Dining A La Carte in restaurant EU

Dining A La Carte in restaurant EU
Comment: The EU has failed to provide the procedures and substance of good democratic governance, leaving less important states and their citizens with an unfair deal, writes Robert Springborg
6 min read
04 Jul, 2016
The UK was warned “a la carte” access to the single market is implausible [Getty]

Various EU and European leaders, including European Council President Donald Tusk, have warned the UK in the wake of Brexit that there can be no "a la carte" access to the single market. Instead, the UK will only be offered the fixed price set menu, allegedly like all other diners at the exclusive EU restaurant.

In reality, however, that establishment does offer a la carte choices to its preferred clients, reserving the set menu of standard rights and obligations for the less important.

Germany and France, the dominant states in the EU, enjoy the tastiest morsels. Key among them is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), from which French farmers benefit more than any others in the EU. In addition to transferring resources from EU consumers to its inefficient producers, the CAP restricts access to the European market, a direct consequence of which has been to slow growth of agricultural sectors in neighboring North African and Middle Eastern countries.

For their part the Germans have built their world leading export economy on two foundations provided by the EU. The first is that of tariff protection for the bloc as a whole, ensuring German domination of its internal trade, especially in manufacturing. The second is the common currency, without which German exports long ago would have suffered from an appreciating Deutschmark. The Euro has also served to shield Germany from the criticism and direct pressure applied to other exporters, especially China, which have held down the value of their currencies.

The EU set menu places a limit of 3% of GDP on annual budget deficits. But the powerful a la carte diners, again led by France, regularly violate that cap with impunity.

The very structure of the EU reflects core Europe's undervaluation of democracy

The menu item that Donald Tusk and other EU leaders insist is not available to the UK is restriction on the movement of EU citizens. That the UK has been the preferred destination of the greatest proportion of them is deemed irrelevant, as is the fact that whereas the UK has extended its social benefits to those migrants, France and Germany have not.

The relative burden for the UK of accepting EU immigrants is thus comparatively greater than those two favored diners at the EU restaurant who don't want others to enjoy a la carte choices. Possibly even more insulting to the UK is the fact that Switzerland now imposes restrictions on EU immigration but retains full access to the EU for its exports of goods and services, exactly the arrangement sought by the Brexit backers.

As for refugee resettlement, the EU mandated quotas for its member states. Many of those states have refused to comply, with France being the most egregious violator. It has yet to accept more than a few hundred refugees from its former Syrian colony.

Germany and France worked together to thwart IMF efforts to achieve debt forgiveness for Greece, which cannot possibly repay its national debt. Instead, under German and French pressure the EU has repeatedly committed to extending new loans to Greece, essentially to cover interest and principal repayments due on existing ones.

This policy is not driven by Franco-German altruism. It is the result of the fact that German banks primarily and French ones secondarily hold the greatest amount of Greek loans, hence would suffer most losses in the event of default.

This beggar thy neighbor policy, as in the case of Greece, again reflects the self-interest of the largest diners at the EU table, who continue to impose the set menu on their follow diners

Italy under Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has sought to relieve the heavy burden on its banking sector of non-performing loans that has essentially converted that country's banks into zombies. Thus far those efforts have been blocked by Germany, again supported by France, on the grounds that capitalising a new financial repository for those non-performing loans would create a dangerous precedent for the European banking sector as a whole.

This beggar thy neighbor policy, as in the case of Greece, again reflects the self-interest of the largest diners at the EU table, who continue to impose the set menu on their follow diners.

In addition to the self-interest of the core EU states underlying their policy of one set of choices for themselves and another, much more restricted set for the others, is their view of what constitutes good governance. It is seen by them as the outcome of quality administration provided by an executive, not the consequence of democratic contestation.

France in its Fifth Republic has a monarchial president with a vestigial parliament. German democracy is more robust, but the tendency to support executive leadership there is also profound, as evidenced by the current unchallenged role of Angela Merkel. By contrast, the UK has both a far longer and more robust democratic tradition, in which oversight of the executive is actively exercised by parliament supported by a vibrant civil society and media.

The very structure of the EU reflects core Europe's undervaluation of democracy. Its parliament is dominated by the Commission executive, which issues rules and regulations virtually without input or oversight by any representative body. Executive arrogance is one of the key factors in Brexit, a phenomenon that the EU leadership, which places far less value on democracy, simply does not comprehend. To them, good governance is what a competent executive hands out, not what citizens choose.

The EU is too busy with the minutia of its rules and regulations to be concerned with European security

In reality the EU has failed to provide not only the procedures of good democratic governance, but also the substance. The inequities mentioned above are not just unfair to member states and their citizens, they have produced outcomes that are inimical to the EU as a whole. EU economic stagnation since 2008 contrasted to German economic expansion is but one measure of that.

Even more concerning about the lack of substance of good governance is the failure of the EU to provide security for its peoples, the key responsibility of any sovereign power, even if that power is limited. Failure of the EU's border service, Frontex, to control migration flow is the starkest, but not only evidence of inability to secure the EU realm.

Another example is the partition and destabilisation of the Ukraine by Russia, responsibility for dealing with which the EU turned over to NATO. Those who opposed Brexit made the case that UK security would be threatened by it. Nothing could be further from the truth as it is member states themselves, combined with NATO, that secure Europe. The EU is too busy with the minutia of its rules and regulations to be concerned with European security.

The EU set menu, in other words, does not provide a very pleasant dining experience. It is the a la carte menu enjoyed by the EU core states that is really tasty. Small wonder that it is reserved for their benefit and unlikely to be extended to the UK. This gives rise to the question if it is better to dine alone, as UK voters indicated they prefer.

Robert Springborg is Visiting Professor in the Department of War Studies, King's College London, and non-resident Research Fellow of the Italian Institute of International Affairs. Until October, 2013, he was Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and Program Manager for the Middle East for the Center for Civil-Military Relations. 

From 2002 until 2008 he held the MBI Al Jaber Chair in Middle East Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where he also served as Director of the London Middle East Institute. Before taking up that Chair he was Director of the American Research Center in Egypt.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.