The European Union Is in a Limbo of Its Own Making
The current woes of the European Union are intentionally treated superficially or obtusely in public discourse, as it also emanates from the prestige media which generally co-opts European elites to its worldview, even when they nominally disagree with specific policy prescriptions. Beyond the crisis of the moment and the tendency to transform everything into a morality play involving good and noble Europeanists and regressive nationalists, there are specific factors of its own making which hinder the EU’s adaptive processes and make it increasingly likely that the project may founder. Whether it does so under the blows of an unknown or unremarked crisis or threat (as most empires do), or whether it will simply strain under the accumulated errors and stresses of a thousand bad policy compromises, one should dismiss the “illusion of inevitability” that accompanies public discourse on globalization in general and EU regionalism in particular.
The democratic deficit
The spectre of democracy is haunting Europe, one which the European Union attempted to propitiate without ever having been asked to do so. It was likely part of its ambitious rush into statehood that also saw the birth of a disappointing institution called the European Parliament. The assumption of a burden it could not carry has given inexhaustible ammunition to its critics. Firstly, the true institutional development of the EU would always be limited by political realities. As a result, its institutions were too underdeveloped to provide democratic accountability to EU citizens, while the ambitious European structures were strong enough to try to undermine the national institutions that had such accountability.
Whether it does so under the blows of an unknown or unremarked crisis or threat, or whether it will simply strain under the accumulated errors and stresses of a thousand bad policy compromises, one should dismiss the “illusion of inevitability” that accompanies public discourse on globalization in general and EU regionalism in particular.
One also has to keep in mind whether democracy can truly function in such a heterogeneous political body, with over 500 million inhabitants. American political institutions, which have developed organically over the centuries from a much more homogenous cultural base, are also groaning at the seams to accommodate over 300 million people in an ever more diverse population, but still less so than that of Europe. In parallel, the gradual centralization of the American state has removed much flexibility from its local arrangements, and proponents of “federalism” and the “50 laboratories of democracy” argue for a decentralization. But the very reason for being of the current EU incarnation is its eventual centralization into a federal state of vaguely defined responsibilities. Appending the “euro” prefix to everything is certainly a state of mind for some people. It is doubtful whether the principle of subsidiarity can survive the grasp of ambitious European elites feeling that they must centralize as many functions as possible as quickly as possible to keep the whole from splitting apart. We can see this today in the “integrate or perish” crowd, surely an unwise ultimatum for an impatient and rebellious electorate. Without the confidence of tradition, legitimacy and accumulated political capital, European elites are sometimes stuck vaguely parroting the trappings of a real state but never pulling it off.
Secondly, the true levers of power in the EU, which reside in the Commission and the Council, are often wielded in a non-transparent manner and under the crassest rules of realpolitik. This is the reality everywhere, but the EU has never developed the alternative narrative that sugar-coats what Americans would call “the sausage of politics being made” for it to be palatable to European citizenry. It is infused with too much cynicism and not enough romanticism, with Founding Fathers who are too contemporary and modern to lionize properly (anybody who has seen the “Apotheosis of Washington” fresco in the Capitol building knows that Robert Bellah’s assertion of an American “civil religion” is true). The EU’s pseudo-national trappings, surely ironic in the supposed post-national age, of a flag and an anthem and its own currency (featuring buildings that do not exist, in an apt metaphor for the artificial blandness of the EU itself), have the opposite effect from that intended.
It is doubtful whether the principle of subsidiarity can survive the grasp of ambitious European elites feeling that they must centralize as many functions as possible as quickly as possible to keep the whole from splitting apart. We can see this today in the “integrate or perish” crowd, surely an unwise ultimatum for an impatient and rebellious electorate.
Meanwhile, the Commission made the extraordinary mistake of allowing itself to be scapegoated for every unpopular policy that the national politicians could think of. Whole political careers were built on vituperating against Brussels, which the EC may have accepted in a bid to assume a higher stature in the minds of European citizens. “Fake it till you make it” is a fine art in politics, and the sinister light cast over Brussels as a matter of course found willing and permanent adherents. In the case of Britain, these adherents managed to mobilize sufficient energy to triumph in an exit referendum which their elites had sanctioned not believing that they could lose. Other factors which will be presented below accelerated the assumption of an unflattering political persona for any government, let alone an aspiring one. At the same time, the Europeanization of difficult conversations placed them outside the reach of the electorate, which found the space for national debate and policymaking shrinking without a corresponding increase someplace else. Of course, this is the trend everywhere with the rise of a managerial class which necessarily formulates policies on complicated issues without democratic input, but the EU lacked even a minimally convincing fig leaf of democracy which has made the administrative state more palatable in individual nations.
Fourthly, the European Union also bit off more than it can chew. Safe in the reassurance of the 10-year anniversary of Romania’s accession to an EU which is desperate not to misplace any more members (a second would look like carelessness), one may confide that the EU likely expanded too quickly and too far, making itself far too heterogenous culturally, politically and economically. The multi-speed Europe we are threatened with is an actual reality, made apparent with the arrival of the euro. Weaknesses were “baked into the cake” when Cold War politics and Brussels’ ambition dictated that countries like Greece would join the EU and later the Eurozone whether they were ready or not. It is not like anyone in economics had heard of “optimal currency areas” and what they require to function properly. A Europe in which 150 million people are under the label PIIGS and another 100 million are recovering from half a century or more of totalitarian mismanagement is going to spend most of its energies building itself up and holding itself together, not integrating further into a cohesive and functional unit. Let it not be forgotten that some factions were so confident in the expansion of the EU that they were ready to have Germany concede the premier position in the European Parliament to Turkey, not to mention the host of other structural transformations that access to the European labour market would have entailed. This is the exuberance of a bubble, not the quiet competence of prudent statesmanship.
The EU’s pseudo-national trappings, surely ironic in the supposed post-national age, of a flag and an anthem and its own currency (featuring buildings that do not exist, in an apt metaphor for the artificial blandness of the EU itself), have the opposite effect from that intended.
What the EU tried to fix has had unintended and indeed perverse results. Success in the collective policy area alienated some European citizens from the political process and perpetuated intra-EU rivalries, for instance on the austerity issue. Nigel Farage of UKIP and Brexit fame found his soapbox in a European Parliament which was trying to build itself up. For voters, who are increasingly disengaged from national politics, the European Parliament is of even lower interest, thereby undermining the connection required for proper parliamentary political feedback. The European Parliament’s growth in importance has made it a part of opaque European horse wrangling, instead of contributing to its reduction. The institution has basically been co-opted by the existing political culture. The political quality of MEPs does not help. They are either uncomfortable people whom the national political scene is trying to exile to a gilded prison, far away from the really high stakes politics over 40% of GDP, not 1%. Or they are simply ineffective political actors, though individually competent and well-meaning.
Fighting unnecessary battles
The EU and, by that, I mean the factions and interest groups aligned with closer integration, including the institutions, also waded into an ideological fight which it should have avoided. I am referring to the largely artificial debate between euro-enthusiasm and euro-scepticism. To have divided 500 million people into these two categories for the purpose of setting up a moral battle that inflames the rivalry especially between citizens within the same state was folly, because such a game inevitably becomes zero-sum in the eyes of participants. This accounts for increasing extremity on both sides, accompanied by attempted expulsions from respectable political and social life by those who have the upper hand. This is how the so-called euro-sceptics came to be demonized. Like a general who wages his campaign on a single battle with unequal odds, he is a genius if he wins and a fool if he loses. The gambit is not paying off and the vitriol that would have been reserved for national elites is now poured on the EU itself.
A Europe in which 150 million people are under the label PIIGS and another 100 million are recovering from half a century or more of totalitarian mismanagement is going to spend most of its energies building itself up and holding itself together, not integrating further into a cohesive and functional unit.
Firstly, the EU gambled on defining a narrow course for respectable politics, which is “pro-European” in an arbitrary manner, and tolerating token dissent, while declaring an “anti-European” side which is to be shunned on all planes. It furthermore injected itself into the traditional Left-Right divide by retroactively declaring euro-sceptics as “far right” (one wonders at the paucity of individuals and movements described as and shunned for being “far left”). This was provably false. Most of the mainstream anti-immigration parties labelled as “far right” are actually centre-left, and their extensive following highlights the fact that they occupy something close to the societal middle ground. That European democracies are becoming so dysfunctional that they cannot perform “political preference aggregation” in the words of Timur Kuran, and must resort to heavy handed (and familiar to us Easterners) methods of enforcing orthodoxy can only undermine the basis for the legitimacy of policies and politicians. There is, in fact, a far left that is opposed to European integration and a far right that is very much in favour of it, each for reasons of its own. And a great mass of moderates who do not fall neatly into the Left and Right groupings, taking policies from one or the other, who are politically underserved and ripe for mixed-wing populist politics, which explicitly embrace referenda and largely reject talismans of arbitrary political respectability.
Secondly, the EU took overt sides in the culture wars waging inside each state between different generations, between progressives and conservatives and between social classes. In a messianic move which is unbecoming of sober and professional institutions, the EU’s various bodies started to invent rights and values wholesale and then sell them as being part of Europe’s heritage all along and a further means of dividing society through a heavy handed moralistic approach that also explicitly gave sanction to increasingly repressive state and quasi-state entities to quash dissent. The role of the EU in what is mostly an affair at the level of individual states can be argued – did the funding, good press and moral sanction of certain agents count for that much? Nevertheless, it creates the means and opportunity for a side to form in explicit opposition.
There is, in fact, a far left that is opposed to European integration and a far right that is very much in favour of it, each for reasons of its own. And a great mass of moderates who do not fall neatly into the Left and Right groupings, taking policies from one or the other, who are politically underserved and ripe for mixed-wing populist politics, which explicitly embrace referenda and largely reject talismans of arbitrary political respectability.
This leads us into the third issue, that the EU inserted itself in the political competitions which have generated the most heat and bad blood at national levels. It did so primarily by overtly picking a side, thereby giving one side a moral ascendancy and putting the other on an embittered defensive. An equidistant EU can become invaluable as a neutral arbiter or quiet facilitator in national politics. Of course, true equidistance is an illusion and EU interests would have been quietly assumed by all parties, but without galvanizing the electorate, whose means for expressing discontent are never subtle or nuanced. Every heated political competition is a simulated civil conflict which is kept in lines by solidarity, rules and fellow-feeling. Nevertheless, true civil conflicts are not uncommon in history and they tend to be even more brutal because of the brother against brother approach. When an outside agent overtly and consistently intervenes in favour of one side, providing aid and comfort to it, it destabilizes the political energies that should have been balanced in that particular polity. Suddenly, the stakes are higher, especially since the growth in the administrative state makes holding power an even greater means of rewarding friends, punishing enemies and undermining rivals, as the ongoing American saga shows. The increased stakes also increase the desperation to secure one’s position and prevent the other’s rise. The other party may feel justified in aligning itself with its own outside benefactor, if only rhetorically and to distinguish itself further from adversaries. This is the role that Russia has played both for populist European parties and in the demonology of the pro-Europeans.
One can find many examples of this phenomenon at global levels and in Europe. Poland is the most eloquent, since a ruling party with extensive Brussels ties lost its position and marshalled all of those outside resources, including the voice of the Commission itself, to attack its rivals, who have grown steadily obstinate, counting on the effect of such an unequal competition involving foreigners on its own electorate and the less dedicated ones of their opponent. That it has come to the point where the EU convergence and cohesion funding for Poland has become not a bargaining chip but a hostage, in a dangerous precedent and clear violation of the basic EU “social contract”, says a lot about how Brussels can be induced to sacrifice its long-term interests (those of the EU and the interests of the Brussels bureaucracy as an entity) for a perceived ideological partner. Sometimes, the rivalrous aspect of European support goes beyond what anyone in Brussels may have desired. In Romania’s case, the natural Brussels support for anti-corruption drives has played into a stalemated political contest and given fodder to an opportunistic ruling party, without an ideological grounding, to assume the mantle of nationalism and sovereignty. Coupled with Brussels’ actual missteps in its relation with Romania and the very pro-European Romanian electorate, there has been a relative growth in selective euro-scepticism.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that the European Union has tried to monopolize respectable discourse in Europe and promote the narrow views of a particular set of interest groups as the Orthodox version of Europeanism. It claims to be in favour of democracy, but it advances a very narrow, specific and quite radical interpretation of European values (since it is the extremists who devote the greatest energy to political activism of the most basic, ideological sort). This monopolizes the democratic contest itself, along with a certainly illegitimate conceptual fusion between rule of law, liberalism and democracy. This excludes many political options which are in keeping with European norms and values and leaves an unsatisfying set of permissible issues (I have yet to find anyone get excited for political debates over VAT) which are being monopolized either way by national technocrats. At a very basic level, a large part of the EU citizenry feels disenfranchised, as highlighted by David Goodhart’s recent book, “The Road to Somewhere”, which discusses the disequilibrium between cosmopolitans and conservatives in Great Britain in tribal terms. The EU could have championed both or neither. Instead, it chose what gelled the most with its perceived priorities, neglecting to understand its weaknesses when faced with an emergent grassroots opposition radicalized by top down repression.
The EU inserted itself in the political competitions which have generated the most heat and bad blood at national levels. It did so primarily by overtly picking a side, thereby giving one side a moral ascendancy and putting the other on an embittered defensive. An equidistant EU can become invaluable as a neutral arbiter or quiet facilitator in national politics.
The EU is also guilty of having defined a too narrow concept of itself and its future. One can be pro-European and have radically different takes on the appropriate functions at the level of the region, the role of the nation-state, the division of power. Once the interest groups had defined a federal vision to be reached at all costs, subtlety and finesse went out the window. Having the Irish vote repeatedly on a Lisbon Treaty which nobody has read until they voted correctly sounded like something out of a Communist joke. The still unrealized and vague UK decision to leave should have been a humbling experience and an opportunity for soul searching and true reform. Instead, the loser (the EU) dictates harsh terms with the connivance of a Europhile elite in London, which will surely not endear any party to a public which had been very well-disposed to going back to their old Parties once the referendum was out of the way.
Maybe the problem is a lack of strategic patience. The relatively rapid progress made by the EU and its precursor engendered a belief in the permanence of such progress towards some sort of blissful end state of unity, peace and prosperity which is far enough into the future to be unreachable, but close enough to justify breaking quite a few eggs for the omelette. Rather than a Manichean view of euro-scepticism and euro-enthusiasm, I propose a continuum which is just a subset of the emerging nationalism-internationalism spectrum emerging to replace Left-Right. Every person finds himself roughly in this area, with a view as to what the EU should be. To be euro-enthusiastic, current integration levels should be below those desired and to be euro-sceptic, they should be above. The rapid evolution of the EU and its cursory handling of issues flaring up from such rapid quantitative and qualitative expansion surely made some euro-enthusiasts happy, then content and then anxious as integration proceeded apace beyond what they had envisioned and felt comfortable with. Preferences may change over time, and the transition between generations offers the opportunity for significant shifts in preferences. Let us not forget that the UK voted to be in the European Economic Community and that the immigrant population that has risen since then was largely pro-EU, not having significant attachment to a traditionalist conception of the UK which they had not known and was liable to be detrimental to their economic and instrumental interests, while also empowering nativist politics. Therefore, the conversion of previous pro-European voters accounted for much of the Brexit vote. The EU’s lacklustre performance, as they perceived it, must have had an effect, but grumbling about the EU pre-dated the 2008 crisis and subsequent sovereign debt mess. Indeed, the Anglo-French financier James Goldsmith, a European Parliament Member for France, was already trumpeting a euro-sceptical perspective in the early 1990s, which he correlated with opprobrium against the World Trade Organization’s liberalizing agenda. It was fine for him to have France, Germany, Benelux, the UK in a single market, but adding so many other states with a labour advantage in a period of unprecedented capital mobility and technology transfers had given rise to significant French structural unemployment, which he feared would increase even more, even as capital owners reaped the benefits.
The European Union has tried to monopolize respectable discourse in Europe and promote the narrow views of a particular set of interest groups as the Orthodox version of Europeanism. It claims to be in favour of democracy, but it advances a very narrow, specific and quite radical interpretation of European values. This monopolizes the democratic contest itself, along with a certainly illegitimate conceptual fusion between rule of law, liberalism and democracy.
Of course, it has been observed that different generations had different exposure to EU advocacy and its programs, affecting how favourably they view it, thereby slowly moving the electorate in the pro-EU column, so long as some significant event did not impact it. The Eastern states, running away from something as much as they were running towards it, had no qualms about the early 2000s EU proposed level of integration, but it was events such as the illegal migrant crisis and its handling which somewhat diminished their ardour and made them warier.
The elephant in the room
We have to describe the obvious elephant in the room – German overreach. There is much winking among the punditry about Germany’s obvious dominance within the core of the EU, its institutions and policies, in a non-assuming manner which lets other nations bluster and moan about national percentages in European staffing or the division of budgets. Recent years have, however, brought to the fore the true extent of Germany’s (un)intentional power in the EU in a way that is obvious and unsettling for other countries, not just because of cliched historical anxieties. Some integration proposal passes the political litmus test of having the more equal EU members approve of it, but if the German Constitutional Court says it will not fly, then the proposal is shut down. President Macron found this out when he forged full speed ahead with post-Brexit integration, only to have Wolfgang Schauble fob it off to the Court, which would not accept the obvious bill for Macron’s proposed European depositor insurance schemes. The Germans had previously taken fright when markets called their long-running bluff on whether there is an intra-EU solidarity on sovereign debt, an assumption which enabled Greece to borrow at much lower costs than its previous, pre-Eurozone country premium. The cheque bounced on one fateful day and the German led austerity drive and refinancing may have saved German and French banks, but contracted Greek GDP by 25% and sent its young generation abroad.
To add insult to injury, the (partially correct) narrative of Greek fecklessness facilitated an overbearing Germany clucking like a Swabian housewife to enforce austerity and proper discipline within the EU. The medicine was bitter, and it may have delayed the resumption of economic growth, but it was the German Schadenfreude which shall not soon be forgotten. The Germans themselves supported their government in this – after all, it was their fiscal and social discipline which healed the “sick man of Europe” at the cost of falling benefits and relatively stagnant wages, while the Southern Europeans registered wage and living standard increases far in excess of what they would have been able to fake alone. Failing obviously at an ambitious European project fit for Germany, Benelux and Scandinavian countries alone (if them) and stuck with German intransigence on key policies which hinder economic recovery and competitiveness (a strong euro policy and admonitions against covert protectionism and deficit spending), the PIIGS could do nothing but fail, slowly at first and then all of a sudden. This unleashed the dreaded populist energies which are the bane of Eurocrats.
Ultimately, EU citizens need to be engaged in a political contest whose stakes are real and in which those who engage are not subject to personal demonization and expulsion from respectable society. That the EU has plenty of such functions in which it may afford citizens a say is amply proved by the growth of the Brussels lobby industry.
The coup de grace was a million-man march on Germany which Angela Merkel retroactively sanctified as needed to address a non-specific labour shortage after 11 countries had had their borders and laws trampled on. Few commented on whether it was democratic or not for Merkel to have decided during the summer vacation to inexorably change the youth demographics of her country by admitting hundreds of times more people than the government could investigate, control and, if need be, deport, let alone count. Notwithstanding the recent revelations of journalist Robin Alexander’s book that an uncomprehending German leadership based their decision on media optics alone in the refugee issue, the arbitrariness of German actions will not soon be forgotten.
The unilateral dismantlement of the Dublin Accords governing such movements and the consequent vilification of Hungary’s attempt, as a border state, to stem the tide from reaching further into the Schengen Area, at considerable risk to itself and political risk to its politicians for throwing the country on “a live hand grenade”, were the first signs that something was broken in Germany’s incentives for utilising its power. Then came the co-option of Brussels into the mad scheme of the refugee quotas, accompanied by a mix of pleading and cajoling that started bending reality. If anything contributed to rising scepticism of growing crop of European “deplorables”, it was the way, reminiscent of Communism, in which all arms, formal and informal, of the European vanguard got together to proclaim the economic miracle that the so-called refugees would bring, to denounce sceptics in gross terms, and then levy threats of punishment (including stinging fines) for those who did not accept the blessing.
It was all the more galling since it began to alienate also the extremely pro-European Eastern member states, whose honeymoon was far shorter than that of the UK, just when the resurgence of fears regarding Russia would have required a more harmonious EU. A valuable opportunity was also lost for Brussels to emancipate itself from Berlin and uphold the actual interest of European peoples in a very clear-cut case, where punctilious adherence to the rules would have netted a moral victory as well. It proved ideologically incapable of being politically pragmatic and scoring an easy victory in a period when global distrust of distant technocratic rule was at a historic high, thereby giving fodder to the very movements it rejects for many years to come. It could have pursued the historically common tactic of uniting a high and a low against a middle – in this case, a benevolent EU taking the side of the people against “venal and self-serving” national politicians as in the Romanian corruption saga or any king that kept his aristocracy in check by appealing to the masses. Instead, it squandered tremendous amounts of goodwill and political capital in the eyes of the European laity by siding with a country whose authorities had lied repeatedly and suppressed debate and knowledge of the true costs of the new arrivals and of the security consequences. It also gave considerable and valid ammunition to Parties which would have never reached such heights of popularity had European elites not diverged so much from the sentiment and perspectives of the citizenry. Along the way, the baby may be thrown out with the bathwater, and much good may be lost from a rational bout of second thoughts about sacrificing more sovereignty to an entity that not only is excessively beholden to a single European state, but has been proven unreliable in literal issues of life, death and the posterity of one’s nation, which still has the power to mobilize Europeans.
What should the EU do?
The present article has probably gone beyond what may be said in polite company, but the following may shock readers – the EU should strive to emulate the United States, as its best example. The United States of Europe concept was always about the destination, but I would refer to the means of getting there. We should keep in mind the innate advantages of the US as Founding Father John Jay wrote in the Federalist No. 2: “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs”. That recent policies have diminished those advantages does not render moot the centuries of organic institutional and cultural development in a political sense building on the English heritage. Of course, Europeans are certainly more alike than they are different, especially in a globalized world of great diversity.
But what the US, a vast, continental nation of many initially sovereign states, did was give an adequate forum to all sides of an increasingly diverse political ecosystem. Only once did that political environment falter, which led to the Civil War. A good analogue in Europe was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a multi-ethnic state of which sociologist Ernest Gellner write that it lasted so long as its disparate groups were content to argue with each other and with the central authorities under the auspices provided by the state’s institutional arrangements, instead of taking matters into their own hands. The inequality between those groups was as much a ticking time bomb as the divergent evolution between slave holding and free states in the US, but the arrangements held, in one form or another, for longer than the EU has existed.
Gellner’s insight was that the ruling system need not be loved or particularly liked, but it must offer a means for political contention to be structured harmlessly. The EU features plenty such contention that would provide fodder for political competition and raucous debate, but it takes place at national levels or in the Council, Nigel Farage’s stinging speeches notwithstanding. The contempt in which the EU holds divergent ideologies is also a problem. It should aim to neutralize euro-scepticism by being the facilitator of its release valve. The Americans have this down to an art form, with Congressmen winking at local groups devoted to nostalgia for past secessionists and groups devoted to actual secession, all of them expending their energies locally, with few thoughts given to them nationally, while the national forum plays host to intra-state differences that are long-term and embedded. All the while, the US has steadily centralized with very few true challenges at national level, even though the subjects have been endlessly debated, hashed and rehashed. Thus, should the EU embrace its euro-sceptics and provide them the avenue to contribute specifically to political preference formation at EU level.
To even attempt to recreate this political culture, the EU must accept the confrontationalism and persistent disagreement of a true democratic debate. This may come as a shock to the intentionally bland and unobtrusive Brussels culture of governance, which finds its way into speech patterns and internal decorations at European institutions. Ultimately, EU citizens need to be engaged in a political contest whose stakes are real and in which those who engage are not subject to personal demonization and expulsion from respectable society. That the EU has plenty of such functions in which it may afford citizens a say is amply proved by the growth of the Brussels lobby industry. These debates can deepen from a simple and natural contest between nations (a Eurovision for budgets?) to in-depth ideological debates on how resources should be raised and allocated.
This would require a steady overhaul of European institutions and some of their guiding principles. In the short term, it might be better if the EU abstained from becoming an active combatant in the increasingly tense European political conflicts. Rather, stabilization and reconciliation should be the key, with Brussels bureaucrats using their unelected status to keep a long-term view of the various interests of European citizens, interests which are mainly formed and expressed at national levels. Europe has been looking to diversify energy sources, the Eastern Europeans are ever in need for security assurances, the Southern Europeans require a competent border policy which, for structural reasons, individual states are not supplying and many more.
Americans and their past experiences with federalism can offer a few interesting insights. The first is a thick skin at central level for idiosyncrasies at lower levels, which are likely to be persistent in the case of European states. The second is their evolved mechanisms for reassuring smaller states regarding their place in the political order. This is very important in an EU which has a Malta and a Germany as nominal equals and further integration is not possible if it equates to unconditional surrender by smaller countries to larger ones. The popular assertion that “Trump lost the popular vote” hides one of the keys to the longevity of the American political system – the electoral college voting system. One may argue that Americans are or were sufficiently homogenous to vote directly for their President, but an electoral college system may be an appropriate system to manage preference aggregation in wildly diverse Europe. The resemblance to the Holy Roman Empire may also intrigue Germans.
The EU may also consider an upper Chamber for the European Parliament which would be filled by an equal number of Senators from each state. This may even replace the unwieldy national veto system currently in place. Until 1912, US Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by direct vote. To avoid electoral fatigue, this system could be adopted in the EU, with Parliaments choosing Senators to represent the country as opposed to their Party.
The only thing that cannot be done by institutional arrangement is the accumulation of true and sustainable political experience at European levels in time. This means that patience is required and a tolerance for growing pains.
The European Union has been slouching from crisis to crisis over the past few years, as outside factors like the global financial crisis have brought into stark relief the effects of short term compromises in lieu of sustainable institutional development, as well as a perverse emerging political culture that breeds more euro-sceptics by the day. For the European Union to become a resilient and legitimate actor, it must undergo a time intensive process of reform aimed at creating value for citizens and enabling other avenues for value creation, including through the nation state. Whatever the future holds for it, the diversity of opinion within European societies precludes radical social and political reengineering which are liable to cause significant counter-radicalization among European populations.
Ultimately, the details of how the EU is supposed to work are secondary to the persistence of the idea of European solidarity defined as a special relation between two EU member states, which justified the efforts that a state undertakes to be admitted to a club in which it has privileges and corresponding obligations. These privileges must therefore accrue to members, not free riders. Solidarity is one of them and the increasingly unhinged elite consensus that solidarity among Europeans is of lower importance than solidarity between EU members and third parties can only hurt the EU and lead to disharmony. Many specific examples can be named in the field of energy, trade and investment but I will highlight one in particular that deserves attention – the idea that Poland’s duty of solidarity with Germany implies a transferrable blank cheque to every Papuan or African that the Germans might allow into Europe to signal their virtue as a moral superpower.