TCS Daily


Europe's New Religion

By Marian Tupy - September 15, 2006 12:00 AM

The leaders of the 25 member states of the European Union will meet in the Finnish city of Lahti next month to discuss the future direction of the bloc. The defeat of the proposed constitutional treaty by Dutch and French voters last year derailed the EU project and European leaders seem unable to offer an alternative way forward. Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, is not one of them. He is an unapologetic free-marketer, fan of the United States and critic of the EU's insatiable drive for centralization of decision-making in Brussels. He wants the EU to return to its humbler roots as a free trade association. As such, Klaus has been criticized for his apparent lack of commitment to the European "super-state" and successfully caricatured as the antithesis of a good EU citizen. But Klaus's views are today more relevant than ever and the EU leaders would do well to listen to him.

A few months ago, Klaus delivered a speech praising the initial moves toward European economic integration. But, he added, the benefits of the EU membership are declining in importance. Economic liberalization functions according to the law of diminishing returns, Klaus reasoned. As such, decades old liberalization of the movement of goods and capital can no longer provide satisfactory stimulus to the EU economy. The numbers seem to be on his side. The average annual economic growth in the EU was 4.9 percent in the 1960s, 3 percent in the 1970s, 2.4 percent in the 1980s, 1.9 percent in the 1990s and 0.9 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Klaus also pointed out that in the Czech Republic "a serious and substantive debate [on EU membership] is still missing." Considering the apoplectic reaction of parts of the Czech media and the intellectual elite to Klaus's speech, the reason for that state of affairs is not at all surprising. Writing in a widely-read daily newspaper, Lidove Noviny, a member of the editorial staff opined that the denial of the prevalence of the benefits of the EU membership over its costs equated to the denial of the Holocaust. A letter signed by 66 university professors critical of Klaus's speech soon followed. Predictably, the academics argued that deeper EU integration was necessary if Europe were to achieve a "respected" status in the world currently dominated by China, Russia, India and, of course, the United States. Pointedly, they did not address Klaus's economic concerns.

The article in the Lidove Noviny was not the first time that a member of the European elite resorted to linking one of the darkest chapters in European history with the critique of the EU. Prior to the national referenda and parliamentary votes on the proposed EU constitution that swept through Europe last year, members of the European Commission traveled across the continent exhorting the public to vote "yes." One of them was Sweden's Margot Wallström, the Commission vice president for institutional relations and communication strategy. In other words: EU propaganda.

On May 8, 2005, Wallström gave a speech in the Czech city of Terezin, which used to be the site of a notorious Nazi concentration camp. She began by describing the suffering of the victims of Nazism, who were incarcerated there. After stating that the EU was created to make sure that such atrocities never happened again, she proceeded to taint the critics of the EU with the horrors of the Second World War. "Yet there are those today who want to scrap the European supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely nation-state way of doing things," she said. According to Wallström's reasoning, the choice is between the EU and a concentration camp. Apparently, no other alternative for a peaceful cooperation between European nations is possible.

The tactic of associating the criticism of the EU with the basest forms of nationalism is not particular to the Czech Republic, of course. In Great Britain, where euro-skepticism has a long history and strong following, the critics of the EU are routinely dismissed as cranks and xenophobes. But the increasingly desperate ad hominem attacks of the European elites on their political opponents cannot hide the fact that the centralization of decision making in Brussels has failed to deliver the nations of Europe to the Promised Land of milk and honey.

The European project is faltering, as member states cannot agree on the most basic issues pertaining to the future economic and political direction of the EU. That is why faith in the European project is now more important than ever. That is also why critics of the European project are increasingly treated like apostates. The British writer G.K. Chesterton once quipped, "When people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." European politicians, it seems, have found their new religion. Sadly, it may be a false one.

Marian L. Tupy is assistant director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute (www.cato.org).

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