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Whether the continent is willing to do so is quite another question, however. French President Sarkozy has proposed strengthening French and European military power, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has added his endorsement. But earlier European defense initiatives have essentially gone nowhere.
In Europe only Britain and France are really serious about their militaries. The conscript German military is primarily a source of social workers — who receive an easy deferment from military service — rather than a combat force. Berlin has sent soldiers to Afghanistan, but with the proviso that they not be stationed where they might be shot at. Most European states only play soldier, hoping to do enough to maintain Washington’s security guarantee through NATO. Countries like Estonia and Albania conspicuously preen after sending two or three score soldiers to Iraq.
Moreover, a united Europe could end up being a counterweight against America as well. Although U.S. and European interests normally mesh, if not fully coincide, geopolitical differences are real and might increase. A consolidated Europe is likely to be more susceptible to the machinations of unaccountable interests, lobbies, and bureaucracies. Moreover, a continental foreign policy will make it more difficult for Washington to work with individual European states, “new” or “old,” with which it has warmer relations.
As for economics, the EU has broken down internal trade barriers but now is beginning to create a monster regulatory state. U.S. firms, such as Microsoft, have ended up in Europe’s legal crosshairs. Last month the EU approved new rules, long opposed by Washington and U.S. firms, to essentially force chemical companies to prove their products are safe. Proving a negative is extraordinarily difficult and the cost of implementation over the coming decade is likely to be in the billions of dollars; some firms might have to abandon the European market. The EU’s regulatory reach might soon extend to American businessmen and tourists traveling to Europe, under a new set of security regulations being considered in Brussels.
To some degree Washington has only itself to blame. For years the U.S. government has claimed the right to regulate everyone everywhere — expanding Cuban sanctions to the European subsidiaries of American firms, for instance.
Reciprocal extraterritorial regulation has now arrived for Americans. Still, whatever Washington thinks of the prospect of a consolidated Europe, there isn’t much it can do about it. And Ireland would seem to have saved America the trouble of worrying about the issue.
EXCEPT THAT THE EUROCRATS aren’t finished. They believe in a variation of the Brezhnev doctrine: a yes is forever, but a no is only temporary. The basic tactic was suggested by the Belgian newspaper Le Soir: “The idea is to completely isolate Ireland.” For this reason the eight countries that have not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty have been urged to carry on. Obviously, 26 to 1 allows a tougher squeeze than 18 to 9.
This tactic might not work — both the German and Polish presidents are currently withholding their signatures from the treaty for different reasons — but even if the other 26 say yes, then what? The simplest proposal is for a revote — a tactic used in 2002 after Ireland first rejected the Nice Treaty, which further centralized power in Brussels while making a number of technocratic changes to the EU’s governing structure. But even tossing in a few opt-outs and other goodies might not win over the Irish people this time.
Of course, European consolidators dismiss the Lisbon Treaty’s critics as a bunch of know-nothings, and complain that the Irish didn’t read the document. Undoubtedly so, but few of those who voted yes likely did so either. Even Irish Prime Minster Brian Cowen, a treaty backer, admitted that he had not read it.
And many Irish who opposed the accord cited serious concerns over preserving economic freedom, maintaining government accountability and transparency, and preserving Ireland’s national identity and international neutrality.
Understandably, Prime Minister Cowen worries that failure in a second referendum would mean the fall of his government, and so far has rejected the idea of forcing another vote.
Other proposals include creating a two-tier structure for Europe. But Britain and other countries oppose that idea, which seems unworkable: How can the EU have a united foreign and defense policy, except for one member? How can unanimity be abandoned, except for the Irish? Such a system would be complex even for the byzantine governing structure of the EU.
A few Eurocrats advocate tossing the Irish out of the EU. But what other nation wants to establish that precedent? Even more fundamental is the question of Europe’s commitment to the rule of law. Democratic republics work only if the losers respect the results and do not attempt to manipulate the system for their own purposes. A continental government in which a few thousand elites are able to ruthlessly override the wishes of a majority of a half billion people raises questions about the moral and philosophical character of the EU. It wouldn’t be Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, obviously, but it also would not be a genuinely liberal democratic order either.
Ultimately, it’s up to the Europeans to decide on their governing institutions. And we all only see through a glass darkly into the future. But Ireland’s no vote has given the rest of the continent an opportunity to stop and reflect. The people of Europe should ponder well the pitfalls of EU consolidation, a one-way path away from Europe’s great liberal heritage.
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