Europe’s Last Chance, Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union
Author Guy Verhofstadt, translated from the Dutch e-Book version ‘De ziekte van Europa’ (2015)
This book focuses on only one subject: the structures and procedures of the European Union as the root causes of the dysfunction of the Union, and therewith its inevitable disintegration. Verhofstadt describes an incredible array of symptoms of an ill Europe and demonstrates that those symptoms are all derived from the system itself.
In Part 1 of the Series on ‘Federalization’ in the Section ‘Strong with Europe’ I explain that this misery stems from a system error in the Schuman Plan of May 1950. Thus, I’d like to refer the readers who are interested in the exact origin of this illness, to this Series.
I shall not review this book as I did with the previous ones. I confine myself – firstly – to showing the headings of the Chapters. They are sufficiently clear to understand what Verhofstadt is talking about. Moreover, they are inviting to get this book, which was published recently in English under the title Europe’s last chance. Reading this book is recommended to learn what mistakes and misconceptions should be avoided if one wants to connect countries with constitutional and institutional provisions without depriving them of their sovereignty and identity. Secondly, I shall quote some pages from Chapter 12, which will make each sincere European cry, and which will stimulate them to end this miserable aspect of this so-called Union.
Part 1 The illness of Europe
1. The syndrome of Korsakov
2. The dwarf Europe
3. The chronically disease of nationalism
4. ‘Plumber politics’
5. The Hungarian shame
6. The mass grave of the Mediterranean
Part II The physical decline
7. The digital desert
8. The decline of the European industry
9. The credit crunch
10. The obese labour market
11. The mud puddle of European institutions
12. The illusion of the European budget
Part III The wrong medication
14. Brexit and other exits
15. N-euro and S-euro
Part IV The rebirth
16. One government for the euro
17. One army for Europe
18. The United States of Europe
Epilogue and three attachments.
Quotation from Chapter 12
The title of Chapter 12 is The illusion of the European budget. In the first 2-3 pages Verhofstadt describes one of the most severe symptoms of the treaty-based European Union: the opt-outs. This is the mechanism through which Member States stipulate exceptions – like promises, concessions and compromises in favour of their own country – before being prepared to participate in the Union or to comply with additional agreements. If they do not get promises and concessions, they do not participate in adaptations of the treaty and additional agreements. This behaviour, far from any aspect of European unity and far from the notion that unity is the essence of the European Union, has continued to fester over the years. Arriving in 2005 at a situation – thus even before the European Union as a legal entity started its existence in 2009 – which is described by Verhofstadt as follows (translation from Dutch into English):
“Chapter 12 The illusion of the European budget
It was a satisfied, but tired eyed British Prime Minister who on December 20th, 2005, held a speech in Brussels before members of the European Parliament. After months of negotiations the European Council, under his chairmanship, had finally reached an agreement on the multi-annual budget of the European Union. Six months earlier, the former chairman Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg Prime Minister, had failed to achieve this result. Juncker was not to blame for this. On the contrary. He had approached this task with all his enormous experience, having almost reached an agreement in June, but just the conniving Tony Blair had sabotaged it. Didn’t he want this success for Juncker? It was a public secret that they hated each other’s guts. However, the official version was that Blair wanted to approach this budget thing in another way. No longer a multi-annual budget – which would only be a copy of the previous one – but a completely new budget, breaking with the past. This should end the out-dated expenses with respect to agriculture, instead focusing on technology and innovation, thus on the future. However, in practice this failed. The result hardly differed from Juncker’s proposal. Moreover, in order to reach an agreement Blair had to outperform himself to the utmost for many weeks in a row. He had to ‘wheel and deal’ with the Member States, one after another. That was the only way to get them all on the same side. The result was disastrous. There was hardly any aspect left of the initial set-up. In order to make the final deal he was obliged to grant the Member States no less than forty-one presents: compensations, corrections and opt-outs ad hoc. Ranging from 100 million for the Canary Islands, 200 million for supporting the peace-process in North-Ireland, 865 million for dismantling the out-dated nuclear reactor in Lithuania. Those were even the most understandable concessions. To get the Netherlands on his side Blair doubled the compensation for the Member States, which received custom rights, though this money actually belonged to the Union, not to these states. To please Germany, Austria and other net-payers he lowered their VAT-remittance. However, for each country another percentage. Sweden, and once again the Netherlands, received on top of that a fixed discount on their bni-contribution. To get Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary on board they received – against all existing regulations – extra means from the structural funds. The same happened with Cyprus and the German member state of Bavaria. To satisfy Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, France and Portugal he gave additional payments for rural developments. Also Spain and the Baltic countries received extra funds, which they were allowed to use for whatever subject – not forced to comply with EU-rules. It was a matter of extreme ‘horse-trading’. Blair defended this agreement fiercely, but added to this the statement that this exercise should never be repeated. Tony Blair did not admit that he had failed – he would be too proud to do so – but his ‘never again’ was clear enough.”
The central sentence in this quotation is: It was a matter of extreme ‘horse-trading’. This was the case in the European Economic Community (EEC) in 2005 and this is still the case in the European Union as of 2009. A Union? Forget it. From the birth of the intergovernmental European administration in 1950 (Schuman Plan), the establishment of the European Community for Coal and Steel (1951), the European Economic Community (1958) and the European Union (2009) the principle of own-country-first has been predominant in European decision-making, not a commonly carried responsibility for a united Europe. The Member States scrupulously safeguard their national interests by maintaining the principle of unanimity in the European Council, except for matters that cannot pose a threat to a Member State.
This disastrous lack of unity is the nucleus of the writing by Frans Timmermans. Thus now I will swap to review his book Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid.
Part 1, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist Papers
Part 2, Wim de Wagt, Wij Europeanen
Part 3, Andrea Bosco, June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union