Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The creation myth of the European Union being forged in front of our eyes

The history of states and nations typically comes with creation myths, in which dates and leaders are presented in ways that range from benevolent to uniquely visionary to almost god like. When we do not like the country or ideology, and with some help from the leaders themselves, we dismiss the myth or set of myths as authoritarian, personality cult, or plain crazy. George Washington fighting for his king against the French? Let's not talk about it, isn't a cherry tree and a wooden tooth a much better story to tell our children?

German national hero Arminius? He fought for the Romans as a Roman citizen, then turned around and betrayed his emperor. But that was not the story told in 19th and early 20th century German schools: they praised the hero who won a major battle against Rome, halting permanent Roman expansion beyond the existing borders in Germany.

The European Union is no different from states in crafting its own creation myth. Encapsulated in a single tweet by a Christian Democrat minister in the current German federal government, the myth goes as follows:

Jun 24
It's a unicorn indeed because it transformed hostile countries into friends, ensured democracy, peace, prosperity for almost 7 decades.

As always, much more than the blogster knows would have to be said about the European Union, but the blogster believes showing the creation myth at work is within the scope of a blog post.

When was the European Union (EU) founded?
It's not as easy to answer as it may sound.
The tweet says it is almost 7 decades old. As of 2016, seven decades takes us to 1946. The Common Statement of the original 6 states after the Brexit vote is more specific: Since its creation in 1957 by the six founding Members, the EU has gone a long and successful way.

On its own website, the EU simply starts with 1945 - 1959, then has decade by decade entries. The first predecessor entity was the Steel and Coal Community (ESC) in 1951 that took over the "International Authority for the Ruhr", established as part of the effort to keep Germany on a short leash after the war. With the ESC becoming less important in the course of the 1950s, the European Economic Community (EEC) was founded in 1957 by the six (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany) to bring  about economic integration, including a common market and customs union. This is what we have today.

So, a good answer is that from the Common Statement, while the creation myth aims to include the period since 1945, ignoring that Germany was under Allied military rule for years after that.

Technically speaking, it was the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 that created the European Union with its pillar system, including foreign and home affairs alongside the European Community.

Transformed hostile countries into friends, ensured democracy, peace
The Common Statement says: It has reunited Eastern and Western Europe and it has brought about the longest period of peace on our continent in modern times.
The term hostile countries into friends is very much a term typical for a creation myth, unspecific and emotional as it is. The period of peace on the continent is generally equated with peace in Western Europe, and here it does correlate with the EU if - and only if - we look at the small EU of the time. 
The European continent saw a vicious civil war in Greece through the end of World War II until 1949, a military coup and military rule in the 1960s. There was the invasion of Cyprus, also part of the "continent" in the 1970s. There was the civil war in Northern Ireland. Spain was a Fascist dictatorship until 1975. France fought its last colonial wars in the 1950s and early 1960s, and survived a coup attempt by the military. Britain fought its last colonial wars into the 1960s. East Germany saw an insurrection in 1953, there were interventions by the Soviets in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland.
In the 1990s, there was the Balkans war. There were also numerous terrorist attacks in EU countries that are proven to have been conducted by the NATO "Gladio" organization (Italy, Belgium). A German domestic intelligence service blew up a prison wall in the 1970s as a false flag to be pinned on leftist terrorists.

Peace on the continent is a creation myth. The correct statement should be: There have not been wars between member states of the EU.

Let's be nice and say that democracy within the member states has been working reasonably well, although terrorist killings by the government security services within several states are not a hallmark of a working democracy.

At the level of the EU, speaking of "ensured democracy" is a matter of expectations. It took decades for the European Parliament to gain any sort of real power, and to this day, the executive European Commission is a body appointed by the member state governments, not the most democratic system.

Hence, ensured democracy can be classified as a creation myth, especially given that  Germany had rejected democracy in the 1930s and needed utter defeat plus years of military rule to re-start democracy. Despite being a state (or two plus the military enclave of Berlin), Germany was not "independent" until the 1990s.

Ensured prosperity
While Europe has become more prosperous, claiming that the EU has ensured prosperity is a creation myth. If you check the solid GDP data from 1950 to the present at, you cannot fail to notice that non-EU-member countries in Europe were doing better than core EU countries, for example, at the 1960 mark. Some EU member states (Spain, Portugal) saw slow growth. And post 1990 newcomers had seen growth outside of the EU, though the extent of that is unclear because some of it can certainly be attributed to economic exchange with the EU states.

Free movement of people
The EU is proud of its 'four freedoms' of: movement of goods, services, people and money.
Free movement of people must be called a creation myth if we compare it to the other freedoms. Goods, services, and money have been flowing freely for decades.
People, not so much.
Short duration travel and stay was very much as easy between EU countries as it was between EU and non-EU countries, unless the latter were part of the Warsaw Pact/Eastern European bloc.
The free movement site of the European Commission describes the basic "free movement" provisions.
You can look for work and work in another EU country and reside there. But that's not limited to the EU: Free movement of workers also applies, in general terms, to the countries in the European Economic Area: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. EU social security coordination provides rules to protect the rights of people moving within the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

In stark contrast, the EU allowed serious restrictions on the free movement of several Eastern European new members, notably Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria when these countries became Union members.
Germany, the country that praises itself as an EU poster child, had some of the harshest restrictions for people from the new member states, with Bulgarians and Romanians having to wait 10 years after membership for "full" freedom of movement.

The EU website statement that citizens shall enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages is simply not true. EU citizens in Germany cannot receive certain social services benefits for a set period of time if they do not work or become unemployed without having earned enough credits for unemployment insurance.

If you have followed the news, you are well aware of the controversy about migration of EU citizens. So, free movement really only exists if you have a job or are independently wealthy.

No history before 1945 and saint like founding fathers
The EU history section does not dwell on European history before 1945.

And why should it?

Because the "visionary" founding fathers were not visionary at all.

As harsh as it may sound: we are being sold a lie when the word visionary is mentioned in connection with those leaders the EU lists as its founding fathers.

For example, have you ever heard this: In the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1818, Tsar Alexander, as the most advanced internationalist of the day, suggested a kind of permanent European union and even proposed the maintenance of international military forces to provide recognised states with support against changes by violence.

There were others with more progressive social ideas, too, most importantly in the international workers movement, later to be irrevocably tainted by repressive Communism.

The WWI veterans who rose up against war and a true peace movement in the 1920s were visionaries, while most of the EU founding fathers were not.

As much as a peaceful, united Europe, where you can live anywhere you want is a concept that appeals to the blogster, the current administrative entity called European Union is not it.

[Update] Fixed typos and grammar.

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