The E.U - the U.S.A. – the TTIP – NATO.
Partnership or Subordination?
In a brilliant presentation, given last February as part of the Jean Rey cycle of conferences at the University of Liège, (https://www.coleurope.eu/sites/default/files/research-paper/confarence_jean_rey.pdf), Pierre Defraigne delivered a merciless indictment of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and the EU.
I share broadly the arguments put forward and the logical conclusions that follow. They are based essentially on a fundamental disequilibrium between the parties, opposing a “federal” political, economic and military power speaking with a single voice and a still partially fragmented economic entity representing divergent interests, a situation far from conducive to reach a balanced agreement.
A parallel with NATO is instructive: concluded in the aftermath of WWII, the subordination of Western Europe to the USA was the price paid to preserve a dearly reconquered freedom and stimulate the reconstruction of the devastated continent. Confronted with the threat posed by the USSR, the West gladly accepted American leadership. During the following years, it benefitted from the Marshall Plan which enabled it to initiate, with American encouragement, the process of European integration as well as the development of a “European” social model, under the protective American nuclear umbrella.
Shaken to the core by the destructions of the war, Western Europe focused on building a society privileging economic growth and comprehensive social policies (employment, healthcare, retirement, etc.) to the detriment of developing in parallel a credible defense capability (rejection of the E.D.C. in 1954 and significant budgetary cuts after the implosion of the USSR in 1989). Thus, it put progressively in jeopardy its capacity weigh on the international scene (Middle-East, Afghanistan) or even to handle internal or neighborhood problems (Yugoslavia, Libya, Ukraine and more recently immigration) on its own.
These developments occurred simultaneously with events of major geopolitical significance: the end of colonialism, globalization, the implosion of communism, the spread of Islam, the appearance of new forms of conflict (terrorism, guerillas, cyber-attacks, etc.) and the emergence of new “continental” sized powers (China, India, Brazil). Within this fast moving context, Europe, engaged since the early 1950’s on the path of integration which was perfectly suited to the challenges of the times as well as those which have appeared more recently, lost its way over time by privileging enlargement to the detriment of deepening its cohesion. Indeed the integration at full speed of countries with widely differing characteristics lead to tolerating an ever increasing number of exceptions or exonerations to/from common rules which in turn became a source of ever growing dissensions and mounting blockages.
An example is provided by the process of trade negotiations, delegated by the Treaty to the Union in a spirit of pragmatism; it’s efficiency is, nevertheless, largely negated in practice by the ratification procedure needing, in addition to the normal approval of the European Parliament, the unanimous agreement of the 28 Member States or, worse still, the endorsement of each national (regional) parliaments if the agreement is classified as “mixed”. It is as if in the USA, each State had the power to veto the agreement.
Other striking examples are the dispensations granted to the United Kingdom from belonging either to the Schengen accords or the Economic and Monetary Union, which impede the emergence of a European wide common immigration policy on the one hand or the necessary further integration of the Eurozone, on the other.
The conduct of European affairs is carried out primarily by national governments within the European Council; they find themselves, more often than not, prisoner of domestic considerations and national electoral calendars, severely limiting their political will to promote the interests of the Union at large. The increasing paralysis that ensues creates a particularly favorable terrain for nationalist and populist movements to prosper by advocating protectionist measures and inward looking policies. Thus a vicious circle develops wherein “Europhile” parties feel forced (by cowardice) to give ever greater concessions to their opponents, blocking the integration process and destroying any vision of a Union capable to stand up in defense of, let alone promote, its interests on the world stage.
This situation is starkly apparent in the negotiations surrounding the TTIP. If, at present, the EU is incapable of concluding an acceptable agreement on behalf of its members, the reason does not lie with the concept of an FTA. Quite to the contrary, TTIP should remain a priority objective because of the undoubted benefits that a partnership of equals can deliver. My disagreement with the thesis of Pierre Defraigne is essentially one of approach: avoid making the opposition to the TTIP the main goal but, rather, use the difficulties that the negotiations uncover to reinvigorate urgently the process of European integration. This difference is fundamental because, should the EU fail to reform, one of two scenarios is most likely, each with significant consequences.
The first is that failing to implement the necessary reforms will lead, at more or less short notice, to the implosion of the € and of the EU. In this event, TTIP would become irrelevant, drowned in the inevitable political, economic and social chaos that would ensue.
The second envisages the signature of the TTIP, with all its weaknesses, as a lesser evil in the hope that a deal, even if lopsided, would maintain the appearance of European unity on the cheap. It would be the expression of the deliberate acceptance of subordination of the EU to the USA in the hope of benefitting indirectly from the protection and the economic clout of a vast free trade zone capable of imposing its will over the rest of the world, in which an unreformed EU would be unable to stand up alone.
This latter scenario consists in aligning the template of economic relations on the one currently governing NATO when it is precisely the reverse that is needed. The reform of the EU must aim at creating an equal transatlantic partnership, both on the economic front (TTIP) and the military front (NATO). These two partnerships are inextricably linked as was recently pointed out by the former NATO Chiefs of Staff and Secretaries General who fear that NATO would be significantly weakened by “Brexit”, as well as by the repeated calls by the USA for European Members to assume a larger share of common defense expenditures.
Recent geopolitical developments demand an in depth reform of the EU to be fully and unreservedly acknowledged and implemented. Failing to do so will confront Europeans with the demons of nationalism that they were supposed to have forsaken once and for all.
Brussels, 16th May 2016
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
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