Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

EU reform: Impossible, a superstate, or multi-tier?

Richard North at eurosceptic blog par excellence EU Referendum draws my attention to this piece in the Times by William Rees-Mogg, which contains the line:

Most Eurosceptics want Europe to be reformed, not destroyed

This is something of which I remain firmly convinced – but not our man North:

Oh dear! After all these years, and all the failed attempts at seeking “reform”, has it not yet dawned on the man that the EU is incapable of reform[?]

Ignoring the fact that this ignores Rees-Mogg’s actual contention (he doesn’t profess to be in favour of reform himself, merely that a majority favour reform over withdrawal – an unfortunate reality for the withdrawalists of EU Referendum), a question:

How can hardcore anti-EU types maintain that reform is impossible yet simultaneously believe that the EU is heading towards a superstate – which would, in itself, be an immense reform?

North points to an old article in which he explains his logic for rejecting the possibility of EU reform. Yet his “proof” is to refer to an old Milton Friedman article looking at the United States’ Food and Drug Administration, in which Friedman claimed the institution’s very set-up prevented change. Even were this not itself a somewhat dubious contention, backed up more by assertion than by evidence, a monolithic US government agency being compared to a multi-part, multi-country international organisation hardly strikes me as overly fair.

You see the way I reckon it, yes, with current attitudes from the various member states, radical reform is unlikely – just have a gander at the failed compromises that are the Treaty of Nice and Lisbon Treaty, both unsatisfactory to all parties but the best they could manage.

There are several different trains of thought among EU member states as to what the EU should actually be – and whenever efforts to reform come up, as they do on average once a decade, reconciling all these different desires has indeed proved impossible.

But as all major reforms – even after the expansion of qualified majority voting that the Lisbon Treaty brings – still require unanimity, this makes the appearance of an EU superstate all but impossible as long as less integrationist countries remain members (and it’s not just Britain that isn’t keen on ever-closer union).

“OK”, you might think. “So you admit EU reform’s impossible?”

No. Because I reckon the current situation is going to change. How much longer are the likes of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – the core of the original EEC, and still more or less the most enthusiastic member states – going to put up with the frustration of their plans being thwarted? How much longer are those countries who aren’t keen on merging their economies much further going to put up with the perennial drives for greater integration from euroenthusiasts?

We’ve already had countless rhetoric-heavy spats over various aspects of EU reform – not just between Britain and Brussels (as with Thatcher’s battle for the rebate), but between numerous other less fervently federalist member states and the expansionists.

Sooner or later, these clashes are bound to result in an official suggestion of a two-speed or multi-speed Europe – maintaining the union while allowing everyone more or less to go their separate ways.

The idea of a multi-speed Europe is not a new one, and is increasingly gaining ground. Over the last few years, it is a concept that I’ve seen crop up time and again, from House of Lords debates to The Economist, former French president Jaques Chirac to former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Commission president Romano Prodi to the EU’s own website.

As Prodi said in an interview last year:

it is good if you can go forward together, but you cannot go at the speed of the last wagon.

We already have a two-speed Europe. Euro and Schengen are examples of this and they are very important projects. Moreover, a two-speed Europe does not mean that countries that are in the second group cannot move to the first. Two-speed Europe sometimes means more choices.

So, while anti-EU claims that the EU is heading towards a superstate seem to be backed up purely by decades-old (mis)quotes from the likes of Jean Monet (and the occasional modern superstatist aberration like Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker), my hopes that genuine EU reform may be on the cards seem to have rather more to support them.

So then, how can this whole “the EU can’t be reformed” thing – the mantra of all withdrawalists – be justified? The Lisbon Treaty itself is an acknowledgement that the current system is not up to scratch – and an acknowledgement that getting a satisfactory compromise is increasingly difficult (being as it is an unsatisfactory attempt to rectify the previous unsatisfactory compromise that was the Treaty of Nice).

Especially since the failure of the constitution there is an increasing consensus throughout the EU – both among the populations of the member states and increasingly among the EU machine itself – that some serious, radical changes are needed, beyond the mere stop-gap measures that the constitution (and Lisbon Treaty) aimed for.

Introducing a new, multi-tier, multi-speed system (on top of the existing two-tier Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries) is the most obvious – and, most importantly, easiest – way to give everyone what they want. I see no reason why it won’t eventually happen – the only question is how long is it going to take?