Renewed talk of changing the core EU Treaties, this time to strengthen sanctions against countries which show themselves unworthy of being in the Eurozone?
The problem with changing one part of the EU core structure (this time to meet German demands that Germany and its banks be protected from being the Eurozone’s rich suckers of last resort) is that other countries will pop up demanding changes to other parts of EU core structure.
Or they’ll pop up saying that that’s what they want, in the hope of causing enough problems to be worthy of getting a hefty bung to shut up in the form of concessions in some other policy area.
Which prompts me to post this extract from my Krakow presentation, a slide entitled Will EU Diplomacy Survive? Indeed, such are the marvels of modern technology that you can see a picture of me staring aghast at my own handiwork here.
The slide asks some questions:
EU in 50,000,000 years’ time? No
EU in 5,000,000 years’ time? No
EU in 50,000 years’ time? No
EU in 5000 years’ time? No
EU in 500 years’ time? No
EU in 50 years’ time? Maybe
EU in five years’ time? Probably
This is a striking idea. It reminds us that over time things just come and go.
I enjoy giving presentations featuring maps of Europe and national borders over the past 800 years, one century at a time. These maps show countries, peoples and powers waxing and waning. Now that the Polish, Holy Roman, Russian, Austrian and Turkish empires have disappeared, in some areas of Europe the map looks quite like what we had many centuries ago.
Why should not this pattern continue? In particular, is not the European Union as presently constituted Too Big to Fail – and thereby doomed to Fail in the not too distant future?
In other words, it is likely that within the lifetimes of the sassy young Poles who comprised much of the audience in Krakow last week the European Union will change into something completely different. Not necessarily worse, not necessarily better. Just different.
This change could come slowly. Or abruptly. The state of the EU’s finances because of ill-discipline within the Eurozone means that important parts of the EU financial sector across different countries are vulnerable to sudden crashes in global market confidence which, as we have seen, can come out of a clear blue sky.
All of which is simply to say that any talk of opening the Pandora’s Box of Treaty Change brings forward to the day when the current arrangements start to dissolve.
The political and operational problem in trying to bring about any organised change is that there is now huge weight of people, money and prestige invested in the current ungainly structures: European Parliament, European Commission and countless funding arrangements for all sorts of activities. So trying to take a proper radical look at what is happening now – and identifying something simpler but better – will be next to impossible.
This is dangerous, since it implies that only a really stupendous crisis will force national governments to confront reality and take the genuinely difficult decisions needed to change course.
In such a situation there is no reason to think that national governments will have too much time for an elusive Europe-wide common interest. Instead it will be sauve qui peut.
Do Germany’s leaders really think that they can force through this time round a "narrow" Treaty change which gives them enough of what they want by way of financial protection and does not open up all sorts of other clamorous demands?
Or do they know that that is more or less impossible, hence they are pushing for Treaty changes as part of a wider agenda aimed at deliberately prompting a manageable (they hope) mini-crisis which will allow them to redefine the way the European Union works, but on (mainly) German terms? If that means wielding a fierce Teutonic axe on many beloved EU schemes and letting other countries squeal, so be it.
What, I wonder, is the government in London making all this?
In principle this situation represents a huge opportunity for cynical but pragmatic British influence aimed at forcing out great quantities of EU rubbish — and cutting the bill to British taxpayers.
We aren’t likely to find out easily.
This might be because Coalition London is unable to think straight in this situation.
It also might be because if Coalition London (or at least Conservative London) is able to think straight and has some keen plans up its sleeve, the worst thing of all would be to say so: much better for now to let the Germans do the heavy lifting, and so get a sense of where the main battle lines will be?
Big stuff. And, probably, getting bigger.