Sunday, October 14, 2012

Anglo-Franco-German ménage à trois: A Federal Europe or a confederation of Nation States?

The European Union
A struggle for the future of Europe is being waged right now by the politicians of the EU. 

Most of the fighting is being done by the leaders of France, Germany and Britain (the Big Three of Europe), with the other medium sized states putting the boot in every now and then but largely shouting encouragement from the sidelines.

The big battle that is shaping up is over the contours of the future Europe.

Germany: A tighter Union or Else:

And the issue has been framed as a choice between two stark contracts: a move towards a tighter federal Europe (ala the United States of America, but far more democratic), or a looser confederation of Nation States:

The Anglo-Franco-German ménage à trois is shifting into a tricky phase that will shape the Nobel peace laureate's future. The smart money has to be on a Berlin-Paris accommodation that allows Hollande to save face while advancing the German federalist agenda. It will take a while but the direction of travel is clear. But where will it leave Cameron and Britain?...
In this tussle, Britain, as has become the pattern, will stand on the sidelines, increasingly disengaged in the creation of a two-tier Europe – a federalised eurozone of 17 countries for now, plus the other 10.

It may be a maddeningly slow process. But it all adds up to a seismic shift in the politics of Europe, the way power is wielded and policy-making discharged. There are multiple factors and dynamics involved: east versus west, north versus south, big versus small, EU institutions versus national governments. But in the end, the latest European dispensation will probably be settled by the big three – which in essence may mean the Germans are up, the French are down, and the Brits are out…

The French are bristling at anything that smacks of surrendering parliamentary sovereignty, arguing that Berlin's grand plans can wait – the urgent issue is to fix Greece and Spain and restore confidence in the euro. "Harmonise yes, but preserving independent decision-taking," Ayrault said in an interview. "The logic is for a federation of nation states rather than for a federal Europe. The latter would mean that national parliaments would lose their budgetary sovereignty. The French parliament is very attached to that."

He dismissed German calls for a eurozone "political union" as the wrong idea at the wrong time. But France's clout at Europe's top table is not what it was. If the euro is to be saved, the likelihood is that it will be according to a script written largely, though not exclusively, in Berlin.

Cameron’s Red Meat for his Rightwingers:

In the process, David Cameron of Britain is being outmaneuvered. He is trying to keep Britain out of any closer links. In fact, he wants to renegotiate the treaties so that more power is removed from the EU and devolved on Britain. His right wing Conservative Party has a far right wing group that really, really does not want to continue being a member of the EU, and wants out.

To placate those flat earthers, Cameron has to throw them some red meat.

That red meat is the devolution of more power to Britain, so weakening the bonds of the EU.

To achieve this, Cameron needs leverage. He thought he had that when the idea was raised of amendments being made to the treaties that bind Britain. If this happens, Cameron has a veto over the changes and can demand his ransom – looser ties for Britain. He cares not if the others wish to ensnare themselves more tightly in a closer political union.

Unfortunately, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wishes to take the veto out of Cameron’s hands by trying to achieve a federal Europe for some without triggering a need to amend treaties:

The moves towards eurozone integration without a treaty revision put Cameron in a tight spot. His apparent scheme to negotiate a new minimalist British settlement within the EU and then put it to the vote either in a UK referendum or in a general election hinges on the Lisbon treaty being reopened.

Top people in Brussels are now saying that Cameron has a weak hand and may find himself spearheading the calls for treaty renegotiation himself when he had been hoping that the others would open the door for him.

The attitude towards the Conservative party's European policies is summed up in the observation, often heard among policy-makers, that EU capitals are not trying to push Britain out, but they are not going to try to keep it in either.

The struggle continues.

Like most things, it will most likely not be a linear progress towards a closer union, but a lurching, brawling, accelerating, slowing down muddling through.

Roughly the same way the EU has developed to date.


  1. BluegreenbloggerOctober 14, 2012 4:36 pm

    I don't think it is very useful to characerise the Eurosceptics in the UK as flat earthers. Flat earthers deny compelling evidence in order to hold to an outdated world view. You should perhaps ask, 'what is the purpose of European Union' and then evaluate how well progress to that objective is being served by the current treaty(s), and efforts to integrate further. I am not sure that the EU is serving everybodies interests equally, and the UK objectors may be correct in believing that the negatives seriously outweighthe positives. I guess it comes down to the question, is the goal an economic union, or a political union. If Economic, then the EU should be evaluated on the criteria of whether it is improving the lot of Europeans in aggregate. If Political it is harder to evaluate. I suppose the best criteria would be' Will this union make Europe a more peaceful place? It is hard to tell which objective is held by which State, and I think these muddled objectives have screwed up the whole process of closer integration since the late eighties..

  2. My main test for the utility of the EU is its ability to prevent further bloody wars inside Europe. On that score, for Britain to exit would be negative.


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