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The Triangle that explains Europe
The Triangle that explains Europe.
Speech. Amigo Society, Brussels, November 6, 2007.
Carl-Johan Westholm, Free Europe Constitution.
Thank you for inviting me to speak about Europe. Today is the 6th of November, which is a dangerous day for a Swede being on the continent trying to make an impact on Europe. It was today, 375 years ago, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, “The Lion of the North”, fell from his horse in the battle of Lützen in 1632. The 30 Years War 1618-1648 was still to go on for 16 years. The result was confirmed in the Treaty of Westphalia, making Sweden a big player for some time, and more importantly, it ended the war on German soil, also for some time. The Empire became a confederation of states of practically sovereign princes, and the religious confessions became legally equal.

As you may know, I am the founder of a vote online site, called Free Europe Constitution (www.FreeEurope.info). Why, you may ask.

Already as a teenager I wanted Sweden to become a member of the EEC, as it was then, and I still regret that this did not happen until 30 years later. However, things have changed, Europe as well as I. You can find part of my present views in a luncheon address I gave for the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC in November 2004 (see Articles, November 2004, at www.stateblind.eu). It had the title “Don’t ask if you like Europe”, and was naturally adapted for an American audience. However, it is still a valid description of my general views.

Today in Brussels, I will take the opportunity to widen this analysis of mine about Europe. I will talk about the future, the present, and the past – in this order. And then return to the prospects in front of us. This will also give you the background to my far from humble initiative Free Europe Constitution.

The Future. It is evident, that most changes taking place in the EU mean more centralisation. Nowadays, the talk is not so much about subsidiarity, as about globalisation and that Europe must be competitive and even “protective”, to quote the French president.

There are well known arguments pro and con, which I will not repeat. Instead, I will point to some strange facts, namely

1. There is not even one single leading European politician who says that the goal is a European super-state. This is the more strange as this is a respectable position.

2. Many of the visible tendencies to centralisation are confirmed in the Lisbon Treaty, earlier called the Reform Treaty. In spite of all its details, there is not one word in this constitutional non-constitution preventing the EU to begin taxing its citizens. This seems also strange. Reforms consume money, but this side of the reform is not touched upon; this is a unique reform treaty as it is without a bill – well, visible bill.

3. What should the future of the EU look like? There is much talk about what Turkey should do to become a member of the EU, but not much talk about what kind of EU that Turkey should be a part of. Would it be good for Turkey to become a member of every kind of an EU? This is also strange. The EU is here like the American slogan “Right or wrong, my country”. What the EU is and does is always right.

To summarise: No established European leader says that the EU should become a super-state; there is no constitutional fiscal restraint in the Lisbon Treaty (the former Reform Treaty); and what the EU will look like in ten years from now seems to be a fixed, if never outlined, political fact, while the future of Turkey seems to be the main democratic problem hunting Europe.

This is either a contradiction or a mystery. I think it is a sign that the EU is at a tipping point. Whether the EU will tip, I do not know. The classic expression about the EU as a “dynamic process” could be in pact with the irony of history.

The Present. As we all know, it took some time to get the European Convention to agree upon a proposed Constitutional Treaty, which later was accepted by the governments in the EU member states, and then rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands. The Lisbon Treaty, earlier called the Reform Treaty, is on the whole the same as the Constitutional Treaty, but a more complex and confused document. The former Italian Prime Minister Giuliani Amato has said that this complexity was consciously done, to make it harder to organise a referendum about the text.

“The democratic deficit” has been one of the expressions often heard about the EU. Some people mean that this is caused by or creates a bureaucratic surplus, other mean that this is overstated; instead the representatives of the governments from the member countries have the possibility to take initiatives directly at the EU level, leaving the national parliaments behind. Independent of how you evaluate this discussion, and independent of your opinion about the Ex-Reform Treaty (now called the Lisbon Treaty), it is impossible to deny that the “ever closer union” of Europe in this case can be seen as an ever closed union for the Europeans’ own democratic rights.

What kind of mentality reigns, when in our modern democratic time, efforts prevail to keep decisions about the EU aloof from the people? Of course, you can say that we have representative democracy in our European countries; therefore referenda are not suitable. This would have been a more valid argument, if referenda had not been held earlier about what is on the whole the same proposal.

The reason is evident. We all know why. If there would be new referenda, the majority in at least some countries would probably vote No. The Lisbon Treaty (once the Reform Treaty) would be dead.

It is strange that a proposal said to be so necessary for the future of Europe should be enforced without seeking the enthusiastic consent of the people. A reform treaty deserving its name would naturally have been greeted with an overwhelming public accolade.

The explanation can only be one. The leading politicians give a higher priority to get the Lisbon Treaty enacted than to get it approved by the people. Sooner or later, it will be accepted as a fact, this is the guess. The political risk for the Treaty proponents of avoiding referenda is considered less than the risk of having referenda.

Maybe this is, on the whole, not strange at all. It is common sense, politics as usual. Yes, it could be seen so. The explanation, however, is not to be found in the world today, or only in Europe. We must go back in history. We will find a Triangle with three well known terms and concepts – but their intricate relations and interplay are seldom recognized with clarity. On the contrary, the vagueness has for the last two centuries been fatal for freedom and democracy.

However, in darkness, dark forces thrive. The most eager European leaders, wanting to speed up the process towards a “United Europe” – not divided, and not a super-state but in any case “united” – can with their smartness fool themselves and mobilise populist movements by giving them simple proof of how manipulating and bureaucratic the so called European project is. Newspeak and condemnations, a kind of political exorcism, cannot always stop political extremism.

The Past. Human culture, whenever it began, began with some human beings. They formed a culture, a Society.

They belonged to a crowd, a tribe, or an ethnic group with some common characteristics, often a common territory, a Nation.

They developed rules to regulate the division of labour and physical capital and the distribution of its results, via voluntary exchange – trade - or involuntary exchange - robbery and war. These common rules were the ground for a State.

When Society and Nation were the same, the common culture was identical with a common ethnicity – often in language, genes and soil. “Blut und Boden”, “Blood and Soil”, this Nazi-slogan of the 1930’s was a reality in the old primitive societies. Another one-liner of the 1930’s was “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer”, “One People, One Realm, One Leader”. It had an evident terminological appeal; a second thought could have shown that this terminological strength was bought at the price of a logical weakness.

However, the language is full of traps. “One” and “Unity” are related. If you are not “united”, you are “divided”. This later term indicates a result of a centralised decision; you look at the world as something created by design, to quote F A Hayek. In football there is a Manchester United, but there is no Manchester Divided. But football is a voluntary activity, State action is not.

If you are deeply divided, you are “split”. There is no pejorative word for too much of unity; “uniformity” maybe is the closest sometimes negative word.

When Nation and State were the same, you could motivate State action with nationalistic arguments. Wars between States were national wars. Wars within a state between citizens were civil wars.

If State and Society are more or less the same thing, we have more or less a totalitarian State. Everything is not only regulated but also in details decided by the State. The rulers could be one or many in such a State. Totalitarian it is anyhow.

Now we see the Triangle: the more State, Society and Nation mean and are the same, the more you can use the State to promote Society, and Society to promote the Nation – and the Nation to promote the State.

This could be the background to the sometimes heard distinction between patriotism and nationalism. A patriot is proud of his or her country, but without political intentions; a nationalist wants to use the State, not always with nice methods and goals.

When the Triangle is small, i e, the distances between its three corners are short, we have a closed society, motivated with nationalistic arguments and with state action as a norm. When the Triangle is large, there are a lot of things going on in the Nation and Society that are not parts of the State. Sometimes the State can isolate itself from most its citizens, being neither nationalistic nor dominating Society, merely exploiting the people by some taxation, in exchange organising the defence of the Nation against other nations.

It was not until the 19th century that the states of today’s Europe became nations in the meaning that ordinary citizens identified themselves as primarily Swedes, Italians, Estonians, Russians etc. The nationalisation process was a project of an intellectual elite, eased by the increased level of education and that travels and printing become much cheaper, relatively.

It was first in the 20th century that the technology and mass communications permitted the State to penetrate Society to become totalitarian, sometimes with nationalistic prose (“Lebensraum”, Nazi-Germany), sometimes with another group-identity as a base (“Workers Unite”, USSR).

What has this to do with the EU of today and tomorrow? I urge that this background is decisive, whether you are aware of it or not. If you are not aware, old beliefs will rule your mind. If you are aware, you can make your own choice. This is a moral choice. If you do not observe the moral implications, you are moral-blind; in this case blind for the ethical character of a State: state-blind.

To understand what is going on in Brussels, you have only to exchange the two terms “Nation” and “Society” for – “Europe”. Europe is seen as both Society and Nation. Society is more than the State, but Nation means politics. So “European” means politics. A “good European” is working with and in the State, not just in Society. Compare Jean Monnet (1888-1979), one of the fathers to the EU with Claude Monet (1840-1926), the impressionist painter. The former is called “a good European”, sometimes “a great European”. The artist Claude Monet is not called a good European, but he certainly was a great painter.

If you are “a good European”, you could in every case presented be expected to prefer a solution that a) often means more politics and b) almost always more of all the politics centralised to Brussels.

The “good European” wants a European state, thereby creating a European society. This is the only way for a “good European”. A “good European” wants to harmonize, that is, regulate the fiscal policies of the member states, but does not want any constitutional limits on the EU’s own power to tax. The member states own parliaments are degraded to some form of local councils.

The “good European” is a nationalist in attitude, not a patriot. A patriot could desire more of business and enterprise, culture and tradition, from his or her own part of the world – but not as a result of political decisions but as a result of the spontaneous order, i e all voluntary activities, commercial and non-commercial.

No serious person in the USA says that it would be “anti-American” to want less regulatory power or less tax money to Washington. In Europe, the same attitude is said to be “anti-European”. This is a sign that sheer mythology is an essential part of the so called European project, what Europe is, and is said to be.

In my proposal “Constitution for Free Europe”, point no 1 of ten is “Europe is a geographical concept, and European is as such not necessarily good or bad”.

The qualification follows suit in the next bullet point: 2. “Free Europe means human development in its richest diversity and is therefore good”. These are the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the Berlin University, quoted by John Stuart Mill as the first lines in “On Liberty” from 1859 - the philosophical fundament of the Free Europe Constitution.

Even if the Lisbon Treaty would be enacted, the idea of Free Europe shall live. It can be a reality later. It will be, if the Europeans see that better than considered being a good European, is to live as a free European. A “European Constitution” is not a dirty word. The prime, classic purpose of a constitution is to limit power of politics.

I began by referring to my speech in Washington DC three years ago, with the title “Don’t ask if you like Europe”. I concluded then, as I will do now, in the same way:

- Don’t ask if you like Europe. Ask instead what Europe you like. Try then to support your friends with the same ideas as you have, wherever your friends are. --- With repeated thanks for being here, right now.

---ooo---

Some further reflections, not in the speech, but as background for readers:
1. The terms “country” and “land” are sometimes synonymous with the geographical and cultural entity for the Nation, mostly with none or small political consequences.
2. The EU is the same as Europe, in a geopolitical perspective. This perspective dominates, not least, in Washington. Probably it is better to let the geopolitical perspective, primarily security and defence, be handled by its own institutions outside or inside the EU, independent of how the cooperation is structured for all other political sectors. National security is a basic state area, which could be hampered by political disputes or conflicts in other areas.