Europe united in a failed experiment

stefan-auer-thumb Dr Stefan Auer


First published in The Australian on 12th December, 2011.

Britain did not abandon Europe. Europe pushed away Britain and by doing so abandoned itself. Europe betrayed its better, earlier traditions that made it great in the first place: a commitment to liberty, democracy and the free market.

Instead, continental Europe is opting for more centralised control, which will further undermine national sovereignty.

Surveillance of national budgets and more closely co-ordinated economic policies that might eventually lead to a uniform Europe-wide taxation system are unlikely to result in more economic growth, but they will certainly further erode democracy at national level without any substitute at the European level. While the EU leaders will try to sell the deal from the most recent summit in Brussels as the first step towards a better and more prosperous Europe, what they agreed to will only accelerate its demise.

Where the EU failed, the United States of Europe which a new treaty will seek to establish will not succeed either.

What the failing experiment with the common currency demonstrates is more than just the unsustainability of the European social model in its various incarnations. It also shows the limits of the EU ideal of supranational governance.

In a democracy, political power can be exercised effectively only when those in charge enjoy some political legitimacy gained through an open-ended process of political contestation. This is more likely to occur in Britain's House of Commons, or even the German Bundestag, than in the elaborate bureaucratic monster erected over decades in Brussels.

The nations of continental Europe would have been better off following the old British vision of integration: a Europe of nation states committed to the ideal of the free market. What it chose instead was more of the same, the foolish ideal of an "ever closer union" that will lead Europe towards economic and political suicide.

To solve the sovereign debt crisis, the nations of Europe should reclaim their sovereignty, which would allow them to address the underlying causes of the current malaise: the lack of competitiveness and the loss of trust in democratic politics.

The fact that markets no longer trust political leaders tends to obscure a far more worrisome development, which is the utter loss of respect that the electorates in Europe have for their democratically elected leaders.

The summit did nothing to show how Europe's struggling economies can be saved from the imminent threat of sovereign default. It didn't, because it couldn't. Only Italians can save Italy, only Greeks can save Greece. Europe failed.

Following the words of an Irish expert on failure, Samuel Beckett, Europe should: "Fail again. Fail better."

Dr Stefan Auer is Jean Monnet chair in EU Interdisciplinary Studies and senior lecturer in History and Politics at La Trobe University, Melbourne.