EU’s federal vision is buried for good

The debate that opened on the European Union’s budget – including the much-anticipated fourth community package of aid to poorer regions – following the proposal by British Prime Minister Tony Blair appears to have struck the final blow to the vision of a strong, united Europe. Notwithstanding the fact that the UK proposal for a tight budget – which, effectively, leaves out essential financial aid to Eastern European newcomers – is actually a tactical maneuver designed to broaden the debate from a discussion of the UK’s rebate to a rethinking of agricultural subsidies, the amount of money the EU leaders will decide upon in next week’s summit will be so low as to squash any hope of making Europe a big economic and geopolitical power. To the most clear-sighted observers of European developments, the EU is gradually becoming a bigger version of Switzerland, prosperous but otherwise incapable of influencing global developments. Even this prosperity, however, cannot be lasting without political cohesion and military might. Given that investment capital flow is increasingly being directed toward India and China and that the United States is solidifing its hold as a global military superpower, it is perhaps inevitable that Europe will be crushed as an economic force within the next decade or two. It is not a coincidence that even the Atlanticist and rather lackadaisical European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso has been incensed by Blair’s proposed budget. After all, the Commission has said that the total budget for the years 2007-2013 should be set at a minimum of 1.25 trillion euros, if the 10 newcomers, especially the eight Eastern Europeans, are to be successfully integrated. The alternatives expected to be discussed at the summit include whether the budget will reach 847 or 871 million euros, that is, a third less than the Commission proposal. It also appears that among the casualties of a shrunken budget will be funds for research, education and new technologies that would help Europe’s competitiveness. This budget is the polar opposite of what the European leaders were planning for in the 1980s and early 1990s. The effort toward greater political integration seems to have come unstuck and the budget will be a further indication – following the split over Iraq and the rejection of the draft constitution – of the EU’s political decline. If we take stock of statements by European leaders over the past year, it is obvious that confidence in a future integration is lacking. Most member states have abandoned the idea of a federal Europe and are content with the management of a multistate entity. This, in reality, means that members mostly do as they please and then coordinate on secondary projects. This de facto abandonment of the federal vision mostly hurts the economically weakest members, especially the new members. These countries had expected a lot from the budget, despite their show of independence.