Powerhouse Europe? At what cost? At what price?

The Eurocrats want to change the Union. We will have to give up the ability to make decisions on our own affairs at the national level.

The Red Queen told Alice that in her country one has to run as fast as possible to stay in the same place, and to get to another place, one has to run twice as fast. This certainly applies to the modern world, and if not to the entire world, certainly to Asia and America. Europe is different. Europe moves slowly and steadily, as if convinced that the world should be where she is.

When the world sets about inventing innovative products, Europe ponders the regulations that could govern this process. When it comes to military matters, the most important thing for it is to create the right “coalition of the willing” and find a flashy name for it. This was the case, for example, with the EU Battlegroups (beautiful name!) created two decades ago, which were supposed to stand guard protecting our security. Does anyone still remember them?

Europe is a “regulatory power,” as the malicious call it. Everything must have its “organisational framework” and a positively sounding acronym. The Italian analyst Nathalie Tocci recently ridiculed this predilection of Eurocrats, writing about their tendency to hide in the “comfort zone of Euro-acronyms.” She was quite right, as often the creation of some “mechanism” in the Union replaced actual action. Plans and intentions were bogged down in agreements and particularisms. A wealthy continent of 450 million inhabitants turned out to be incapable of showing its strength, as recently seen in the Sahel region, where the French were expelled, and Europeans couldn’t even reflect on action, although the greatest migration threat comes from there and stability there is a condition for the security of southern Europe.

However, there are many indications that not only Mrs Tocci is dissatisfied. Politicians and experts from the most important European countries are coming to the conclusion that the only way for the old continent to break out of stagnation is to become a powerhouse. In a world dominated by two great powers, which – as many would like – is transforming into a multipolar world, Europe should, in their opinion, become the next pole. Have we in Europe come under the rule of the Red Queen, who urges us to run faster?

The functioning of a powerhouse requires two fundamental elements: an efficient decision-making process and money. Recently, at least two documents that address these problems have been released to the public. One is a report project from the Committee on Constitutional Affairs of the European Parliament on treaty changes, and the other is a working document of twelve experts hired by the governments of France and Germany on EU reform poetically titled: “Sailing on High Seas: Reforming and Enlarging the EU for the 21st Century.”

Reading these documents in full, especially the first one, which is over 120 pages long, is not a pleasant task and – as MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski sarcastically noted – the authors probably intended that the public would not read them closely because then many important details slip out of sight and changes will be easier to push through the legislative process. Of course, the pushing will concern the first document, as the “sailing” document is a working one and only indicates the direction we will take once the organisational reform of the Union is completed. And since the vote on the treaty change is scheduled for 12 October 2023, which is very soon, we should deal with them first.

Contrary to what Saryusz-Wolski wrote, delving into the details is not necessary to get a full picture of the changes, provided, of course, that one adopts the perspective I propose, analysing them as leading to the creation of a European superstate. First and foremost, the document assumes the practical abolition of the veto right and a significant limitation of the possibility of blocking decisions by smaller groups of countries. Votes, in principle, will be held by a simple majority, not a qualified one. This simple majority is defined as a majority of votes representing over 50% of the Union’s population.

Previously, the rule was voting by a qualified majority, which meant 55% of the members of the Council, no fewer than 15 countries, representing at least 65% of the Union’s population. There are also plans to change the definition of a qualified majority, defining it as 2/3 of the votes, representing no less than 50% of the population. This change will greatly facilitate the implementation of all political projects, even in an expanded Union. Indeed, since potential new members will be very susceptible to suggestions and blackmail from wealthier colleagues, it will, in fact, be easier in a larger group.
Helmut Scholz (on the left). Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda / EFE / Forum Source:

The second important change is the improvement of the functioning of the European Commission, which would also adopt a new name, namely: European Executive Body. This body would have only 15 members, thus eliminating the principle that every country must have its commissioner, and adding another function: in addition to the foreign affairs secretary, there would be a secretary for economic management. The Chairman of the Body would have great power over it, being able to dismiss any of its members at any time, and propose candidates during the appointment procedure.

Next, new, important areas would be included in the Union’s competences: policy on external borders, foreign affairs, security and defence, and industry, forestry, agriculture, and fisheries. These would be so-called shared competences with member states, so it wouldn’t automatically and immediately mean that we would lose control over these matters. However, undoubtedly, knowing the practice of the Union, this would be the beginning of a gradual takeover of competences.

  At the end of this process, the Union would decide on border protection, the foreign policy of the entire bloc, which would have to be subordinate to the policies of individual countries, on military and police matters (and possibly intelligence, as the concept of security is a broad term), and also on industrial, agricultural, forestry, and maritime policies.

I leave it to readers’ imagination what such a Union might look like, just noting that taking away the right of member states to decide in these areas and granting it to a central body (or rather, the Body) would be a constant source of conflict.

What if, for example, a member of the Body from a country that renounces nuclear energy for ideological reasons wanted to prohibit a country wishing to build a reactor based on population protection regulations? Ah, I forgot to mention that this is also supposed to be within the Union’s competences. And I deliberately don’t want to use the names of countries so as not to be accused of being anti-German…

Another important change is the introduction of simplifications to the treaty amendment procedure. We all remember the bad taste left by the ratification of previous changes when some countries had to vote in referendums until they voted correctly. It was impossible to resist the impression that this democratic procedure was irksome to the Union, so now it has been decided to abandon it. Of course, not entirely, but effectively enough to call the procedure democratic but achieve the desired effect. Instead of the obligation to ratify changes by all countries, it will be enough if 80% of them ratify them. However, if 4/5 of the countries do not ratify the treaty changes, a pan-European referendum will be announced.

This last point is part of building a democratic facade, through which, in the authors’ conception of the changes, it will likely be easier to sell them to societies. This involves a significant strengthening of the European Parliament’s role and valuing the voice of the citizens of the Union. However, let’s note, this voice is obtained in a controlled manner, i.e., in a manner tested during the famous Conference on the Future of Europe. During this conference, views expressed by several hundred randomly (sic!) selected individuals from all over the Union, which were then processed during moderated meetings lasting several months, were presented as the “vox populi” and incorporated into political plans.

Suffice to say, the abolition of the national veto was one of the postulates of this Conference. On paper and in presentations, this strengthening of the force of an institution democratically named – the parliament – looks excellent. However, in practice, linking the power of voice with decision-making in an entity as vast and diverse as the European Union will be illusory. This is a topic for separate considerations, as from the point of view of designing a powerhouse Europe, it is only building a huge theatre that will occupy the public with its disputes and scandals, giving the illusion of deciding the fate of the world.

In the proposed treaty changes, there are also rather serious provisions concerning joint armed forces and a unified “operational command.” But at this stage, I wouldn’t attach much importance to this. Indeed, there is a popular element here because one European radical in the committee working on the changes, an advocate for the defence of Union countries only by the Union itself, submitted a dissenting opinion and would like the “treaty changes to be accompanied by steps towards becoming independent from NATO.”

That’s right! This radical is named Helmut Scholz (coincidence with the surname of the German Chancellor) and is a graduate of a world-renowned university, namely the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), which he completed in the 1970s, preparing for diplomatic service for East Germany (GDR).

In the material prepared by the committee, of which the amiable Mr Helmut Scholz, along with three other German colleagues and Dutchman Guy Verhofstadt at the helm (so it’s not purely a German committee, oh no!), there is another important provision, very short and easy to overlook, but which could have serious consequences in the coming years.

The provision concerning the European currency. Currently, the norm in this matter is that “The Union establishes an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro.” This means that such a union has been established and anyone can join it. The new regulation reads: “The currency of the Union is the euro.” Does this mean that when you are a member of the Union, you have to join the Euro? Probably the new democratic European parliament, operating according to democratic procedures, will decide on this.

Speaking of money, we must now move on to the next document I mentioned earlier, which I frivolously called the “sailing” document because it has sailing on high seas in its title. The plans that the experts hired by the French and German governments included in it largely coincide with the draft treaty changes prepared by Verhofstadt’s team. Again – it’s not worth dwelling on the details, because in political and expert circles in Western Europe, something like the renunciation of the right of veto and strengthening the European Commission is considered obvious. The twelve authors of this document also addressed the fundamental financial issues for the future of the Union as a superpower. And again, the key sentence is short: “The conclusion from the positive experience with the NextGenerationEU mechanism should be to enable the Union to issue common debt in the future.”

Mitteleuropa, i.e. Central Europe. All German.

Why does someone have to run Europe, and why should this be Germany?

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Citizens of our country, of course, can have their own opinion on this “positive experience,” but that’s not the point: perhaps if the National Reconstruction Plan (KPO) funds were paid out to Poland, their opinion would change. The issue here is that the moment the European Union can finance its activities with debt, a significant barrier to creating a unified state will be eliminated. All other elements are captured in the amendments by the Verhofstadt commission. Permission to issue debt can be added once the organisational overhaul of Europe is accomplished. Events will then be driven by their own logic.

After all, the debt will need to be repaid, and to do so, it will be necessary to standardise taxes throughout the Union in the name of fairness – perhaps even introduce new, European taxes. Italy’s former prime minister and top Eurocrat, Mario Draghi, recently questioned whether a monetary union can be sustained without a fiscal union, and within his circles, this question sounded rhetorical. It’s impossible. An avalanche will start and sweep away everything in its path because a state cannot be partially constructed.

European politicians from dominant countries in the Union are thus embarking on the path of building a European superstate. It will have its own massive budget, determine foreign and economic policy, and perhaps even defence policy in the future. From the perspective of Berlin and Paris, however, the most crucial point is that they will be able to mobilise vast amounts of money for developmental projects, which will mainly benefit their own industries, comparable to the funds the Americans earmarked for the somewhat misleadingly named Inflation Reduction Act. This act involves pumping over a trillion (European trillion!) dollars into a green economic transformation.

The amounts required for a similar goal in Europe are also astronomical. Furthermore, we have yet to rebuild Ukraine after the war, which will ensure prosperity for European companies for decades. The only way to finance such projects and ensure social peace in the process is to take on community debt since individual countries are already heavily indebted. The public debt of countries like France, Spain, or Italy exceeds their GDP, and the average debt of eurozone countries surpasses 90% of their GDP. Moving forward seems to be the only solution.

By the way, it’s hard not to feel that the major EU countries, which are not large enough to be independent “poles” in the emerging multipolar world, will be able to stand on an equal footing with the US President and the Secretary of the Communist Party of China, thanks to this reform. Not as before, in one room, but genuinely on par. For now, in economic terms, but in the future, who knows? Perhaps even militarily. The latter seems very distant, but there must be some reason why Guy Verhofstadt’s commission included a provision in its project about the Union achieving “strategic autonomy”?

The big question that citizens of countries belonging to the Union, as well as those joining it, will have to answer is whether they are ready and determined to build a European superstate? Undoubtedly, the financial benefits and the pride of seeing Europe become a global superpower will be significant incentives. In return, one will have to give up the ability to make decisions on domestic issues at the national level. Will we take this step?

– Robert Bogdański

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: The European Parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg. Photo: Europa Press/ABACA / Abaca Press / Forum
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