Don`t ask if you like Europe

En av den svenske tankesmien Timbros grunnleggere, Dr. Carl Johan Westholm , tidligere også adm dir for svenske Företagarna og Svensk Handel, holdt denne talen om Europa og USA hos Heritage Foundation i USA, november 2004. Westholm mener det er feilaktig å stemple liberale kritikere av EU som «Euroskeptikere».

Warm thanks for the opportunity to speak to you about a subject that engages or puzzles most of us: Europe.

I especially appreciate being here at the Heritage Foundation, whose leadership both in the USA and the rest of the world, has inspired so many to work for a greater atmosphere of freedom.  To breathe freely makes the difference between hope and despair in the life of societies and individual human beings.

How should we interpret the ongoing diplomatic skirmishes between US and EU? Is there an Atlantic Divide developing into an Atlantic Drift? Permit me to simplify by talking about Europe and EU as the same thing, and as a homogenous part of the world, which of course is not the whole truth.

How can we better understand the day-to-day media news about Europe and EU?  Let us look at dreams about Europe, at the ideas, and at the most popular key words.

Who is dreaming about Europe?   And what is Europe?

The big united Germany, with its 83 million people, makes 1.3 percent of the world population. EU with 25 member states has about 450 million inhabitants, or 7.2 percent of the world population. USA has less: 292 million inhabitants, or 4.6 percent.

China with its 1 300 millions has 21 per cent of the world population. When non-Chinese companies come to China, in order to sell, it often ends up with a new factory in China. European and American businessmen are dreaming more of China than of Europe. The exception is former Eastern Europe, where the labour costs are low.

When the Chinese leaders check the world, they are not that interested in what is going on in Europe. They admire America. USA is the dream. It is also there they often want their sons and daughters to go, to study and to work and even sometimes settle.

If the European Union were a state in the USA it would belong to the poorest group of states. France, Italy, Great Britain and Germany have lower GDP per capita than all but four of the states in the United States. In fact, GDP per capita is lower in the vast majority of the EU-countries (EU 15) than in most of the individual American states. This puts Europeans at a level of prosperity on par with states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia. Only the miniscule country of Luxembourg has higher per capita GDP than the average state in the USA. This is a result of a study by two Swedish economists (Robert Gidehag and Fredrik Bergström: EU versus USA, Timbro 2004).

“The European Dream” does not exist, not even as catch word. “Peace in our time” was Chamberlain’s notorious words after Munich 1938 – and the longing for peace is the nearest you come a European dream after two world wars, which were two European civil wars during a time when Europe still called itself “the world”.

To make Europe a peaceful place was called “the European Idea”.  The Coal and Steel Union should prevent France and Germany to go to war again. This pre runner to EU was a mix of a trade union and an industrial cartel, with the best of intentions.

There is no such expression as the British Idea, or the French Idea, or the Swedish. There is not either an American Idea.

There is an American Dream: millions of men and women dream of better lives, to succeed in freedom and with their own means. American politicians talk about the American Dream. This is a reality, in the lives of individuals and the nation.

Europeans have their dreams too, probably the same pursuit of individual happiness. But European politicians talk never about the European Dream.

The European Idea, on the contrary, is the catchword for every European politician who wants to look like a statesman. The idea is not individual, it is collectivist, of “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, as was said in the Rome treaty.

The European Idea is to foster a feeling among all people in Europe that they are not only, for example, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians or Swedes but also Europeans. This massive engagement is an elite project from above, among most leading politicians, businessmen, media and bureaucrats in Europe. This is a traditional European method.  Russia was not created from the grass roots, the different people of the Baltic states had no strong idea of their national identities before some intellectuals began educating them. Italy has still many different languages, hard to understand even for many Italians.

It is hard to believe that this collectivist bias in the European Idea has no significance. It has, and the individualist credo in the American Dream has it also – but for different reasons and with different consequences.

Few seem to dream about Europe. In Brussels, and in the political circles in the capitals of Europe, they talk the more. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Europe, and the Word was Europe. For some people, it seems that any activity is OK, as far as it can be said to be European. For the real European enthusiasts, their beliefs seem to be of a secular religious character. Even corruption seems for some people to be of a milder type, if it is European. I do not overstate – this phenomenon is visible among people who think that a geographic entity is more important than what is going on there.

Fortunately, this attitude is not dominant among most Europeans, except unfortunately among some dominant Europeans. The European Union is the grandest live-show experiment in public-choice theory ever seen. The people who are dedicated, determined and European by their hearts and wallets are attracted by Brussels. The people who are not fond of Brussel’s bureaucracy and political interventionism, they hesitate to be in Brussels. It is difficult to see how this mechanism of selection would produce less of politicization on the European supra national level.

But what about the key words? The first slogan was “integration”. The meaning was sometimes economic, sometimes political. When “the European project” (also an inside terminology) was young, the economic aspects were underlined: less customs and regulations, more and freer trade between member countries. The European economic integration has been beneficial not only for Europe but for the whole world. The Common Agricultural Policy is an exception. Fortunately, there is no Common Industrial Policy and no Common Commercial Policy. Common freedom is better than common policy.

What was once the European Economic Community (EEC) lost one “E” and became The European Community (EC). The new catch word was “harmonization”. Different rules in different countries should become the same for the whole area. The integration shifted character, from the market to the political arena. But still, you talked about integration – and who could be against harmonization. Harmony sounds good in music, doesn’t it?

I do not need to repeat for this audience the importance of tax competition, which is the opposite of tax harmonization. If you really want to harmonize not only taxes but the economy, you have to recall Gosplan and all the harmony that is on the surface of a state-owned and state-planned economy.

By this, I do not mean that EU is Gosplan. I do not say that they are of the same category. But I do say that this talk of harmonization in politics, in Europe or wherever, is nothing but rhetorical humbug. It leads the minds of people in a collectivist direction, pretending to be just common sense, and politically unavoidable.

The first key word was integration, the second one was harmonization. What is the third one?
“World power”.

One new argument, and of growing use, is to emphasize that it is unhealthy that there is only one world power, the United States, and that Europe therefore must counter balance it.

Of course, there is a political left and right dimension on Europe. The left in Europe has become more positive to EU, the right more negative – except in Sweden and Norway, where most people on the right still see EU as the chance to become more continental with lower taxes etc and the leftist parties fear the same. The European dimension has split the social democratic parties in Scandinavia for decades, and also among non-socialist parties, you do not find complete harmony (excuse me).

US administrations have traditionally been positive to what they also used to call the European integration. The present American administration wants Turkey to become a member of EU, for various reasons. In cultural terms, Russia seems to have more of a European heritage than Turkey, but a Russian membership would definitively change EU – maybe so that the supranational tendencies of EU would be limited, by obvious reasons.

Anyhow, it is interesting to observe the discussions of EU and Turkey. Everything is focusing on Turkey, it is presupposed that whatever will happen, EU would be good for Turkey. But imagine that the political development in EU as well as Turkey will mean more of interventionism and corruption with tax payers’ money. In that case, two bad guys will support one another. The opposite would be the case if, on the other hand, the market, not collectivistic solutions, will be used more and more in Turkey as well as in EU.

Everybody who wants to improve Europe and EU should realise that the improvement is not isolated from your own values, from the increasing globalisation process and, paradoxically, the increasing roles of national governments on this field.

World trade expands with the double speed of economic growth. What happens in one country becomes more and more important for people in other countries. The power of each national government to do good things is more and more restricted, but the power to do bad things has often wider repercussions than ever. To influence government policies in other countries has become more and more vital for a functioning world economy and for progress for freedom and prosperity in the whole world.

Government officials often meet diplomats, but are the slaves of public opinions, which is far better than being the servants to diplomats.

Globalisation of the development and distribution of ideas is a fact, which I think is horribly undervalued by the proponents of globalisation. This is one paradox. The other paradox is that national governments today have greater options than ever to lead the opinion, not only in their own countries.

Take the American presidential campaign. What was said and done there was reported in media all over the world. In a world with intense media presence and coverage, the mandate for leadership is global.

A conclusion is that think tanks, being with F A Hayek’s words, “second hand dealers of ideas”, have a new potential as bridge builders between public opinions in different countries and continents.

The history of EU is a history of a fight between different ideas. The first fight was between peace and war in Europe, and the establishment of the European Economic Community gave peace a better chance. But the hot political idea in the 1950´s, in a Europe which longed for a peaceful development, was not an innocent baby. It was a mature, planning engineer, with bold ambitions and Utopia as daily breakfast. Those were the days – “dirigisme” is a French word but not a French concept.

The new member countries of EU have their own experiences of totalitarianism. It will be fascinating to see how this will co-exist with the daily working practice of west-European – and Washingtonian – politics.

There are 8 000 lobbyist in Brussels, most of them trying to get advantages for their clients on other companies’ or peoples’ expense. A few of the lobbyists combat discrimination against their own group. Scarcely no lobbyist is paid to promote the idea that every citizen in the union shall be treated equally. The EU Commission, the national governments in Europe and all officials in Brussels have looked at this as an unavoidable and thereby natural and legitimate way of working; the word is “dynamic process”.

The first success in Western Europe fifty years ago was peace. The second still ongoing fight is between those who want to liberalize and those who want to politicize Europe. But so absurd is the situation, that the peace-argument has constantly been used as an argument for more politics. History shows that too much politics stimulates conflicts within a society.  It leads to demands from different groups for protection – trade barriers, immigration obstacles etc – against the outside world.

Europeans who do not want more of politics and bureaucracy in Brussels are called – in media and of course by European supra nationalists – “Euro-sceptics” and “anti-Europeans”. You in the US can be lucky that politicians who do not want to give more power to Washington are not described as America-sceptics or anti-Americans.

A world government would be a potential monster, with the power to integrate, harmonize and limit liberty. Fortunately, to be against a world government is not said to be anti-world, or world-sceptic.

The proposed Constitution for EU confirms the politicized character of the European project. The proposals are all more or less about how to regulate decision making, about how to practice power, not about how to limit power. The classical definition of a constitution, however, is to give the sphere for individual decision making a safe place – to protect individual freedom and restrict state power.

You can interpret the proposed constitution to be like an ordinary West-European constitution, where there are more words than deeds. You can also see it as paving the way for the United States of Europe. What will be the outcome?

Winston Churchill is said to be the first who coined publicly the expression the United States of Europe. He supported the idea, and supposed that the United Kingdom should not be a member. The British Isles were not a part of the political continent.

There is another declaration by Winston Churchill which is more appropriate for Europe than this well known one which I just referred to. During WW2, this political and military leader of the free Europe said the following about something more important than politics and military forces. Winston Churchill said:

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”

Therefore, it is wrong to regret an American empire, as long as it serves the case of freedom. It is wrong to ask for a European world power, if its motive is to balance the only strong supporter of freedom.

Should the American empire lose its feeling for freedom, then may its power vanish.  May instead Europe or wherever there are men and women with the right moral stand and stamina prevail and strengthen in their convictions and resources.

The empire of ideas is decisive. If the geographical entity is your first political idea, this will also be your last political idea.

Benjamin Franklin, who lived in many periods in London and Paris, knew this better than anybody. A patriot, in all respects, he was asked if it was not hard to be outside America for so many years. Benjamin Franklin remarked: “Where liberty is, there is my country”.

Therefore, don’t ask if you like Europe. Ask instead what Europe you like. Try then to support your friends with the same ideas as you have, wherever your friends are. —With repeated thanks for being here, just now.            



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