Being a member of the European political class means never having to say you are wrong — much less, of course, having to say you are sorry. As a member of this self-perpetuating magic circle, you don’t have to learn from experience, consider the evidence, apply logic, or worry about the consequences. There are always expenses at the end of the tunnel.
Like the white man who speaks with forked tongue, or the Muslim permitted to use taqqiya to mislead the infidel, the Eurocrat never quite means what he says or says what he means. Indeed, what he says is compatible with almost anything, and this quality of emptying definite meaning from grammatically formed sentences full of polysyllables has been a characteristic from the very inception of what is now the European Union.
One of its founders, Jean Monnet, said more than 50 years ago:
We want the Community to be a gradual process of change. Attempting to predict the form it will finally take is therefore a contradiction in terms. Anticipating the outcome kills invention. It is only as we push forwards and upwards that we will discover new horizons.
It would, however, be quite wrong to conclude from this strange mixture of mystical exaltation and interdepartmental memo that Monnet did not know what he was about or what he wanted. He wanted a federal state of Europe, but knew that public opinion would not stand for it anywhere if it were spelled in so many words (which is why, in fact, he used so many words). Centralization by stealth was what was needed to achieve his goal.
Herman van Rompuy, the Belgian “president” of Europe whose electoral record makes Stalin’s positively shine (Stalin received too many votes, van Rompuy none at all), is Monnet’s spiritual heir, if one can apply such a term to such men. In a speech last November, van Rompuy — grey of face, grey of suit, grey of speech, and grey of thought — declared national sovereignty in Europe dead, not appearing to notice that his position was approximately that of a murderer who stands over his victim’s corpse muttering, “He’s gone, he’s gone!”
Another thing that Mr. van Rompuy appears not to have noticed is the situation in his own federal homeland, Belgium, which has now been without a central government for nearly 400 days (amen to that, I hear libertarians murmur, forgetting that there are more ways of fleecing the population than by a central government). The reason is that, after 180 years of cohabitation within the confines of the same state, the Walloons and the Flemings cannot agree on common interests deep or wide enough to make a central government acceptable to them both — and this despite the fact that their leaders would profit personally if they did so.
Now one might have thought that the failure of a country small enough to drive across in two hours to unite after nearly 200 years of experience of trying to forge a workable political identity would give the Eurocrats pause: but one would be wrong, not a bit of it. For in a certain sense the Eurocrats are highly imaginative, if an ability not to draw the most obvious conclusions from the most obvious facts, but rather to draw quite opposite conclusions, counts as imagination.
What would Mr. van Rompuy say about the current impasse in Belgium? He would say that the problem is the very existence of Belgium, and that if only the Flemish and the Walloons could be united administratively with the Lithuanians and the Greeks (to name but two of the fraternal European nations now gathered in the union), the Belgian problem would be solved. Likewise Yugoslavia: If only it had been Euroslavia! The linguistic difficulties entailed are of no account, for everyone — everyone in the le tout Bruxelles sense, that is — now speaks Engleurish, a kind of Esperanto with the beauties of the latter removed. And in any case, everyone knows that, underneath it all, the Finns are really Portuguese, who themselves are really Austrians. They have white skins and two legs, don’t they?
One of the great pleasures of being a Eurocrat, I presume, is that all the news is good, especially the bad news, because whatever problem arises leads to the same conclusion as to what is necessary to solve it, namely ever closer union. The fact that the conclusion is foreordained undoubtedly creates many shortcuts in many minds and thus saves mental energy, the type of energy that in Europe seems closest to exhaustion. One might have supposed, for example, that the slight difficulties over the Greek debt would give intelligent and thoughtful people, and even unintelligent and thoughtless people, reason to wonder whether the single currency had been such a good idea after all. But again one would be wrong: At least in the halls of Eurocracy, they are like the Aztecs who thought that they needed yet more human sacrifices to defeat the Spaniards.
In an interview in Le Figaro of July 2, for example, this is what the governor of the Bank of France, Christian Noyer, said in reply to the question “Can it suffice to create a fully integrated market to have a single currency and a customs union, if fiscal and social regulations are very different?”
You are right. We must go further and strengthen integration for the smooth working of a monetary union. The European Commission is now working on it. Likewise, we must return to a single banking market. Before the crisis, thanks to the European Central Bank, the financial institutions of the eurozone benefited from identical conditions of refinance, which meant that there was one and the same market. Now, with the crisis and the massive state interventions in support of their banks, the markets have concluded that, in the final analysis, that bank credit depended upon that of their states; the rating agencies correlated the ratings of banks with that of the sovereign states in which they operated. It’s a real problem.
Suffice it to say that what the French call the Cartesian spirit — that of crystalline and logical thinking — is not much in evidence here. If Puck, indeed, were alive today he would say:
Shall we their fond pageant see? Lord, what fools these bankers be!
It would take a whole article in itself to elucidate all the assumptions, half-truths, and evasions, and all the manifest dishonesties, of Noyer’s answer. I shall confine myself to but a few, a kind of tasting menu as it were. First is the assumption that the monetary union is desirable as an end in itself, irrespective of its economic effects or what must be done to preserve it. This is clearly a political standpoint that is disputable, to put it no higher, and indeed has been disputed. The Germans, for example, never wanted it; but lack of political legitimacy is not something to worry our M. Noyer (the French for “to drown,” incidentally), far from it. The work of supposedly necessary unification is being carried out by the European Commission, a body with about as many checks and balances on its exercise of power as the Committees of Public Safety set up you-know-when. And it is indeed carrying out a revolution, though strictly one from above.
I am no economist, but even I — unlike the governor of the Bank of France, apparently — can see why the solvency of banks that lend trillions on the security of trillions in government bonds might possibly be judged on the real value of those bonds, some of which is fast approaching zero. And is it not obvious that there was a connection between the vaunted unified banking market and the Greek swindle-cum-debacle? How else would the Greeks have been able to borrow so much for so long on the same terms as the Germans, and thereby reward their grotesquely inflated public sector so magnificently?
Since it is vanishingly unlikely that M. Noyer is actually a fool, the explanation for the folly of his remarks must be sought elsewhere. And it lies, of course, in politics.
He is a member of the class of what might be called the Stakhanovites of European unity. Stakhanov, you remember, was the Soviet coal miner in Stalin’s day who shifted unimaginable tons of coal, proving that, with a will, anything was possible. And the Eurocrats are like that: Reality for them is what Nature was to the old-fashioned Marxists, an enemy to be wrestled to the ground, subdued, defeated, in order to yield what Man wanted.
But why do they have this impossible dream, and treat reality the way Mr. Strauss-Kahn is said to treat women? Here I am afraid I must descend to the ad hominem; I can urge in my defense only that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the Eurocrats are men.
The fact is that they are all frustrated megalomaniacs, resentful at the tiny scale of the national stage upon which they would have strutted if national sovereignty still existed. In the old days Mr. van Rompuy could have been sent out as governor of an area of Africa 20 times the size of Belgium, impossible to drive across in two months, let alone two hours. Such a position would have been consonant with his estimate of his own talents: likewise with all the other Eurocrats. And this is another way in which the empire strikes back.