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Radnor Geopolitical Report


Washington, July 2008

 

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Strategic geopolitical intelligence for decision-makers

 

 

 

 

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Now the Irish!

by Ken Feltman

It is not the end of the world.

- Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French Minister for Europe

First it was the Danes, then the French and the Dutch. Now it is the Irish. One gets the impression that when ordinary citizens of European Union countries get to vote, they invariably vote again giving the EU more powers. The governing bureaucrats, on the other hand, invariably reach for more powers. And there's the rub.

The European Union's Lisbon Treaty has been approved or is expected to be approved by every EU member but Ireland. Perhaps that is because only in Ireland did the citizens get to vote on the treaty. Each EU member determines the method of approval. Others allow the bureaucrats and elected officials to decide. Ireland let the people vote in June. The Irish turned it down.

Almost immediately, French and German officials hinted that Ireland could be left out of EU decision-making. With approval behind, the other countries could move ahead to implement Lisbon. The British urged restraint and suggested that, given more time and some concessions, the Irish might see the error of their ways and vote to approve Lisbon in another referendum.

Other European officials struggled to present a united front, but the French and the Germans continued to call for leaving Ireland behind. Ireland's rejection is especially difficult for many other countries to accept.

Ungrateful Irish?

How ungrateful of the Irish, some say. Possibly the country that has benefited most from membership in the EU, Ireland has received about $50 billion from other European taxpayers since joining the EU two decades ago. The money has transformed Ireland from a backwater failure into Europe's leading economic success. Morose poets have given way to software engineers. Ireland today is a magnet for workers from other parts of the EU and beyond. The Irish have passed Britain and per capita income is among the highest in the world.

So some say that the country that owes more to the EU than any other country has blocked reforms that were worked out to replace the constitution that was doomed when citizens in France and the Netherlands voted no a few years ago. The Lisbon Treaty would give the EU a president and a minister of foreign affairs. Thus, the EU would begin to have a common foreign policy.

Zimbabwe

In the end, nothing could be done to help Morgan Tsvangirai and the people of Zimbabwe. A ruthless tyrant and his thugs prevailed again. The one person who might have made a difference was South African President Thabo Mbeki. He let Zimbabwe down.

On the eve of the corrupted election, he said that the world was obsessed with Zimbabwe because white farmers have been victims of a government led land grab. No, the world was obsessed with the plight of thousands of Zimbabweans who must struggle against impossible inflation and worse conditions.

Most white farmers could get out. Most black Zimbabweans cannot. They are the true victims.

Does it matter why the Irish voted no? Not really, although the answer seems to be that the Irish, like the Danes and Dutch and French before them, felt an unexplained discomfort at the thought of giving Brussels more power. Few Irish read the treaty. Some who did voted no because they could not understand it. A jumbled confusion, the treaty defies reading. (Is that a hint for the bureaucrats when they prepare the next version?) Others said they just used the voting opportunity to express their feelings about something else altogether. The Irish establishment - the media, the major political parties, the financial and business interests, even the Catholic Church - supported the treaty. But the people did not.

Poor salesmanship

The point is that now in Ireland, as before in Denmark, the Netherlands and France, the political class could not sell some complicated institutional reform to the general public. The way to get Lisbon approved seems to be to avoid letting people vote. The bureaucrats understand the need for Lisbon. Why don't the voters understand?

Because there is not yet a concept for a country (call that conceptual country Europe) with citizens who care as deeply about the institutions of Europe as they do about their own national and local institutions, customs and concerns. Europe as a nation, not a collective of separate and sometimes rival states, is not yet needed by the average European. As a result, national referenda on European issues are easily hijacked by trivial single-issue concerns. In fact, the trivial concerns will continue to trump European concerns until the voters in individual states feel a pressing need for a stronger and more centralized government for Europe. That need, so apparent to bureaucrats, is not apparent to voters.

Interestingly, the need is appreciated by many in the United States, who want a democratic and centralized Europe as a friend and co-rival to the growing power of more authoritarian governments in Russia and China, for example. The Americans, it seems, want some help and, therefore, feel a need for Europe.

A European view

Christoph Hofinger of Austria is one of Europe's leading political researchers. His forecasts are uncanny in their accuracy. His analyses become the standard explanation. He wrote me about the Irish rejection.

"About the Irish Vote: It is the success paradox. Europe has helped change Ireland from a poorhouse to one of the richest countries in the world. But voters are not grateful. They apparently have concerns about the future.

  • Will my wealth last in this dynamic environment?
  • What will be the next changes in our society in fields like education, housing, migration, health and social security?

    Politicians in Ireland and in Europe generally need an answer that outlines what modernization should bring in the next decade. Without that, people get scared and politically defensive, if not xenophobic. The same is true in Austria, which has passed almost the rest of the world economically - especially after the boom in the former Eastern block and its integration into the common market. Still, a majority of Austrians consider EU membership a bad thing.

    They don’t know where the arrival area of the second run in the ski race of modernization will be. So they worry about breaking a leg."

  • The would-be leaders of Europe may wish to move on without penalizing Ireland. Today's Europe, but perhaps not the Europe desired by the bureaucrats, is already a success. Look at the Eurozone. As it has turned out, there was nothing fatal to the Euro when some countries adopted the common currency and others did not. The Euro is strong and shows every sign of getting stronger. Perhaps European foreign policy can grow in the same two-track way. Sooner or later, more and more countries will adopt the Euro. Foreign policy could follow the same path. European-wide foreign policy is successful when several powerful European states - possibly a combination of Germany, France or Britain, with at least two or three smaller states joining in - unite behind a policy and stick to it. Contrast the strength of this "unofficial" European foreign policy with the "official" European foreign policy promulgated by bureaucrats who owe allegiance to no electorate.

    Brussels and the bureaucrats will survive. So, too, will the Irish, as have the Danes and their fellow naysayers. It's summer and Europe is at its best. The problems of the EU are those of success, not failure: People want to get in. They are not desperate to escape from Europe. People see a bright future. They are not malcontents intent upon destroying the present system.

    Europe is a success. It is the bureaucrats who are not as successful as they want to be. But for almost every other European, the bureaucrats are quite successful enough.

    Recently, several earnest Eurocrats visiting Washington wanted to discuss the American model of political union. Comparisons to the United States are off the mark. Basing a European strategy on the Colonial American model is to base a strategy on the colonies' improbable and unwise decisions. The colonies became a country through sheer pig-headedness and then got a constitution through mutual needs brought about by the failure of the first governing document.

    America as a good example?

    Europeans are not inclined to be so stubborn as those North American colonists who defied the most powerful empire of their time. Remember, the Americans failed their way to success in war and then built a nation with money borrowed in large part from British sources. The borrowed money went to build infrastructure, such as railroads, and one of two things happened: The Americans paid the money back or they did not. Either way, the railroads stayed. For Europe, the United States may not be a good example, even to the current day.

    Europe is not failing, just not succeeding in the way that the bureaucrats want. Europe is as united as it needs to be today.

    Europe, a country with centralized decision-making, will arrive on its own schedule, just about the time it is needed.



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