The EU has been facing an unprecedented assault on its borders with the refugee crisis. So much so that internal dissent about the free movement across the EU has never been higher. The Schengen agreement has been suspended and member states are reintroducing border controls. Political disparity across the member states ranges from far-left governments (Greece, Portugal….) to nationalistic governments which include far-right elements (Poland, Hungary…). Economic disparities across the member states are also extremely wide with the poverty (relative) of Greece and Romania at one end and the wealth of Scandinavia and Northern Europe at the other. Some members pay only lip service to fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets (inevitably these are left-of centre governments and includes France) while others keep within the nominally required deficit limit of 3% of GDP. Civic values are not homogeneous across the EU and individual behaviour follows national mores. In Greece, to pay tax is almost a “sin” and tax avoidance is a national game. In Sweden, it is almost considered a sin for a handyman to be paid in cash for fixing a creaking door and waiters are expected to declare and offer up their tips for taxation.
At the core of the EU idea has been a vision of a Holy European Empire which is far, far more than a free trade zone. It was a vision of a modern Utopia, a homogeneous Empire, a single state, administered from Brussels and stretching far into Asia, all the way till Kazakhstan. People would be citizens of Europe first. The nations would fuse their sovereignty into that of the Empire. Values and living standards and employment opportunity and prosperity would be uniform. There would be a single currency and a uniformity of education, health and welfare services across this new Empire. It would be a Holy Empire in that the values it espoused would be the envy of, and the standard aspired to by, the rest of the world.
There’s nothing wrong in having such a vision, but instead of trying to do this over a few centuries or a millennium, the EU has tried to do this over decades. Worse, EU leaders have not bothered to carry people with them but have allowed the administrators to lead the way. Country after country has been admitted to membership even though the disparities of values and prosperity and politics and behaviour were huge. In the last 30 years it has been an aggressively expansionist EU. The tail has been wagging the dog. Enforced monetary union has been used as tool to try and enforce a fiscal uniformity instead of being as a result of fiscal harmony. Free movement of labour has been encouraged before establishing harmony of unemployment and welfare benefits. There has been a significant number of people moving (always towards the more prosperous nations) – not for the sake of employment – but for the sake of the welfare services available. Brussels has became a place where the worst practices within member states become enshrined as the norm, rather than being from where best practices are disseminated.
The expansion has gone too far, too fast. And now the cracks can no longer just be papered over. The geographical boundaries have been expanded and the borders have become indefensible. So much so that “the fall of Rome” is being looked at as an analogy.
Business Insider: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested that western European states might need to bring in a “mini-Schengen” to deal with the bloc’s migrant crisis, ….. He turned that into a more startling analogy, according to a report from the Financial Times. Here’s the kicker:
“As we all know from the Roman empire, big empires go down if the borders are not well-protected,” said Mr Rutte in an interview with a group of international newspapers. “So we really have an imperative that it is handled.”
Niall Ferguson is professor of history at Harvard University and writes in the Boston Globe:
Paris and the fall of Rome
…. Here is how Edward Gibbon described the Goths’ sack of Rome in August 410 AD:
“In the hour of savage license, when every passion was inflamed, and every restraint was removed . . . a cruel slaughter was made of the Romans; and . . . the streets of the city were filled with dead bodies . . . Whenever the Barbarians were provoked by opposition, they extended the promiscuous massacre to the feeble, the innocent, and the helpless . . .”
Now, does that not describe the scenes we witnessed in Paris on Friday night?
True, Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’’ represented Rome’s demise as a slow burn over a millennium. But a new generation of historians, such as Bryan Ward-Perkins and Peter Heather, has raised the possibility that the process of Roman decline was in fact sudden — and bloody —rather than smooth: a “violent seizure . . . by barbarian invaders” that destroyed a complex civilization within the span of a single generation.
…. Let us be clear about what is happening. Like the Roman Empire in the early fifth century, Europe has allowed its defenses to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its shopping malls and sports stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith. Uncannily similar processes are destroying the European Union today, though few of us want to recognize them for what they are. …….
It is conventional to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent, and that is doubtless true. But it is also true that the majority of Muslims in Europe hold views that are not easily reconciled with the principles of our modern liberal democracies, including those novel notions we have about equality between the sexes and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities. And it is thus remarkably easy for a violent minority to acquire their weapons and prepare their assaults on civilization within these avowedly peace-loving communities. ……
…… I do know that 21st-century Europe has only itself to blame for the mess it is now in. ……. “Romans before the fall,” wrote Ward-Perkins in his “Fall of Rome,” “were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”
The EU has to put its grand visions of a Holy European Empire on the shelf for now. It has to focus on the building up the fundamentals of economic prosperity and fiscal rigour and trade among its members, and forget – for now – its ambitions to force economic uniformity on its members. It has to stop interfering and trying to be a social engineer. Values cannot be imposed, they have to develop naturally. When all member states have achieved, each in its own time, a uniformity of values, fiscal structure and economic prosperity, a single currency will be the natural outcome. And if a Holy European Empire is ever to develop it can only do so when it becomes the obvious choice for the peoples of its member states.