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Why I’m missing the EEC

While he appreciates Europe and its diversity, Dutch writer Leon de Winter doesn’t believe there’s enough cultural common ground to justify the EU construct. Ambitious politicians and power-hungry technocrats are exacting a grass-roots solidarity that simply doesn’t exist. De Winter makes the case for a return to the EEC.

Published on 25 May 2010 at 11:17
Heading for a revival? From left to right: Felipe González, Helmut Kohl, Jacques Delors, François Mitterrand, Margaret Thatcher

It’s not clear to me what people mean when they call themselves Europeans. To me, Europe remains a geographical term for a messy bunch of land masses extending to the west of Asia. But unlike Asians, who’d never seriously contemplate forming an Asian Union, some Europeans believe in the existence of something along the lines of a European culture, which will only achieve full flower when all borders are abolished. And one day a bunch of suchlike Europeans set out to form the European Union. What ensued was precisely what people like me had foretold: that the Union couldn’t last because, apart from Europe’s political elite, nobody wants such a union, because Europe is a geographic, not a cultural term.

In northern Europe, fir trees grow and life is duller, people work harder, save more money and are generally pretty responsible in their dealings with the state. In the South, in contrast, people take a siesta and don’t sit down to supper till 10 o’clock at night, they run bulls through the streets, and cheating the authorities is a national sport. Thanks to the rules the establishment has laid down, we northerners are now being saddled with the southerners’ debts. The problem is I don’t feel any solidarity with the Greeks or Spanish. I like the Greeks and Spaniards I know a lot. But I don’t feel duty-bound to burden myself with their financial troubles.

Greece can go bust

Our supranational political elites think differently. Their whole credibility is bound up with the European Project, which is why they claim we’ve got to save the Greeks or we’ll be irretrievably lost. But that’s not true. As far as I’m concerned, the Greeks can go right ahead and go bust. Then we’ll have to save our banks, which recklessly lent billions to the Greeks, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the burdens our EU will be foisting on us over the next few years.

Southern debt has assumed gargantuan proportions – the EU made that possible –, and the Greeks and Spanish, who didn’t shrink from digging into the EU coffers and carting whole armfuls away, have done nothing but make the most of those opportunities. Without the EU, which makes it possible for banks to transfer billions (by the way, the top flights at banks and the tops of the political pyramids form a separate supranational cosmos), these countries would never have succeeded in going so deep into debt.

EEC was the ideal model for Europe

When I was a young man hitchhiking across Europe, later in an old Citroën 2CV, we had the European Economic Community. That was a viable model. We had to work together and do our best to remove economic barriers. We remained who we were. The Germans had their solid Deutschmark, as dependable as a Mercedes Benz. I had the guilder, as serviceable as a 17th-century Dutch merchant. The French had their elegant franc with the flair of an overcrowded Parisian brasserie, and the Italians had their lira, as titillating and seductive as Mastroianni and Ekberg in Fellini’s "La Dolce Vita". The EEC was about unity and diversity. In the EEC, politicians and officials wanted to enable companies and individuals to do business and otherwise enjoy a laid-back coexistence. But the EEC was not enough. There had to be a concentration of power. The idea of a European president cropped up, someone who could talk to the US and Russian presidents as equals. The upshot of such illusions is the hodgepodge now known as the EU.

Europe is in every respect much too much of a mixed bag for a union in which the Greeks have a semi-anarchistic take on the state while the Danes regard the state as a matter-of-course regulatory apparatus. Despite the EU straitjacket of economic and financial regulations, the nations of Europe still act like autonomous cultures. The EU did not help the southern countries, but, as we now know, brought out the worst in them: greed, irresponsibility, selfishness, fraud and white elephants. The EEC was the ideal model for Europe. But our ambitious statesmen set their hearts on a project of historic proportions: to peacefully unify Europe by letting a new European bureaucracy stealthily conquer the continent. The Greek crisis now goes to show that Europe doesn’t exist. Europe is an idée fixe of Brussels bureaucrats.

Brussels technocrats waiting tables in Greece

When the European constitution was being thrashed out in Brussels, I couldn’t help wondering why the architects of this edifice were not on TV all over the continent. Where were their rousing speeches? Where were their expositions of the European soul and Europe’s mission in the world? The European constitution is not the brainchild of prophetic founding fathers, but the product of technocrats, who see their big chance now that hundreds of billions in rescue packages are needed to bail out the Mediterranean countries. Brussels is going to regulate all that very nicely and lay harsh terms on the countries it is saving from bankruptcy. The first country to transfer a sizeable chunk of its autonomy to Brussels is Greece. Greece is to become the first bona fide Brussels protectorate: an old, civilised nation with its own traditions and ways of life is to be administered by supranational technocrats. I wonder how long that will work out.

It would be nice if a referendum were to be held now in the European member states that have to foot the bill. On the question whether the EEC without the euro wouldn’t be a far better alternative for peace and prosperity in Europe than an EU groaning under the yoke of the euro. The Brussels technocrats who’d then be out of a job would surely find work waiting tables at Greek restaurants. Occasionally I happen upon a guilder lying deep down in one of my desk drawers. Recently I even found a hundred-guilder note. No, I’m not going to change it into euros. I’m going to keep it for the return of the guilder – and the Deutschmark, the lira, the drachma, and the EEC.

Analysis

A stateless currency

What we’ve got is “the euro without Europe”, banners Limes on the cover of an issue devoted to the events that have put the EU on the spot these past few months: the Greek crisis, Germany’s qualms, the dampers on integration and eastward enlargement. But one issue has upstaged the others: the eurozone. What only a few months ago still seemed Europe’s signal exploit has proved a “stateless currency”, born of a brittle compromise between two diametrically opposed visions, regrets the Italian geopolitical journal. On the one hand there is indeed the ideal of a strong, stable currency, in the name of which Germany agreed to sacrifice its beloved Deutschmark in exchange for the green light to reunify the country in 1990. On the other, the geostrategic need to enlarge, to draw first the Mediterranean countries, then the ex-Soviet bloc, into the European sphere of influence and stabilisation. So the financial crisis has thrown this contradiction into stark relief and made the “unthinkable” probable: that Berlin will decide “the experiment is over” and quit the euro to regain its former zone of monetary influence.

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