Enthusiastic supporters of the European Union (EU) are crying in their beers this week after faring poorly in the European Parliament elections this Sunday. Those who dream of a new, post-nationalist Europe will have to make room for contrarians of both the Left and Right who are decidedly cooler to the great experiment known as the European Union.
In Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) swayed 29% of voters with its decidedly anti-EU platform, finishing better than the Labor and Tory parties. Those limeys, they just have to be different; and thank goodness for it or else they might have adopted the Euro like a lot of other foolish countries, thus handcuffing themselves to the moribund economy of Greece and other ailing European economies not far behind.
The French came out in force for National Front which won 25% of the vote, more than any other party. An anti-EU party in Germany, a nation where pro-EU sentiments are still the default position, managed to win 7% of the vote and elect a few members to the Strasbourg assembly for the first time. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party defeated its rivals with 27% of the vote. While these tallies may seem insignificant in an American context, they are in fact very healthy returns in multi-party parliamentary systems.
If you’ve read about Sunday’s elections somewhere besides FOX News or the Wall Street Journal the message you probably got is that Europe is lurching perilously to the right. To be sure, some of the parties capitalizing on the rising anti-EU sentiment are fringeish, particularly Greece’s Golden Dawn Party which is as close to Nazism as a party can get without the funny moustaches. But the innuendo the media seem to be pushing—that a whiff of fascism lingers over anyone who isn’t jazzed about the EU’s creeping encroachment on national sovereignty—is a smear of the ugliest kind.
Getting everyday Europeans to love the European Union has always been a tough sell. Nine years ago, when the EU’s proposed constitution was put to a popular vote in France and the Netherlands, most political observers agreed that the election was a referendum on the very essence of European integration; until the vote actually happened, that is, then it didn’t mean a thing. Both nations roundly rejected the constitution. Shortly thereafter, a proposed vote in Ireland was cancelled, which was the ruling class’s way of saying that there shall be no more voting until the people can figure out how to do it correctly.
A number of European nations have ratified the EU constitution, though nearly all by parliamentary vote. Only in Spain and Luxembourg did popular majorities say yes to the EU. In several other nations—the UK, Portugal, Poland, Denmark—the vote has been “postponed.” There is little chance that popular majorities in these countries will approve the EU constitution so a vote on ratification will be put off until public opinion can be massaged in the proper direction.
Noticing a trend here? Like squeegee-men at a Bronx intersection, they simply won’t take no for an answer.
There is a fundamental divide between those who adore the EU and those who don’t, one that can’t be rationalized away. People who love the EU imagine Europe’s future as a unified body, and stronger because of it, probably more influential than the United States in all regards but militarily. In the twentieth century they were Hungarians, Britons, Frenchmen, and Italians, but in the twenty-first they will all be Europeans! Who could be against that?
Plenty of people, actually. Amazingly, there seems to be an intractable lot who kind of like being Hungarians, Britons, Frenchmen, and Italians. They don’t like the extra layer of expensive EU bureaucracy that floats above the older, more sedentary bureaucracies of the various member states.
Nor do they like their laws being struck down by a court outside their borders. The German beer purity law of 1516 is a great case in point. For centuries, Bavarian law, and later German law, mandated that beer consist of only water, barley, and hops. Brewers in other countries cried foul, arguing that the law was a form of protectionism that kept foreign beers out of the German market. Their beers contained other ingredients, including sugar and rice, which were offensive to the German palate. It was a silly argument, of course, because the law concerned ingredients not national origin. Nonetheless, the European Court struck the law down in 1988.
The German people liked their law just fine but they were overruled. Sovereignty? We don’t need no stinkin’ sovereignty!
In order to allay that fears of the anti-EU camp, the pro-EU camp often downplays the loss of sovereignty that necessarily accompanies a more muscular Union. Don’t worry, they say, just because Brussels is stronger, doesn’t mean that your country will be weaker.
Too bad it isn’t so. History has shown that conglomerations of supposedly sovereign states have a habit of transforming slowly, almost imperceptibly, into superstates. An endless power struggle transpires between the member states and the overarching union. The members usually find themselves on the losing end of these battles because the authority that arbitrates their disputes with the union is always a part of the union’s apparatus. Our own country is an example of that.
Those who favor the EU understand well that Brussels has a sleeper hold on its member states, they just don’t talk about it as if it’s a bad thing. Where others complain of lost sovereignty, they say good riddance to ugly nationalism. Where others mourn the demise of national identities, they rejoice at the slow fading of artificial lines that have divided people for too long.
The EU cannot be stronger without the member states being weaker. It’s a zero sum game. More decisions being made at the Union-level mean fewer being made in the various capitals of Europe. The message of Sunday’s vote was loud and clear, if the elites are willing to hear it: Europeans don’t want a superstate if it will cost them their homelands.