Will There Always Be an England?

Remember Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Purloined Letter? The operative conceit of that classic in the literature of detection is that if you wish to hide something, your best bet may be the brazen option: leave it lying about for all to see. The Prefect of the Paris Police couldn’t see what the mastermind Dupin instantly grasped: many things “escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious.” Thus it was with the letter purloined from the royal apartments. It was hidden in plain sight, in a card rack by a writing desk in the perpetrator’s apartment, but the Prefect and his minions couldn’t see what was right beneath their noses.

So where is C. Auguste Dupin when you need him? Consider Europe: not the geographical mass, but the idea -- the “European Project” that was the brain child of Jean Monnet and other socialistically inclined politicians in the 1950s. What’s the most obvious thing about Europe today -- apart, that is, from its staggering debt and moribund economy? What would M. Dupin say?

Before we speculate about that, let’s minute a few historical markers. The idea behind the European Union was to create a “United States of Europe” that would consign intra-European military conflict to the dustbin of history. (Really, of course, what has preserved the peace in Europe these past 60 years is NATO, i.e., the U.S. military, under whose defense umbrella Europe has sheltered, but we may leave that to one side.) Preventing intra-European wars was one goal of the European Project.

Another, which was not so frequently acknowledged, was to forge an economic and political entity that could challenge the hegemony of the other United States. It took a while to get going. Impediments like patriotism and allegiance to national (versus supranational) interests kept breaking in.

Things didn’t really pick up steam until the Maastricht Treaty came on line at the end of 1993. Then there was the introduction of the single European currency, the euro, in 2002. That was a prelude to a continent-wide Constitution. Unfortunately, those old selfish nationalist interests reared their parochial heads again in the mid-2000s, when a European Constitution was offered to the voters of Europe to approve. Mirabile dictu: voters both in France and the Netherlands declined their ticket to EUtopia. This temporary setback was addressed by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008. This was essentially the same document as the European Constitution, but rewritten to be impenetrable to ordinary readers.

And what does the Lisbon Treaty provide for? Leaders who are appointed, not elected; leaders who are accountable to each other, not the people. Rule, that is to say, by self-perpetuating elites who can mostly dispense with the inconvenience of the consent of the governed. The consent of those who govern is so much easier to negotiate.

What does this mean in practice? Here’s a taste. Back in 2012, José Manuel González-Páramo, a director of the European Central Bank, declared:

We cannot completely delegate governance to financial markets ... [The euro] cannot depend solely on the opinions of ratings agencies and markets. ... This underscores my central point that a much more comprehensive approach to economic governance is now the priority for the euro area. And this means more economic and financial integration for the euro area, with a significant transfer of sovereignty to the EMU [Economic Monetary Union] level over fiscal, structural, and financial policies [my emphasis].

“A significant transfer of sovereignty”: What is sovereignty? It is the political power to determine how one wishes to live.