When travelling abroad, EU representatives like to exhort foreigners to follow the EU’s example. For instance, Eneko Landaburu, the director of foreign affairs of the European Commission, has been vocal about his view that Central America is now ripe to follow the EU’s lead. Indeed, the Eurocrats have nourished the image of the EU as a singular success story. Why then, do the people of Europe go on rejecting further centralization of decision‐making in Brussels? Why do they do so in direct opposition to the “wisdom” of their leaders?
The reality is that Brussels has no cure for the ills that pain Europe. The EU should be fighting intra‐European protectionism — a battle that would make the continent more responsive to the challenges of globalization. Instead, Brussels frequently succumbs to what seems like a case of regulatory diarrhea, making European firms less, rather than more, competitive. Its singularly destructive Common Agricultural Policy keeps food prices high and genetically modified foods at bay — all while the people of Europe grumble about high taxes and expensive supermarket trips. For much of the past decade, Europe’s growth was low, incomes stagnated and unemployment remained relatively high — not a lot for the EU to brag about.
Part of the problem is that Brussels has become a repository for failed or disgraced national politicians. It is the final stop of the election losers on their journeys from the warm glow of national politics to the cold abyss of political retirement and oblivion. No wonder the European political elites don’t want to derail the gravy train to Brussels — they may need to ride it one day. And the more power Brussels acquires, the more jobs will it be able to provide for “good” European boys and girls who have had their day, like Neil Kinnock, Édith Cresson and Romano Prodi.
And so it was that the European elites pulled out all the stops to get the Lisbon Treaty passed in Thursday’s referendum. With the media firmly on their side, they outspent the “No” campaign and cajoled the Irish public. Weren’t the Irish major beneficiaries of EU generosity? Have they not received tens of billions of Euros in financial transfers from the rest of the EU? Would it not be rude to scupper the European project?
For the record, the Irish miracle had little to do with European financial aid or Irish membership in the EU. Other EU members, like Greece and Portugal, also received large amounts of EU aid and failed to match Ireland’s impressive growth figures. The real reasons for the Irish miracle are domestic reforms — low taxes and economic deregulation — both of which might be threatened by further centralization of power in Brussels.