WASHINGTON -- And so, after the defeats of the last two weeks, is "Europe" really dead?
Has the idea of Europe -- as a single, unified entity with a single constitution and a foreign minister representing all 25 countries in a single foreign policy -- been buried by the angry small farmers of France and the burghers of Holland? Have the utopian dreams of 500 million united and cheering New Europeans, from the English Channel to the borders of Iran and Iraq, vanished into thin air?
Surely something died in the last two weeks, as the "non" vote of the French and the "nee" vote of the Dutch to the European constitution threw the entire continent into turmoil. French President Jacques Chirac had warned, after all, that rejection meant that "Europe will break down." Immediately after the vote, the British pulled back from their scheduled referendum on the constitution, and the document was all but declared moribund.
But we shouldn't deny Europe too quickly, for only a certain vision of Europe died with those votes. The Europe of the distant and arrogant Brussels bureaucrats, who would control how many times a couple makes love in a night if they could, was laid low. The Europe that would control how Romans packed their buffalo mozzarella, how cod could be sold, how long the window washers' ladders could be, and how many Muslim immigrants could come.
But that other Europe -- even the Europe of the E.U. -- not only lives, but could emerge far stronger than it has been as a result of this wake-up call. Many of the changes hammered out between the European nations, who were finally giving up their unpleasant habit of eternally warring, are now irreversible. The euro is not going to be abolished -- it is a substantial success. The common market, lowered tariffs and deregulated industries: All have been the positive work of the E.U. The original concept of free movement across the continent -- who would dare to challenge that today?
Europe still has its more-or-less workable Parliament, its successful Convention on Human Rights (which all countries must sign on to before becoming members), and many common foreign policy issues (currently, joint European military missions in Macedonia and Congo and Europe-led negotiations with nuclear Iran).
Surging economic growth
What of the Eastern European parts of Europe, which entered the union a year ago this spring? Economic growth is surging across the East, with GDP growing steadily and exports rising by 20 percent only this year.
And -- here's one for the books -- even as most of Western Europe was mewing and moaning about the big "no" votes, Switzerland, the country that has held out interminably against joining E.U. institutions and customs, voted to join the E.U. passport-free zone, abolishing checks on the country's border by 2007. For good measure, they also voted for granting more rights to same-sex couples.
The whole idea of those 450 pages of the European constitution turned out to be l) a challenge to Europeans' sense of their own national identity and their right to their own welfare programs, and 2) the realization of the tremendous threat of allowing Muslim immigrants to overwhelm Europe and its historical ethos. The fact that the constitution refused even to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage tells you a lot.
The wisest words I read last week came from Frits Bolkestein, a former member of the European Commission and author of "The Limits of Europe." Writing in the Financial Times about what Europe should now do, he said: "It should restrict itself to its core activities: to smooth the path for economic exchange between member states, to solve common problems and to create advantages of scale."
Above all, he went on: "These activities should respect the principle of subsidiarity, which means that whatever member states can do equally well (or better) should not be undertaken by the Union. This principle has been obeyed more in theory than in practice ... The error that is steadfastly made is to think that because some cause is worthy, it must be done by Brussels."
The "principle of subsidiarity." That certainly makes sense to me. It's time that it made sense to the busybody bureaucrats of Brussels as well.
Universal Press Syndicate