The EU Survives
European summits are odd affairs, in which the high and mighty are reduced to pulling all-nighters, like second-year students obliged to endure a college bull session–which by some accounts these meetings resemble. There are the conciliators and the prima donnas, all duly described by the EU press, which must wait outside closed doors through white nights in the hope of catching word of the irritation of Leader A, the witty repartee of Leader B, or the pounding of fist on table by Leader C. The sessions drag on longer than expected. The caterer is not prepared, and Europe’s potentates must make do with improvised sandwiches. Hopes are raised, then dashed. Despair mounts. And then, at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute an agreement is cobbled together, and the usual headlines, already set in electronic type, are flashed around the world: “Compromise Struck, Europe Survives, Victory Plucked at Last Minute from Jaws of Defeat.”
And so it was this time. But why was it so hard? The formula for the final compromise doesn’t look as though it required a rocket scientist to concoct it: €390 instead of 500 billion in Covid grants, offset by a concomitant increase in loans assorted with stern warnings about the need for reform; some vague language about abiding by the rule of law coupled with dark, disapproving frowns in the direction of Warsaw and Budapest. Plus who knows what unannounced side deals? Et voilà: unanimity, even if Macron remains irritated by Kurz, Orban by Rutte, and the Finnish social democrat by the Spanish social democrat. But the vaunted and venerable “Franco-German couple” managed the whole weekend without a single spat, so all is well in Euroland.
At least among the elders. The children are restive. The European Parliament is miffed that it wasn’t consulted about the reduced grants. Its discontent crosses party lines. But EU summits are not meant to resolve democratic deficits. How could they be? They’re high-stakes poker games, not Millian debates about the general interest. And of course the populists are in high dudgeon as always, since dudgeon is their stock in trade: Salvini calls the agreement a super-fregatura, or super-fraud, but most Italians seem pleased that the billions will soon be flowing in and aren’t overly worried about whether they come in the form of loans or grants since they doubt they’ll be paid back in either case.
And yet the agreement is widely regarded as “historic.” This is true en creux, as the French say, since it would indeed have been historic had there been no agreement: this would likely have meant the imminent end of the Union. Averting that disaster is indeed cause for celebration.
Wiser heads will pause to contemplate whether similar brinksmanship can be avoided in the future. The answer is probably not. For better or for worse, this is the way the EU works. And it does work, after a fashion. Meanwhile, supposedly better-integrated and time-tested polities such as the American and British have revealed themselves to be entirely dysfunctional in the current crisis. So who is to say that the EU’s messocracy isn’t a model for the future?
Photo Credit: pixel2013, via Pixabay.