Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Time for a two-speed Europe...?

I'm increasingly of the opinion that not only is a "two-speed" Europe justified, but it's even desirable.

First of all, let me say that I feel that the expansion of the European Union has been too hasty and too rapid. I'm happy, of course, that Eastern Europe is out from under communism, but having spent two or three generations adapting to it, I think at least a generation of getting used to the democratic process and free market economies was in order before they should have been ushered into a union with Western Europe. I mean, they needed to earn their stripes. That's just how I feel.

But, they're in. Some are adapting better than others. The Czechs seem not particularly happy to be there; their president is holding up the Lisbon Treaty, they've effectively sabotaged their program of getting their house in order to adopt the euro (while, incredibly, the Slovaks, with whom the Czechs once shared a country in which they looked down upon them as the poor cousins, managed it ably).

The British, too, are a problem. I'm particularly disenchanted with them. They want all the benefits of being in the EU, but they want to contribute nothing, or at least as little as they can possibly get away with. They want no onus put on them: no charter of rights, no European court, no shared currency, no common border controls... they're all too happy to eat the corn, but don't ask them to plow the field.

I think the requirement for unanimity in the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty was hopelessly naïve. It was a recipe for failure and I'm completely amazed it's gotten to the point that it has the ratification of 26 of 27 countries. But I don't think it should require even that to get going. There should have been a threshold point where, once reached, the treaty would go fully into effect for those countries acceding to it.

For example... when the United States was reforming, throwing out the creaky Articles of Confederation and replacing them with the Constitution in 1787, the Founding Fathers were not so foolhardy as to require the unanimous consent of all thirteen states before the Constitution would go into effect. They rightly anticipated there would be issues, and that some states might not be ready to sign on to something that new and untested. And so, they decided that as soon as nine of the states had ratified the Constitution, it would go into effect for those states that had done so. The others could join later, or not, as they pleased; but the important point is that the reticence of a few would not prevent the agreement from going into effect for those who had ratified it.

I feel that something like that should have been – should still be – put into effect for the EU. I think that it's long since passed a practical and similar point in it ratification. By the time something like, say, twenty of the member states had passed the Lisbon Treaty, it should have gone into effect for them. The other members under the old rules could hang on, but would have no say in the new institutions until they saw fit to join. Meanwhile, the core of Europe could move forward, and the stragglers could catch up, or eventually fall away, as suited them. And I would put a time limit on it: five years, maybe ten. Join or die, to coin a phrase.

If the Libson Treaty falls on the say-so of one Czech xenophobe, or the selfish, prideful arrogance of the British, then I think next time, the Union must take a page from American history, and institute a two-speed Europe.

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