Guy Verhofstadt, The EU’s Brexit Negotiator And The United States Of Europe

Over the last decade I have moved from being a passionate believer in the European Union to someone who is far more cautious about the organisation and its future relations with Ireland. When the hierarchy of the EU threatened and cajoled the Irish electorate into voting the “right way” in the second constitutional referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 I lost much of my Europhile ardour. Like many others of my generation I was disappointed by the reaction of Brussels to the previous Lisbon I plebiscite in 2008 and the pressure from the Continent to hold a revised vote the following year. This coincided with the death throes of the paper-thin Celtic Tiger economy of the early 2000s and the scandalous imposition of the bank bailout and all that went with it in the EU-fostered schemes of 2008-11.

I still believe in the European Union as a concept, as a necessary body to facilitate political, economic, social and cultural co-operation and friendship across the Continent and its off-shore islands. However I have slowly but surely grown distrustful of those who work on its behalf, of careerist bureaucrats and politicians who seem to believe that its institutions are superior in form and function to the democratically-mandated national governments of its member states (or at least those outside of the Franco-German axis).

Unfortunately the hard lessons of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the electoral rise of the xenophobic far right in northern and eastern Europe have been lost on many ensconced in the would-be imperial bureaucracies of Brussels and Strasbourg. A significant number of people in the EU’s inner circles fail to acknowledge that a majority of European citizens are broadly satisfied with the current levels of intrastate co-operation within the EU and have no desire to weaken the democratic accountability of their own governments. Rather than accepting this collective position, some Europhile elites continue to argue for the establishment of a “United States of Europe”, a federal nation along North American lines, wilfully misreading and misunderstanding the respective histories of both America and Europe.

This number includes Guy Verhofstadt , the former prime minister of Belgium, a country that is a miniature and entirely dysfunctional example of what the US of E would look like. Career politico Verhofstadt is of course the chief Brexit negotiator of the European Union with the breakaway United Kingdom. Here are his opinions on the EU and the desirability of a “United States of Europe”, politically and militarily, as expressed on the MSNBC show, Morning Joe. For sensible advocates of continued EU co-operation they are deeply troubling. Accelerated and unwanted European “integration” would kill the popular endorsement of the union among domestic populations not save it. The last thing we need are the political fantasies of the Farages and the anti-Farages of Europe.

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19 comments

  1. There are clearly aspects that need deeper integration, like the fiscal union that should be backing the euro, or at the very least significantly enhanced cooperation, like on on military and border affairs.The EU is very far from becoming a federal government, as a comparison of the US’s federal budget to the EU’s clearly shows. It was conceived, and still is, a weak confederacy. With the understanding that that is to be its faith for the remainder of this century at the least, there should not be a problem trying to improve it.

    1. Yes, but there is very little appetite in the member states of the EU for any type of formal confederation or federation. A USE along the lines of the USA is clearly impossible, unless we all adopt a pan-European language, culture and sense of identity, with our current languages, cultures and identities serving as little more than twee folk-custom or to serve the needs of tourists. A Europe-wide confederation would be a chaotic and inherently unstable Belgium writ large, a con-/federation liable to implode at any time.

      As for defence, what of us dedicated neutrals?

      1. But what if we aim not for something like the USA, but something like a big Switzerland instead? It’s a federation with 4 official languages and cultures, one federal government and one currency and is not going to collapse any time soon.
        German is the most widely spoken language in Switzerland, but you don’t see French and Italian speakers throwing their languages away. So I see no need to throw them away in a federal EU too.

        And do you have a problem with an European army that’s strictly for EU defence? Do you think that it’s OK to remain neutral if Russia invades Finland?

  2. He is speaking in a global geopolitical sense, and from that perspective he is completely logical. It may not be a matter of choice, but of survival that Europe creates a defence capability in a world consisting of a few superpowers. Even if you disagree, his point of view needs to be discussed seriously, as the balance between political integration and military integration needs to be struck or else everything good that the EU stands for will be lost if external and internal forces are allowed to tear it apart. Of course, his attitude may risk killing the very thing he sdvocates, but that does not mean that the external and global reasons for a future more powerful EU face to the world goes away.

    1. But his comparison with the USA in terms of what the EU should become is just plain silly. Europe is not North America, and the US was born out of a bloody consolidation of colonies not peaceful confederation among disparate nations and peoples.

      I suspect that most EU citizens feel that the political balance has been tipped far enough in the favour of supranational institutions and agencies – largely for the good – and now is the time to call a halt. Permanently or for some considerable time.

      And not all of us are enthused about the idea of military treaties serving the interests of others.

  3. The choice of this lad for the Brexit negotiations is symptomatic of what’s wrong with the EU.
    He’s important, it’s his “turn”, he’s from the original 6 members (better again a “neutral” original member) – ergo he should negotiate, no matter that the people of Europe hold a very broad range of attitudes towards Britain.
    If I never see another jumped-up former Prime-Minister of Belgium, Luxembourg or the Netherlands again, it’ll be a better day. They seem to emerge in endless supply from these grey European halls.
    Somehow the Republic finds our economy, the peace process, our long-established free-travel zone dependent on the whims of an unaccountable politician who is more likely to be influenced by Belgian banks than the Irish electorate.

  4. ASF, where do you stand on Sinn Féin’s support for open borders and unlimited immigration? As we have seen from other European countries, this invariably leads to social tension, a dilution of the value attached to indigenous culture and tradition, and a feeding frenzy for oligarchical sharks like Peter Sutherland and their useful idiots in The Irish Times and elsewhere. If your aim is primarily Irish nationalism, a revival of Gaeilge and so on how is that compatible with the Internationalism supported by the above parties, including SF?

    1. In depends on your definition of “open”. Of course, we need border controls, and managed immigration (and integration), but I am not particularly exercised by either. I am broadly a nationalist with internationalist leanings, like many republicans. So, for instance, the welcoming of Syrian refugees is a matter of pride not concern. Such people need to be accommodated and integrated if they chose to make Ireland their home, which I’m sure some will. In time, with proper help and understanding, I’m sure they and their children will become níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin.

      1. So you disagree with SF then? I find “internationalism” to be a fairly meaningless term, as it all invariably boils down to is the unrestricted movement of capital and a homogenization of the entire globe. I don’t see how this is in any way compatible with a healthy nationalism.

        1. Oh, I’m not sure about that. The Irish Revolution had a healthy international focus, as did the Fenians before. Nationalism and internationalism are not incompatible. On “open” borders, no controls or management whatsoever, yes, I would very much disagree with that. On taking in more refugees, greater contributions to overseas aid, etc. I would very much agree with that. Swings and roundabouts.

          1. I would say ‘element’ rather than ‘focus’. And I think that element is or was largely expedient upon necessity of outside aid.

            I devoutly wish there were a more centrist party that represented Irish nationalism and Gaelic culture. The whole SF line that ‘You can’t be a Republican without being a Socialist’ line makes me ill, and is a surefire way to alienate plenty of other nationalists and republicans.

            1. Well, I’m more of a social-democrat than a socialist, though both terms are debatable these days. Social-democrats seem to have become liberal conservatives while socialists seem to have become social-democrats. So maybe I’m actually a socialist? 😉

              The term “progressive republican” covers most of my politics. While I lean to the left/centre-left I think that republicanism needs a broad spectrum of parties, from right to left, to represent it. Agree with that. SF is not the only fruit!

              1. Are there any groups, organisations or individuals you would commend? I’m frankly depressed by the current offerings on the Nationalist menu.

              2. I had a soft spot for éirígí at one stage, still do to an extent. However they have lost most of their momentum and are wrapped up in side issues. Additionally, having played with insurgency in recent years they have made themselves an easy mark for the right-wing press.

                There is no real republican party/organisations to recommend, beside SF, to be honest. Saoradh? IRSP? RSF? 32CSM? Perhaps the 1916 Societies who are interesting and committed.

  5. I wouldn’t worry much about the EU. It won’t be around much longer. Combination of increase in Trumpian politics on continent,mass migration,terror attacks and the usual beurocracy and infringement on national sovereignty will cause a continent wide revolt that will dismantle it. I think the German economy will collapse and German society will splinter because of mass migration which will bring the EU down with it.

    1. I see … and after the fall of the EU … what? A return to local wars perhaps? Franco/German rivalry? A return of the traditional centralised nation state complete with hard borders, or maybe widespread cessionist chaos? And where would any/all of that leave dear old Ireland?

      1. Schengen is creating more chaos than any good. EU was a good idea but failed. I don’t see countries going to war again but I do see chaos and violence. In fact we already have it. The continent is getting more violent with each passing year. I think racial/religious violence will be next. Mass migration will be the final straw. Angela Merkel will go down in history as the person that destroyed the EU.

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