Populism is sweeping Europe, because the European Union and its constituent governments have become as unresponsive as the 18th century aristocracies those replaced.
The EU antecedent, the European Economic Community (1957) was created to prevent another World War by integrating the continent’s iron and steel industries and then its broader continental markets for goods, services, capital and labor.
The process created a politically unaccountable bureaucracy, whose broad policy directions are set by consensus among the national heads of government and cabinet ministers. However, Brussels enjoys wide administrative discretion in supervising the customs union, agricultural and fisheries management, and national subsidies, anticompetitive practices, and other behavior that could undermine the “single market.”
Through a succession of treaties and agreements, national leaders “pooled sovereignty” to empower the European Commission to issue edicts that member states must directly obey or conform national laws and regulations in areas such as social policy and human rights, consumer protection and product standards, transportation, and immigration.
To win votes, mainstream national politicians have endemically statist impulses, and hue to globalist views regarding the virtues of freer trade and more open immigration, regulatory responses to environmental challenges like climate change rather than mitigation, and impelling cultural diversity as opposed to preserving local cultures.
In Europe, national leaders have empowered the commission to impose the pain and constraints on private freedoms that such globalist policies require. Then they can point to Brussels to alibi they are just advancing a stronger European Union.
That’s the point. The European Project, as Tony Blair likes to call it, and multilateralism more generally, have become ends in themselves with too little attention to whether free trade within Europe and with other nations, more open immigration, and pan-European regulation in so many areas best serves the well being, security and values of the great mass of native-born Europeans.
As Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign and security policy puts it, the “priority of our work will be to strengthen a global network of partnerships for multilateralism.” Not ensuring prosperity, safeguarding freedom or securing borders for polities threatened by Russian aggression and a refugee crisis.
Free trade, immigration, farm subsidies and fishing quotas, antitrust rulings, mandates regarding the rights of women and minorities, and even rules for the marketing of cheese create winners and losers. Generally, professionals in metropolises have prospered, while ordinary working folks in the suburbs and hinterland languish under the yoke of low-paying jobs and unemployment, burdensome taxes, and declining police and public services.
In recent decades, the arrogance of the commission, burdens of regulation and taxation, and mismanagement of the euro have virtually extinguished growth, reduced much of Southern Europe to near poverty, and driven governments in Spain, Ireland, Greece and elsewhere to near bankruptcy.
All that inspired the British working class to unshackle from the albatross by voting for Brexit.
Across Europe populists are rising up against center-left and center-right parties that have controlled national politics throughout the EU era, but the commission has cracked down on their agendas when they win control of governments in the most biased and cynical manner.
For example, on Italy’s budget for violating EU deficit rules but not on French President Emmanuel Macron’s spending plans, which violate the same strictures, against Hungary for building a fence along its border with Serbia, and against Poland for reforming its judiciary to national values.
Macron tried to defuse the yellow-vest rebellion by backing off his gas tax, raising the minimum wage, advancing other proposals to increase worker and pensioner incomes, and established a network of town meetings, but those are as ineffective as prescribing a cold compress for a burst appendix.
Ordinary Europeans are as helpless to dispose of the EU’s tyranny as were the starving peasants under the reign of Louis XVI and noblemen who their fed dogs better than their workers. Now, the French peasantry are again turning to violence.
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