sway over decision-making. This will only ever change when, on balance, the citizens of the EU feel their European identity more strongly than their national identity – which is to say, never.
Even if it were possible, and a common European foreign policy were not doomed to stalemate and inaction on the world stage, Schulz’s words hardly give confidence that the shared foreign and defence policy would be an improvement on the patchwork of twenty-eight separate national policies we have at the moment. Schultz makes it clear that for him, the primary benefit is the saving of money, funds which would be released from being spent on overlapping national defence capabilities only to disappear down the black hole of EU waste and unreformed welfare state programmes.
Does anyone seriously think that a common European army would ever be able to project real force, or put a single division in the field, in the way that the United States or (just about) the United Kingdom can? Of course not. With national accountability for home defence gone, each national government would pare its defence spending back to the bare minimum, enjoying the political fruits of reallocating the money to vote-winning gimmicks while blaming Brussels for any defensive gaps or failings.
But Martin Schulz was right about one thing: indeed it is not easy to “explain to people back home” why a common foreign policy and European army are needed. It is not easy to explain why we need to dissolve our national identities and dilute our sovereignty, vesting our individual liberties and the security of our country. But the more worrying part of Schulz’s quote from 2013 is the fact that the President of the European Parliament sees it as the job of European bureaucrats and politicos to make big decisions in the first place, only going to the people to explain what has been done on their behalf, and to gain their retroactive approval.
Completely missing from any of Schulz’s public pronouncements is a sense that government should be of the people, by the people and for the people – that the EU’s institutions should set their direction according to the will of the people, rather than the other way around.
It is general election season in Britain, and our minds are naturally distracted by issues of domestic policy, and the petty personal sparring between the main party leaders. But Europe will not politely stop and wait while Britain navelgazes and picks its next government. The cogs of the European Union keep turning, and the handle is being cranked by unabashed and unrepentant federalists who are determined to bring about a United States of Europe, be it via democratic means or, far more probably, through the back door.
If, as a nation, we could stop obsessing about the bedroom tax, high speed rail, bankers bonuses and fox hunting for a moment and look at the bigger picture, it might be worth pondering how much further we want to travel down the road to a federal Europe while we still have the option of changing course.