On the first December of 2009 the traditional and separately controlled EEC-entities were cast aside by the Treaty of Lisbon. The EU became one, undivided “consolidated legal personality” (europa.eu).
Perhaps even then the EU and its bureaucracy could still be understood as merely an extra tool. Handy to streamline the billions of subsidies. Useful to bully multinationals, banks and cheating member states in line. A multipurpose platform to effectively communicate the happy, Europhile message. Practical to absorb the horde of flunked politicians and officials from the 14 new member states since 2004. A convenient buffer towards the superpowers. Berlin and Paris had the power to pull the plug on their Frankenstein, still. But due to the farewell of the veto Merkel and Sarkozy could no longer unplug at any time and only at very high costs: the Euro had saturated every sinew of power. Yet, the nearly thousand EMP’s and their numerous aides, the hundreds Commissioners and Institute Members and their staff, the seven-half-thousand bureaucrats of Brussels, Strasburg and the Courts, and the hundreds of EU diplomats located in every capital around the globe, all were still seen as rubber stamps and second rate regulators –at best. The suicidal managing of the crises since 2010 by Eurozone’s national cabinets and parliaments radically changed all this and grinded the European system of sovereign and competing nation-states that has functioned since Napoleon’s Waterloo to an abrupt halt. Since January 2012 the EU is no longer a lobbying lackey financially fed by the supporting sovereign states or Berlin’s loyal marionette, but a budget Tsar sovereignly presiding over the finances of its supporters.
The gradual transference of power between 1990 and 2009 and Brussels’ sudden taken over of sovereignty in 2012 and 2013 has not, I think, been planned by a mastermind. But why not a clique of leading Brussels’ bureaucrats? More absurd things have happened. Still, Brussels’ leading officials and their interconnected, Europhile context are a blind spot. I only know of Ann and Hadley Stevens’ Brussels Bureaucrats? The administration of the European Union (London, 2001), which is a missed opportunity in every respect. EU’s leading administrators never have been seriously researched. Cutting some corners research-wise, I think, however, that Europa.eu (EU’s own website) can be regarded as an unimpeachable narrative of Brussels’ rise to supremacy. Based on this source I interpret that the United States of Europe could happen because the only remaining European counter-power, Germany, had to be Europhile too. The only solution to any geopolitical aspiration of a united Germany –apologetic since the Holocaust– is to gamble on a ‘Germanized’ Ever Closer Europe. Hence, seasoned Brussels’ bureaucrats merely took advantage of opportunity knocking at their office doors. No one stopped them, because France is a EU-subsidy addict since mid-1980ies and the UK hasn’t got the Euro. So, why did bureaucracy take control? Well, why not –it was up for grabs. Edmund Burke reflected around 1780 on bureaucracy’s recent arrival: “Men in office go on in a beaten track” (quoted in Brewer, 84). And that is exactly what Brussels’ leading bureaucrats did when they were handed the mandate to create an Ever Closer Union: they ploughed on. In the supporting states cabinets fell, polity reformed and departments adjusted, but EU’s bureaucracy never changed –it merely expanded.
Becoming a historian in the early 1990ies at the University of Amsterdam the EU wasn’t a topic. The EU didn’t exist in the handbooks on European history, didn’t exist in the media, politics, business, regulations, law, worldview or anywhere. Students who were stupid did “European Science” –something to soothe their rich parents. Even while doing my Phd during the mid-nineties at the European University Institute in Florence the EU only mattered as a money bag. Real opportunities were in the US and the UN. Only the French and the Belgians went for Brussels’ annual concours. My colleagues and I joked about who would go for hegemony first over the vast and fast expanding European realm: Germany, France, the-soon-to-be-member-Turkey or the Italian mafia. Nobody thought of the EU itself. After Pim Fortuyn’s assassination in the Netherlands in 2002 once powerful politicians were banished to Brussels –to enjoy a tax free «remains of the day» and not to interfere again in what mattered most: national politics. Until 2004 nearly 95% of all the Dutch still calculated not in Euros, but in Guilders. Meanwhile, however, Brussels’ thousands and thousands of bureaucrats and hundreds and hundreds of increasingly important EMP’s were hammering the message home: the EU was the real deal.
Expressly since Euro’s introduction a tsunami of information, Europhile ethics, regulations, and legislations for an Ever Closer Union has deluged the Euro-states. In the 1990ies less than 1% of the articles in the Dutch printed media covered items about the EU. In the rest of the articles there was not even a hint that the EU existed or influenced every day Dutch life. In the rest of the Dutch media, including the publications of Parliament, the EU was only a news item during the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, the absence of the EU during the Kosovo crises, and during elections for the European Parliament. These news flashes were ridiculously short and nobody gave a damn. In the Summer of 2013, however, and preparing for my Utrecht University seminars, nearly 20% of all the articles in the leading Dutch newspapers and weeklies hovered around the EU. The same figure goes for the EU media coverage on Dutch television. The already incredible 2013 statistics are moderate compared to the mind blowing 40% during the height of the Euro crisis and the fall of Greece in 2011.
However, Brussels’ impact goes much further. In Het Financieel Dagblad, since 1796 Holland’s leading paper “on everything that has to do with finance, money and the economy”, nearly every main article includes comments such as: “if Brussels’ approves” or “what would Brussels make of it” or “that is not in par with the 3% of Ollie Rehn”. Looking at Brussels for approval or backing has become obligatory for every main decision in Dutch society. Aren’t EU regulations infringed by a highway construction? The helping out of industry? The ruling of a court case? The ‘regulation’ of 500.000 East-Europeans since 2004 which strains the Schengen Treaty (De Telegraaf, 28/1/2014)? Officials ask if EU procedures are obeyed in trade, production, transport and public service. Dutch media copies this behaviour: Brussels is presented as the principal –only there the buck stops. In Dutch universities seminars are in English and books and papers have to be written in English: EU’s leading language. Every manager in every trade and department checks the specific EU state of affairs first. Nobody knows what will happen if this would stop. No one can stop individually. Power perceived is power achieved: Brussels’ bureaucracy now has a hook on every facet of Dutch and, I think, European life –including its legal systems. Brussels achieved this total transformation to de-nationalize and harmonize the EU in such a short time because they were never challenged to alter and were ideologically driven not to falter.
Brussels’ lack of self-reflection and self-auditing has become legendary. The European Court of Auditors that has to approve EU’s finances never okayed spending. Again: Brussels’ spending of its annual budget of 1000 billion Euro has never received the mandatory ‘okay’. Annually there’re leakages of 6 or 7 billion Euro while expenditure for salaries, perks, staff, training, housing, transport, support rises every year too. Still, no EU auditor quits his tax free job. Proven corruption has been a rarity in EU history, but over the past decades quite a few EMP’s and officials objected and functioned as whistle blowers. Yet, in the end all of them either sought re-election or kept their tax free jobs. None of them quit. Corruption cases are covered up. All Brussels’ bureaucrats and EMP’s are fed by the same hand.
External auditing of Brussels is a running gag too. The supporting states never followed procedure and stopped budget or issued fines after yet another disapproval of the European Court of Auditors. Only in May 2013, and hooking up with discussions started by UK’s David Cameron, Holland was the first Euroland aiming “to retrieve sovereignty from Brussels” (Mark Rutte, Dutch prime-minister, in Elsevier 21/6/2013). The Dutch Cabinet listed 54 complaints about Brussels’ continuous craving for control. The list starts with 9 pieces of advise of which the first four are the most revealing:
Of course, Frans Timmermans (PvdA), Secretary of Foreign Affairs, immediately downplayed any hint of rebelliousness: “the Cabinet emphasizes that the Netherlands is not aiming for a change in the Treaties. The existing and current division of powers is much appreciated. The European Union is vital” (Elsevier, 21/6/2013). Hence, nothing came of it: all too little, too late and too lame. Brussels didn’t even respond. The Dutch Cabinet’s list of advises and complaints clearly shows that the “process of creeping competences” already has resulted in a successful shift of sovereignty: Brussels most recent decrees are only indirectly connected to the Treaties. And Brussels’ new decrees are acted out in detail. The only thing supporting states can do is beg for “enough room to manoeuvre to be most effective to achieve the specific and shared goals”. Any external auditing of Brussels by the supporting states has become illusionary. Reality has gone the other way round: Brussels audits the states.
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