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The European Union

                  The new European imperialism

January 2005

Europe extends its grand imperial tradition to Europe itself.
The forerunner of the European Union began as a coal-and-steel cooperative among Germany, France, and a few smaller European countries in the late 1950s, expanded as a preferential trade partnership from the '70s to the '90s, and has in the last decade evolved into a super-government for half the countries of Europe. This still-evolving, many-headed beast has gathered in Brussels hundreds of politicians and thousands of bureaucrats who have been given the mission of creating new continental laws and regulations that supersede the laws and regulations of the member states. Needless to say, these largely socialist politicians (who by definition love regulations) and bureaucrats are like kids in a toy store – kids with credit cards! The super-politicians and kindred bureaucrats have to date created thousands of new regulations, and murmurs can be heard in member states about the loss of control over their own societies.

But it's not just the member countries of the European Union that have to toe the line. Nearby non-member states, who traditionally carry on much of their trade with their (now EU-member) neighbors, are forced in a completely imperialistic manner to comply with EU regulations for production, marketing, labor conditions, environmental regulations, etc. An oft-repeated example of Brussels' thinking is EU's regulation of the amount of curvature allowed in cucumbers. Cucumber inspectors are apparently empowered to impound improperly curved cucumbers. (It's not clear whether attempting to sell such offensive contraband incurs a fine – perhaps only for repeat offenders.) Persons from less regulation-happy countries may find this fantastic, but many Europeans, used to being regulated down to their toes, merely shrug their shoulders with a wry smile at this not atypical – and to them, not surprising – kind of rulemaking.

The EU, which now includes 25 nations, will grow greatly in the next decade, when the population center of the union will shift toward eastern Europe. With the inclusion of countries like Turkey and Ukraine (which will be two of the most populous nations in the union) and other east European states the predominant governmental tradition of the EU will no longer be that of the liberal democracies of western Europe, but that of eastern Europe and Asia Minor. The effect of this shift on the governing philosophy and practices of the union cannot be predicted, but a growth of liberality or a lessening of the union's governmental intrusiveness should not be expected.

In any case the EU, which is already a powerful trading bloc, will likely become yet stronger over time. The EU has in effect issued a challenge to other major trading nations to organize in a counter-move in order to maintain their trading position. A particularly interesting response to the EU could be the formation of a northern trading bloc, call it perhaps a "Circum-Polar Cooperative."   A bloc consisting of a core of Canada, USA, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia would be a more than worthy competitor with the EU. Additional countries that might be interested include Taiwan and such European non-EU states as Norway and Iceland. Such half-hearted EU member states as the UK and Sweden may also decide they've suffered the restrictions of EU membership long enough and prefer an association that preserves the sovereignty of member states.

For it is precisely this that should distinguish such a trading association from the EU:  Renunciation of the EU's imperialistic need for control, and devotion to the idea of the greatest feasible freedom in trade – for nations and for firms – freedom from foreign impositions, from cucumber curvature inspectors and their fellow supra-national bureaucrats. The eventual effect of such competition should of course not be further trade restrictions, but a demonstration of the futility of erecting trade barriers between nations, as the EU has done.

© 2005 H. Paul Lillebo

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