Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Predictions For 2020 - Prediction 3 – The EU Speeds Up Integration

Sooner or later, the EU, as a proto-superstate had to develop its own state organs, and define itself in the world. The arrival of Trump, has perhaps speeded up that process. The signs have been there for a while. Bush imposed tariffs on European steel, for example. They proved disastrous for the US car and other manufacturing industry, and were removed. The EU's main members, apart from Britain, stayed well clear of the US/UK war in Iraq. Obama announced the pivot to the Pacific, making clear where the US saw its main interests, in the coming century, as China becomes the rising global power, at the hub of a new dynamic Asia-Pacific economic bloc along with Japan. 

But, Trump has brought the matter to a head. He has made no secret of his hatred of the EU. In part, that's because of an instinctive recognition that the EU represents a competitor to the US, which Trump equates with his own person “l'etat, c'est moi”. Its the same relation Trump has with China. In part, however, Trump's hatred of the EU stems from his own moronic lack of understanding of global politics, the memes for which he imbibes, by the minute, from Fox News, and other Alt-right sources. In part, its a reflection of the views of Putin, with whom Trump's actual relations are still shrouded in secrecy. Putin wants to break up the EU, because it means he has a freer hand for his right-wing, kleptocratic regime to operate across Russia's borders. That suits Trump, because, so long as the EU is busy policing its Eastern borders, and Southern borders, it is acting as a lesser competitor to the US. 

The Iraq War illustrates the problem. EU countries overall wanted to avoid involvement in the conflict. It was a US venture. But, the US is by far the dominant power within NATO. One way or another, NATO countries are drawn into backing actions by NATO's dominant player. The real purpose of NATO, particularly following the pivot to the Pacific, is to promote NATO military power across the globe, and, essentially, that means promoting US military power, and, with it, economic and political power, across the globe. The US complains that it bears the largest portion of NATO's budget, but the reality is that other NATO countries subsidise the promotion of US power across the globe. If EU countries only had to focus on military spending for the defence of Europe, they could do so for far less than is spent by NATO countries in operating on a global basis. And, why would the EU want to operate militarily on any wider basis? After all, the consequence of even being associated with the US's military adventures in the Middle East has been to invite a response in Europe from the jihadists. Switzerland, for example, which has had no part to play in any such wars has suffered no terrorist attacks from foreigners. 

Trump's latest reckless action in murdering Iranian general, Qasem Suleiman, throws it into sharp relief.  It also poses the question sharply for Britain of, which side are you on?  Johnson is caught on the horns of his Brexit dilemma.  He told us that Brexit would mean that Britain would be able to do great trade deals with his friend Trump, but even before his Withdrawal Act is passed, Johnson has had to row in behind the EU position, causing him to be criticised by Trump and Pompeo.  If Britain wants a trade deal with the US, then as former trade Minister Lord Ricketts has said, Britain will have to dance to the US tune not just on regulations and standards for goods and services, which is itself immediately problematic for UK trade with the EU, not to mention also with China, but also in acting as a willing poodle to the US on foreign policy.  Any idea that Brexit would result in increased sovereignty or "bringing back control" was, of course, always a fantasy that was clear to anyone that thought about Brexit in anything other than totally fatuous terms, determined by sound bites.

The EU's main concern is to protect its own borders. Prior to the chaos, caused by the civil war in Syria, that was promoted by the US and its client states in the Gulf, along with the chaos, created in Libya, following the overthrow of Gaddafi  that was brought about by similar means, the EU was developing an economic relationship with the states of the Middle East and North Africa, similar to that it had previously had with the states of Central and Eastern Europe, before they joined the EU. Developing the economies of those countries, via a closer relation with the EU, would have been a far more effective means of ensuring their transition towards becoming bourgeois democracies that could have, eventually, have been drawn into the EU itself. It would have avoided all of the problems caused by wars that then led to the refugee crisis – a crisis which it has, of course, been the EU, and not the US, or its British client, that has had to deal with it. 

Trump has repeatedly declared his willingness to withdraw from NATO, just as he has declared his desire to withdraw from the Paris Climate Deal, the Iran Nuclear Deal, from the WTO, and the United Nations. It is only sensible for the EU to take him at his word, and prepare accordingly. The EU has plans to create an EU Army. It has an EU Border Force that will need to be strengthened. For one thing, depending on how Brexit goes, the EU may need to provide border security in Northern Ireland. It may also need to deploy around Gibraltar at some point. At the same time that the EU's external borders become hardened, its internal borders will need to soften further. The EU needs to address the problems that still have not been resolved from the 2008 Financial Crisis. The measures taken so far have only papered over the cracks. The large amounts of liquidity pumped out by the ECB have not resolved the basic insolvency of European banks, which remain in a parlous state, as well as there being far too many of them. The existence of negative yields on large quantities of European bonds, along with the fact that some European banks are now giving out mortgages with negative interest rates, as well as paying negative interest rates on deposits, is an absurdity that cannot continue for much longer. 

The EU needs to put the backing of an EU state behind the ECB. Sooner or later, it will be forced to recognise the need for infrastructure spending, across the EU, if the EU is to be competitive with rising economic powers in Asia and elsewhere. These fiscal measures will have to be introduced as an alternative to monetary measures. Where any new state has been created, this kind of spending is a means by which the nation state is pulled together. In the US, it was the transcontinental railway, without which California would probably have developed as an independent nation state. The railway performed the same function in Canada, India, and Australia. Today, something similar is happening in East Africa. The EU needs the same kind of continent wide infrastructure that crosses its internal borders, and can be constructed only by a centralised state body, able to plan and coordinate on a continent wide basis. The communications it requires are those for the 21st century: it requires provision for self-driving vehicles, for local transport; hyperloops will be the 21st century alternative to high speed rail or air travel, on a continental basis; but it is telecommunications that will be the main requirement, with a 5G network extending seamlessly across the EU. 

This investment requires a centralised budget, which requires a single fiscal regime to sit alongside the single currency, ECB, and Single Market. It requires a single Debt Management Office to issue EU bonds on behalf of the entire bloc, so that finance is raised mostly at the centre, and dispersed to the different nations and regions accordingly. But, all of this implies that the EU must itself undergo a thorough process of democratisation. There can be no taxation without representation. It will require that the EU Parliament become more democratic and be given greater power. It must bring the EU Commission under control of the parliament. That means that the Council of Ministers becomes redundant. 

I'm not suggesting that all these changes arise in the next year. That would be impossible. But, I see a start on these changes becoming more apparent in the following year alongside the discussions over Brexit. 

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