August 29, 2010

YOU CAN EITHER HAVE DEMOCRACY OR TRANSNATIONALISM, NOT BOTH:

As nationalism rises, will the European Union fall? (Charles Kupchan, August 29, 2010, Washington Post)

For many Europeans, that greater good no longer seems to matter. They wonder what the union is delivering for them, and they ask whether it is worth the trouble. If these trends continue, they could compromise one of the most significant and unlikely accomplishments of the 20th century: an integrated Europe, at peace with itself, seeking to project power as a cohesive whole. The result would be individual nations consigned to geopolitical irrelevance -- and a United States bereft of a partner willing or able to shoulder global burdens.

The erosion of support for a unified Europe is infecting even Germany, whose obsession with banishing the national rivalries that long subjected the continent to great-power wars once made it the engine of integration. Berlin's recent reluctance to rescue Greece during its financial tailspin -- Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted the bailout for months -- breached the spirit of common welfare that is the hallmark of a collective Europe. Only after the Greek crisis threatened to engulf the euro zone did Merkel override popular opposition and approve the loan. Voters in local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia promptly punished her party, delivering the Christian Democrats their most severe defeat of the postwar era.

Such stinginess reflects the bigger problem: Germany's pursuit of its national interest is crowding out its enthusiasm for the E.U. In one of the few signs of life in the European project, member states last fall embraced the Lisbon Treaty, endowing the union with a presidential post, a foreign policy czar and a diplomatic service. But then Berlin helped select as the E.U.'s president and foreign policy chief Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, respectively, low-profile individuals who would not threaten the authority of national leaders. Even Germany's courts are putting the brakes on the E.U., last year issuing a ruling that strengthened the national Parliament's sway over European legislation.

This renationalization of politics has been occurring across the E.U. One of the starker signs of trouble came in 2005, when Dutch and French voters rejected a constitutional treaty that would have consolidated the E.U.'s legal and political character.

The Lisbon Treaty, its watered-down successor, was rejected by the Irish in 2008. They changed their minds in 2009, but only after ensuring that the treaty would not jeopardize national control of taxation and military neutrality.

And in Britain, May elections brought to power a coalition dominated by the Conservative Party, which is well known for its Europhobia.

Elsewhere, right-wing populism is on the upswing -- a product, primarily, of a backlash against immigration. This hard-edged nationalism aims not only at minorities, but also at the loss of autonomy that accompanies political union. For example, Hungary's Jobbik Party, which borders on xenophobic, won 47 seats in elections this year -- up from none in 2006. Even in the historically tolerant Netherlands, the far-right Party for Freedom recently won more than 15 percent of the vote, giving it just seven fewer seats than the leading party.

If these obstacles to a stable union weren't sobering enough, in July, the E.U.'s rotating presidency fell to Belgium -- a country whose Dutch-speaking Flemish citizens and French-speaking Walloons are so divided that, long after elections in June, a workable governing coalition has yet to emerge. It speaks volumes that the country now guiding the European project suffers exactly the kind of nationalist antagonism that the E.U. was created to eliminate.



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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2010 8:37 AM
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