Cracks are beginning to appear in the forced structure of the European Union. In announcing their objections to France and Germany’s domineering diktat, eight EU members have signaled their opposition to a more dangerous cultural shift that has taken place over the past 50 years. If not brought under control, this shift will erode performance and stifle ambition to the point where the continent becomes a permanent second-class society to North America, Japan, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and, eventually, Russia.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s recent identification of the “new Europe,” brilliantly identified this shift of half of Europe away from the growing control of Brussels bureaucrats. His casual reference may well prove to be one of the brightest foreign-policy statements of President George W. Bush’s administration. It is noteworthy that it emanated from the Department of Defense, and not the State Department.
The progressive centralization and statist control of the “Europeanization” of the continent began following World War II, in the 1950s. As it has gathered followers, it is as if a new race has been forming in much of Europe, a breed different from anything we have seen before. This new race is not yet in absolute control, but it should be recognized that a majority of Europeans has become accustomed to government guidance, in preference to market motivation.
The appropriate name for this new race is Eurosocialists. Not Euro-Socialists, no hyphens, no beating around the bush. Rather, a clear identification of those who would create a single, pervasively centralized continent from a score of individual nations.
Anathema to the Eurosocialists above all and everything is what they consider excessive motivation, energy, and effort by others. These feelings have become so engrained that it will be difficult, perhaps not possible for decades, to recreate a productive, promising climate and attitude capable of competing with the more dynamic countries of the world. For now, we will have to live with a new race firmly linked to government aid, control, and all the other encumberments of a supra-state. Always dedicated to very, very early retirement, the Eurosocialist of course maintains fine decorum in his casual, coddled guitar culture.
The members of this race believe that a comfortable living standard should be guaranteed to them simply for existing. How much each Eurosocialist works or produces with his or her intellectual contribution plays no role. Today, a majority of Europeans seem to be part of this belief system. It is particularly disturbing that this should have happened in a continent so full of history, culture, learning, science, and remarkably talented people.
Eurosocialism got its big initial boost in the late 1950s and 1960s when the original European Common Market of six countries, avowedly dedicated to centralized political and social “unification,” won out over the European Free Trade Association of seven states, whose title meant only what it said. Then, as now, the driving Common Market powers were France and Germany; while Britain attempted to create something less monolithic via the European Free Trade Association. And the French and Germans won.
At the end of World War II, there was a clear opportunity for a new beginning in Germany, France, and elsewhere. America’s victory over German fascism, then called National Socialism, made possible the introduction of genuinely democratic forms of government and truly free enterprise. Unfortunately, we had overlooked one critical point.
Socialism in its most comprehensively pure form-communism-lived on in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. In Germany, France, and elsewhere, academics and intellectuals copied the softer elements of this hard-core socialism, firmly establishing this ideology in schools, universities and media throughout virtually all of Europe. The soft-core socialists have enunciated a successfully evangelized Europeans using this Mercedes-socialism, managing to turn these attractions into a way of life.
Free enterprise exists in form, but is limited in substance. Europe has its stock markets, multinationals, finally even venture capitalized start-ups, all the elements which propelled the United States into the fast-lane. But corporate Europe operates in close association bordering on partnership with government.
All this togetherness, at virtually every level has created a slavish social conformity that says: “Do not step out of line or show that you want to work harder in any noticeable way”…. And be sure not to indicate you are more motivated by your own willpower and energy than your neighbor or coworker.
Curiously, driving a powerful BMW and your wife wearing ultra-fancy jewelry go well in Germany, which has transformed itself into a world leader in materialism, greater even than the United States with all its advertising and throwaway consumption faults.
Materialism behind closed doors has become one phenomenon and if you are one of the 100 most successful Germans you will certainly be envied. However, you had better be careful your name does not appear in the media, or you will not be considered a regular member of the Eurosocialist team, but an outsider.
Today in France, an open shirt is standard Eurosocialist attire, certainly with no tie and best without a jacket. Demonstrable intellectual “finesse” is still in high demand, but showing signs of economic success is quite another matter.
Society has arrived at the point where an entrepreneur, a scientist or a physician openly earning four times the average wage is considered asocial. The French will say, “Monsieur ou Madame est bizarre,” that is, something is out of line with that man or woman.
In short, the hardworking have become the exception. They are no longer considered examples to be admired by the young.
Today, the EU, with dual capitals in Brussels and Strasbourg, France, boasts some 40,000 bureaucrats in control of domestic life from common labor regulations to production of butter, milk and eggs. The $90 billion budget casts in concrete thousands of laws and regulations, superseding national legislation and customs developed over generations. Fifth layers of government are super-imposed on the citizens.
Stifling statist control has worked better within the EU than internationally. Disagreement over what action to take against Saddam Hussein is an embarrassing example. While individual members act in defiance, diplomatic functionaries rove the world representing “European” policy rejected by fully half EU members.
Within Europe, however, individuals and communities are effectively coerced into becoming captives of an opaque, immovable, unapproachable system. Although each European pays $250 a year in taxes to Brussels, it has all happened without a vote, neither for the scope and method of government nor for a constitution (which is still far from being agreed). With the exception of three countries where voters were finally asked, the same goes for the euro, the new currency.
What happened to the opportunity offered the newly liberated continent in 1945 and later? Having lost 400,000 lives in World War II, the United States provided $26 billion in Marshall Plan aid to friend and foe in Europe, in 1952 dollars. France benefited by $5.5 billion, Germany by $2.8 billion, equivalent to $32 billion for France and $16 billion for Germany at current values. This enormous and unprecedented aid was aimed at economic and social recovery, however, with no stipulation as to the form that recovery should take.
Fortunately, some rays of light are beginning to appear on the horizon. Here and there regions are daring to act counter to the EU, openly questioning predominant Eurosocialist solutions. Market forces have motivated both companies and municipalities to form economic and trade alliances.
In Northern Italy, in sections of Austria and in Germany’s Bavaria, zones of cooperation are developing. In Switzerland, not yet part of the EU, it is the strip between Geneva and Lausanne; in Britain, around Oxford; in Spain, areas in the South.
Moreover, businessmen, companies, and even some politicians have started planning across borders. In the big triangle between Lyon in France, Turin in Italy and Geneva in Switzerland, one such answer to EU dominance has developed. Similarly, northern Switzerland is pushing feelers toward neighboring Austria and southern Germany.
Scientists, businessmen and politicians are supporting these new regions. Where it is happening, esprit de corps, increasing productivity and greater overall dedication to one’s work follows.
National resistance to EU demands has succeeded in several instances. Ireland has moved from the lowest to the top layer in productivity, largely because of its resolute refusal to raise tax rates to the EU’s strangulating levels, saving the average Irish worker 8 percent in taxes versus their continental counterparts. Italian centrist politicians, led by businessman turned Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, are beginning to open the shackles of punitive taxation as well as the nation’s notorious regulatory morass.
Venture capital start-ups are the order of the day in Switzerland, proceeding at a rate unprecedented elsewhere on the continent. The Swiss social scene remains noteworthy for its family-centered discipline and the country continues to excel in basic and higher education. Lausanne’s IMD-International Business School is on a par with Dartmouth, Michigan and Carnegie Mellon, currently rated best in the United States by The Wall Street Journal. One can obtain a world class MBA in 12 ½ months at IMD; while it takes 20 or more in the United States or at Oxford.
Each of the 27 Swiss cantons controls 40 percent of governing powers, with municipalities holding another 30 percent. Only 30 percent is ceded to the federal government, to provide overall national guidance and conduct defense and foreign policy. Politicians in the EU are beginning to take notice of the obvious benefits of the Swiss system.
An estimated 97 percent of Europeans do not know the names of their overseers in Brussels or representatives in Strasbourg, in part owing to the speed with which the supra-state has become operational, overriding the rights and desires of individual citizens and many of their governments.
Two self-crowned leaders of the EU supra-state stand out: President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany. Instructive of the pervasive political attitude favoring Eurosocialism, Chirac, and Schroeder follow hard on the heels of governments headed by their political opposition, respectively Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl, the two predominant forgers of the EU in its present iron-fisted form.
Chirac plays the pragmatist, pretending to represent a middle-of-the-road conservatism. Excelling in typically Gallic flowery promises with very limited follow-through, and cloaked in sassy Italian suits, this 73-year old likes to blame l’arrogante Amerique for Europe’s troubles. A salon-Leninist is one of his close advisers: his daughter, Claude. Chirac, who has another six years of regal rule, has effectively subdued a significant number of talented younger politicians.
French history books mention Omaha Beach in a single paragraph and the Marshall Plan no longer appears at all. In another ten years, it seems entirely possible that America’s pivotal role in liberating France will be unknown to French students.
Germany’s Schroeder is far distant from the Federal Republic’s founding father Konrad Adenauer, or even later Social Democratic Party Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Striving to maintain his SPD-Green coalition in power through a series of increasingly anti-American actions, he has effectively presided over the regression of Germany to a narcissistic level not seen since the years preceding World War II.
Both Schroeder and Chirac could easily have changed the dirigiste course of the EU by reverting to national responsibility. Instead, they have chosen the easy downhill slide, giving Eurosocialism the opportunity to take root and flower. The result is that EU economic, foreign and military policies are worlds apart from those of the United States.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? We must have hope, but with Europe at self-induced half-speed compared to America and Asia, any real change will be incremental, without a radical change in German or French leadership.
Short-term, the gulf will surely widen. As they encounter ever greater areas of conflict, Eurosocialist protectionism and America’s free enterprise spirit will have increasing difficulty coexisting. Eurosocialism is on the march, with legions of non-elected bureaucrats committed to solidifying suffocating systems that corrode commerce as well as individual freedoms.
Barring major political upheaval or more major terrorist disasters, there currently are only a few ways to stop the Eurosocialists from completely homogenizing the continent. On a national basis, it is possible that one or more tax rebellions will occur, as governments see their commercial competitiveness steadily erode. More trans-national groupings such as those noted above could also be formed.
Perhaps the most significant development would be development of ad hoc commercial associations among the New Europe nations identified by Rumsfeld. These could include Polish, Czech, and Hungarian members of the former East bloc, plus one or more of Britain, Spain and Italy.
Whatever Europe’s eventual course, it is certain the struggle will be long and arduous. However, given one or more of these developments, it is possible to envision the Eurosocialists in Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris and Berlin finally giving way to realism and favoring economic over political union in Europe.
— International investment banker Niels de Groot, formerly with Bank of America is now based in Switzerland. John R. Thomson is an international-business-development specialist, journalist, and former diplomat residing in Florida. This piece originally was written for United Press International; it is reprinted with permission.