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Published: 6/16/2001

Ireland slows the drive for a federal Europe

Irish voters fired a warning shot across the bow of the European Union last week, slowing the drive to create a European super state. By 54 percent to 46 percent, the Irish rejected the Nice treaty on EU reform, which must be approved by all 15 current EU members in order to go into effect.

The primary purpose of the treaty is to make it possible for the EU to accept 12 new members, mostly from Eastern Europe. But the treaty also would eliminate national vetoes in 34 new areas of policy. A loose coalition of Irish Republicans, Greens, and Catholic traditionalists convinced a majority that these changes impinged too much on national sovereignty. The “no” vote likely was fueled by an increasingly nasty dispute between the EU hierarchy and the Irish government (which supported the Nice treaty) on economic policy.

Fueled by tax cuts of Reaganesque proportions, Ireland has been the wunderkind of European economies. Since 1995, the Irish economy has grown an average of 9.4 percent a year, more than triple the average of 2.6 percent a year for the EU as a whole.

The Irish tax cuts and a phasing out of economic subsidies have been an embarrassment to the bureaucrats at EU headquarters in Brussels, who favor quasi-socialist economic policies. Last year, Ireland's finance minister was censured by the EU for going forward with pro-growth, free-market economic policies.

The EU hierarchy tends to be as dismissive of popular will as it is of free markets. The EU Commissioner for Enlargement said the Irish rejection would not stop expansion of the EU despite a requirement for all EU members to ratify the Nice treaty. Ireland was the only EU member to hold a referendum on the Nice treaty. There is a good reason for this.

“In most countries, the people would reject Nice,” wrote Irish journalist David Quinn.

“If the Germans or the French hold an Irish-style referendum, the result will go against enlargement,” wrote Roger Boyes, a Times of London correspondent.

The EU began with a very good idea - a European common market - and the equally good idea of pegging the currencies of member states to each other. There followed the perhaps not such a good idea of a common currency, the euro.

But now the EU is trying to fashion itself into a federal union, a kind of United States of Europe.

While the economic integration of Europe is a good idea, political integration - with one powerful exception - isn't. That exception is defense policy. A European Union in which member states are at peace with each other, and cooperate with each other to protect themselves from external threats and to police their periphery, is good for Europe, good for the United States, good for the world.

But a political integration of Europe that overrides national sovereignty in matters primarily or exclusively domestic is a danger to liberty. The 13 colonies that formed the American union had a common parent and language, and a brief history. The nations of Europe have many different languages, different cultures, and national identities that, in some cases, go back a millennium.

“From an American point of view the outcome of the Europe debate is important because the French in particular want to turn the EU into a geopolitical rival of the United States, one that will pit its fussy, politically correct, statist philosophy against the more freewheeling outlook of America,” Mr. Quinn wrote. “In voting against Nice the Irish have struck a blow against a federal Europe, and whether they know it or not, Americans have reason to be grateful for this.”

Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail him at jkelly@post-gazette.com.



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