The European Union is failing, and populism – ordinary folks are rebelling against the hubris of elites – is rising.
The EU’s primary antecedent, European Economic Community (1957), was structured to bring down barriers to trade – a customs union with antitrust enforcement powers to crack the cartelization of national markets by private and public actors – and permit workers and capital to move freely across borders.
It has since morphed into an expansive bureaucracy that dictates all manner of immigration, economic and social policies but has not attained the democratic institutions and fiscal powers necessary to manage a continental economy.
Free trade always has victims, but the EEC delivered dynamic growth from the consolidation of businesses across national boundaries. And just as international economic textbooks predict, the rising tide raised all boats. In recent decades, however, the EU’s expanded bureaucracy reach and single currency have not delivered enough growth.
Professionals in big cities profit from globalization but the working classes in suburbs, smaller cities and rural communities languish. Immigrants corrupt local cultures and incubate crime, and burdensome regulations and high taxes make starting a business and affording simple necessities too difficult.
President Emmanuel Macron sought to impose a new tax on petrol, which is already terribly expensive in France. The bankers in Paris ride the subway but folks in the hinterland must fuel up to get to work. Most discretionary driving has already been taxed away – the levy would have had little impact on CO2 emissions but create much hardship.
The gilets jaunes riots inspired Macron to react like a man controlled by an alien force. Confronted by complaints that fuel taxes were crushing ordinary people, Macron lectured about the need to lower carbon emissions and reminded “when we change things, we shake up habits and people aren’t necessarily happy.”
Let them eat cake!
The EU bureaucracy is now cracking down on duly elected national governments to force Italy to adhere to the eurozone’s unworkable national budget rules, Hungary to take down its border fence and stop enforcing its national immigration laws, and Poland to block its efforts to make its judiciary accountable to Polish values and not those of international civil society.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open immigration policies have imposed disastrous social consequences and crime. Meanwhile, her designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, muses “through the social market economy and our system of social partnership, we have a system where many issues and conflicts are always discussed and settled in orderly structures.”
Let them discuss Kant.
Britons sensing the madness voted for Brexit but Prime Minister Theresa May did not support leaving. In negotiations, she acceded to nearly every EU demand. Now she cannot get enough parliamentary or Conservative Party support for an open-ended transition agreement that could indefinitely impose EU trade policies, regulations and taxes on her countrymen.
Unable to keep the U.K. in the EU, May would make it a colony.
Britons should read the Declaration of Independence, and get a new prime minister – pronto!
The new leader could inform European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and all the other oligarchs of Europe’s ruling class that on March 29 – the date the U.K. is scheduled to leave – his government will declare unilateral free trade with Europe. It would continue to permit EU banks and professionals to do business and work in the U.K. if the EU does the same.
Brussels can take it or leave it – the continent needs London’s financial sector and U.K. markets as much as the U.K. industries needs theirs. If the EU does not comply, then London doesn’t pay the $50 billion divorce settlement and makes a hard break.
The transition would be painful for Britain but Europe will still need London’s financial sector to enable its follies – European banking would no more move from London to Frankfort Frankfurt than American banking would move to Charlotte if Manhattan became an independent country.
Anyway, the future is in artificial intelligence and other such stuff where the U.K. will do a lot better unchained from EU dysfunction.
Italy and others would follow and that would begin the process of returning the EU to its original but more limited mission – free trade!
Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist. © 2019, The Washington Times, LLC.