Thursday, September 13, 2012

Barroso wants a European Federation

The chieftain of the self-described European Commission, José Manuel Barroso (PT), gave a speech in Strasbourg in which he declared his intent to transform the European Union to a federation.

Barroso, claiming that "Europe needs a new sinking" (haven't we seen enough sinking of our continent already?), wants a federal Europe built on the existing institutions; in other words, this head of the so-far irrelevant European Commission, a politician who started his career in the Portuguese Communist Workers' Party, wants to become a European dictator. See the whole speech with a satirical name, State of the Union address (43 minutes).

This guy and many others have clearly lost their contact with reality. After several years in which we've been shown every day how counterproductive and dangerous the unification of the ununifiable may be – for Europe and for the whole world economy – Barroso tells us we must repeat the same mistakes and do so even more vigorously than ever before.

As many people, including some very prominent ones, said long before me, there can't be any democracy at the European level. To create a European federation means to dismantle democracy at the Old Continent. Different nations are just not thinking as one big demos, one big family. They live their largely independent lives. The European political parties don't exist outside the walls of the European Parliament. They don't have any shared activities. This remains the fact despite the decades in which the European integration has been pushed, promoted, and forced from above. But it's just not an authentic desire of the Europeans. They wouldn't do such things themselves. Such integration wouldn't start from the bottom.

Barroso is very explicit in showing that he wants a new system in Europe that isn't a democracy. He wants the system to be inaccessible to Euroskeptics (and perhaps even to insufficiently excited and active Europhiles who are even worse, as he adds); he wants to make it mandatory for everyone to fight "climate change", and he wants lots of other predetermined (and insane) things. A country that would predefine all such things simply wouldn't be a democracy. It would be fully analogous to the communist Czechoslovakia that claimed to be a democracy but that had the leading role of the communist party included as a key paragraph in the very constitution (among many other things where people no longer needed options and choices).

Unlike most Europeans, I have lived in a real federation. Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 as a unitary state, a successor of Austria-Hungary. To make the birth of the country smoother, its founders believed in the single Czechoslovak nation; I have considered myself a Czechoslovakist in this sense, too. It's of course always a matter of conventions and habits whether you consider a group of people to be one nation or two or 30. But the primary identity affects many things.

The largest nation or ethnic group in such "possibly composite" countries doesn't care about the status of the federation much because it's just a "small perturbation" if some smaller parts of the nation are separated or gain or lose some degree of autonomy. For the smaller ones, it's always a more important question. So it was more important for the Sudeten Germans in the 1930s whose desire to be "more special" helped to ignite the Second World War. And it was more important for Slovaks who had a separate clerofascist state during the war.

After the war, Czechoslovakia was revived and it officially became a federation in January 1969. It was a rather smooth and equal co-existence of everyone but the federation only persisted because democracy was suppressed. Indeed, just 2-3 years after the fall of communism, (mainly) Slovakia decided it wanted to be a separate state (well, after wise Czech politicians insisted that the huge degree of autonomy they officially wanted would lead to a dysfunctional state).

So even Czechoslovakia in which most people love the other nation had to be artificially kept united. The situation was clearly much worse in the Soviet Union and in Yugoslavia, as the violent dissolution also indicates. But even Yugoslavia is a vastly more uniform "nation" than the European Union. All of the citizens are Southern Slavs – that's what "Yugo-Slav" really means.

But let's return to the federal dreams of Mr Barroso. What I find remarkable is how unable or unwilling he is to think about the "next moves". He doesn't tell us how the federal bodies such as his Commission would be elected. It's pretty clear that it couldn't work well. Europe isn't analogous to the U.S.

In the U.S., people don't care much about the state in which a federal candidate lives. You get pretty much the same people in Arizona and Texas and Ohio and Michigan and so on. But in Europe, it always matters. It is the primary thing that matters. Whether the nationality of a politician is the same as mine or not is almost always the primary thing I care about – and the same thing holds for most Europeans, I am sure. In particular, Barroso has two identities: he is Portuguese and he is a Brussels insider. In an American analogy, it's like if he were from Hawaii and a Washington D.C. insider. All European eligible political candidates would probably have to be "Brussels insiders" and their ethnic origin would look exotic to 80%-90% of the Europeans. At any rate, both of these adjectives contradict my ideas about a politician I would vote for: it must be someone who hasn't been involved with a mindless and corrupt system and someone who understands how life around me actually works. So people like me could almost never choose a good candidate at the European level.

When my nation isn't threatened by the rest, one may say (it's just a little bit of simplification) that "I don't care about foreign politicians in one way or another" while "I do care about ours, either positively or negatively". However, if the Czech national interests were threatened, for example, if there were credible threats that someone wants to "reeducate" Czech people or Czech children to another language, almost all Czech politicians would be "plus" and almost all foreign ones would be "minus". If such questions were ultimately decided "democratically" at the federal European level, of course that it would mean that smaller nations would become minorities whose rights can be undermined and who can be squeezed out of the game.

What I want to say is that the democracy in such a general context would never start to address "material questions"; the national questions would always be primary. The current European Parliament is another example showing that this is the case. It's mainly a forum for nations to be heard so the division to the nations (the percentages are fixed a priori, without any "contest", by quotas) is still the most important division of the lawmakers.

Be sure that a very small percentage of the Czech people follows the European politics as carefully as I do. Most of them really can't: while almost 60% of the Czechs claims to speak English these days, it seems likely to me that most of them just wouldn't understand Barroso's speech up to some details. I think that most of those 60% mean that they're able to say "Fenk you" and a few more words like that. To preserve any glimpse of an interaction between the politicians and the electorate, their speeches would have to be translated etc. but at that moment, you already lose the contact with the actual personality etc.

It's not just a technical problem with translations of speeches or campaigns. The politicians themselves just don't know what people in another nation are interested in, what they care about and argue about, what values they find important, and so on – because they don't follow the national media of other nations and they just don't live in other nations.

Many Eurofanatics often say that a unification of Europe is needed for peace and all this stuff. That's a truly bizarre idea. Almost all wars in Europe during the last 100 years could be attributed to some nations' attempts to "unify" their neighborhood more than what the reality could allow. Wars in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union started because the "federal" leaders just didn't want to admit that their visions of unity are undesirable for huge parts of their "federations". The Second World War was all about the (for many years successful) attempts of the German Chancellor to create his own European federation, the so-called Third Reich. On the contrary, when nations had their sovereignty, they lived in peace. That's true for the Western Europe since the war. That's true for Czechia and Slovakia after the Velvet Divorce, too.

So this whole idea that "forced unification = peace" is complete billycock.

But it doesn't stop there. Think about the economy and the budgets and the tax codes and all these things. Think about redistribution at the European level. What would happen? How could it work? How would the Europeans decide how much money is flowing from the North to the South, for example? It makes no sense. Of course that the people in the South would want to maximize the number and the people in the North would want to minimize the number – in most cases. Who wins? It depends how you define the rules. The answer must be predetermined.

Would the public sector in such a European federation grow? I think the answer to this question is inevitably Yes. Pretty much all the PIGS-like nation want the answer to be Yes. Disciplined nations such as Germany realize that it's a dangerous path and most of Germans are probably answering No. But it's not an overwhelming majority. The minority in the North together with the overwhelming majority in the PIGS would inevitably win. Of course that a German-controlled Europe would be more likely to remain fiscally sound. But such an "officially sponsored" German control seems politically unacceptable, especially after the Second World War experience. It could easily lead to a new war. You can't and you shouldn't assume that other nations would accept such an arrangement peacefully, whether or not it would be economically superior.

A sensible reply to Barroso's speech by Nigel Farage, UKIP.

I have listed many reasons why I think that it is insane to consider a European Federation today and one could add many other things. But I will add one more where the inadequacy of the idea is most striking. The word is "equality".

Any decent federation, being a single state in some sense, must guarantee some kind of equality of the people when it comes to their rights as well as some basic entitlements. For example, most European countries (if not all of them) have a notion of a minimum wage. Can you imagine how it would work in a "federation"?

Take just two nations as an example, Bulgaria and Luxembourg. A table shows that the minimum wage in Luxembourg is 1,800 euros; in Bulgaria, it's about 290 leva which is 150 euros or so. The difference exceeds one order of magnitude. It's not a problem because the nations are still largely decoupled and everyone understands they have different aptitudes and different histories that explain the difference.

Now, imagine that you're a leader of a federal Europe, a single country, and you want to write down unified laws that define the minimal wage. You have basically two options: to keep the asymmetries or to liquidate them. Both scenarios are insane; intermediate solutions just divide the fixed total amount of insanity to insanity of two types.

If you preserve the gap, it literally means that the citizens of Bulgaria are 12 times less worthy citizens of your glorious federal pan-continental country than the citizens of Luxembourg. I can't even imagine how the wording of the law about the minimum wage in the federal Europe would look like. "The European employers aren't allowed to pay too small a salary. In Luxembourg, it can't be below 1,800 euros. But the employees in Bulgaria are just buggers – that's where the name of the country comes from – so they may be getting just 150 euros."

Insane. Of course that if some people are citizens of something that claims to be one country, they should expect the same rights and entitlements. Everything else would be a racism.

Alternatively, you may be more ambitious and balance the minimum wages. Obviously, if you try to reduce the minimum wage in Luxembourg, people who live there may start to protest. It's much worse if you try to increase the minimum wage in Bulgaria. Even if you went just to 500 euros a month or so, the economic activity in Bulgaria would almost come to a halt. The companies over there are barely profitable with the low wages they pay today. Virtually all of them would sink if they were forced to triple the salaries. At the end, this does boil down to the fact that in average, Bulgarians are not as high-skill workers as the people in Luxembourg.

Just think about it. The discontinuity would be totally stunning and it is not possible to get over it in any decent, peaceful way. Not even a huge amount of wealth redistribution is enough to rebuild Europe in such a way that all nations could be paying the same minimum wage, the same pensions, the same welfare payments of various kinds, and so on. Even attempts to unify the tax rates across Europe would lead to a huge financial earthquake because it would mean a huge change of the tax rates in many countries – and even smaller changes are known to lead to lots of havoc. Any forced homogeneity is locally equivalent to a shocking change of tax rates, pensions etc. – orders of magnitude more intense changes than what normally powers debates before elections in all the EU countries.

But it's not just the economy and redistribution. The European countries have lots of other liabilities and are subjects to numerous treaties in which they play very different roles.

I understand that Mr Barroso would love to become a European dictator but is it really so hard for him to look in the mirror and see that he is 100% incompetent for any real job, especially not a job in which he is supposed to lead a highly heretogenous continent? He hasn't even been able to think what it would mean. His speech – which is very weak when it comes to the content but it's lousy even from a purely rhetorical viewpoint – proves that his understanding of politics matches the understanding of an average 5-year-old boy in the kindergarten. We, the Europeans, really can't afford to transfer a substantial part of the responsibility for our affairs to such incompetent people. Also, we don't want to, especially after all the experience with the dysfunctional forced European unity (and non-optimum currency area called the eurozone) that have been torturing the world markets for years.

And even if there happened to be competent politicians at the top rather than Mr Barroso, which is very unlikely given the fact that to get there, he didn't have to show any special skills or to win in a substantial competition to speak of, it would still be true that most of us, the Europeans, just don't want to abandon our national sovereignty in a similarly far-reaching, insane, uncontrollable way. For me, credible attempts to realize Barroso's plans would mean a clear switch to the opinion that "we must get out of the EU ASAP" and I am surely not the only one. Even if "we" were just a minority, we would be a damn important minority that would ultimately be ready to use any, non-lethal and lethal, weapons against the plans for this Fourth Reich.

Meanwhile, I believe that things will never get this far and Barroso's and other fanatics' efforts to create a unified state will lead to the decomposition of the European Union even in the form as we know it today.

Try to return to the reality, Mr Barroso.


  1. Regarding this sentence:
    "At the end, this does boil down to the fact that in average, Bulgarians
    are not as high-skill workers as the people in Luxembourg."

    Can we make a distinction? When you say "high-skill" it sounds like that you're talking about a characteristic of workers that depends only on the workers themselves. But things like the GDP per capita or minimum wage obviously don't depend only on the workers themselves, but also on the environment they live in - industry, technology and policies of their country. Instead, I think a more appropriate label would be "high-efficiency". In this sense, two workers of the same skill level would have different effective efficiencies in two different environments. And I'm not defending that workers from Luxembourg and from Bulgaria have the same average skill, obviously. But I get the feeling that a difference as big as one order of magnitude should come more from the environment of the workers than from their intrinsic and trained skills.

  2. Fine, the difference is surely partly due to the environmental differences and different infrastructure. But those differences ultimately boil down to the human factor as well.

    There are reasons why Bulgaria is poorer that depend on communism; and there are many others that don't. However, even if you consider communism and its negative impact on the infrastructure and "environment" that affects the current lower efficiency, I still think you're wrong that you're trying to dehumanize it.

    In fact, the greatest damage done by communism is on the individuals themselves. Communism crippled the society's and individuals' creativity, independence, ambitions, discipline, honesty, readiness to face situations, adaptability, ability to do lots of normal as well as unusual things without supervision from above.

    I don't know whether the income gaps are "appropriate". They're surely sustainable for a decade.

  3. This morning I voted on a poll "Do you want the United States of Europe?" on the website of the french newspaper "Le Figaro". Obviously the question was misleading, it should be instead "do you want the United Soviet republic of Europe?". Anyway, I was saddened to see that nearly 2 thirds of the voters had replied "yes". I moved from France to Ireland for many reasons, but one of them is the slow erosion of basic rights in my native country. Now it seems that I will have to move again, go farther this time.

    "Even if "we" were just a minority, we would be a damn important minority that would ultimately be ready to use any, non-lethal and lethal, weapons against the plans for this Fourth Reich."
    Count me on your side when the revolution comes 8)

  4. When those fools joined a common currency, they gave up their national
    sovereignty right then and there. They just didn't know it yet. It is
    only now, when Europe is deep in a bust, and monetary sovereignty
    suddenly matters, do they realize it. But now they are trapped. Stuck
    pigs. William Hague described the Euro as "a burning building with no
    exits" and he was right.

    Now we get to watch those pigs (including Germany) squeal as they
    get slowly burned and forced to accept the rule of a New Roman Empire.
    Within a decade there will be a new (unelected) Caesar to rule over
    Europe. Given the differences between EZ States, that is the only way
    they can go.

  5. Barroso probably meant that Europe needs a ballast... a more positive nautical term than "sinking" (freudian slip?) I've noticed he says "I demand..." too, wow excuse me, who are you Mr Barroso ? You know I wonder if he believes truly in this federal Europe himself. He has another personal agenda obviously.
    Thanks Lubos for sharing Nigel Farage speech, always refreshing to hear the voice of reason.

    More importantly I hope you are feeling better today.

  6. Ondřej ČertíkSep 13, 2012, 5:12:00 PM

    Nice speech by Farage. Note that your argument about minimum wage would be quickly responded to by Barroso as follows: the difference between the average salary in Mississippi and Maryland is 2x ( The minimum wage is left to the individual state to decide, so some states have it, some don't ( So it would be left to Bulgaria and Luxembourg to decide the minimum wage. Otherwise I agree of course, Barroso is crazy.

  7. Good point, Ondro. There are other quantities beyond minimum wage where even the U.S. analogy would be useless. In the U.S., the biggest taxes are the federal ones and they're universal.

    But e.g. the maximum income tax in the EU

    goes from 16 percent in Hungary to 56.6% in Sweden. How does one reconcile that? There's no analogy in the U.S. now. Needless to say, Swedes won't abandon their insane socialist rates and the import of the Swedish rates to Hungary would stop big business in the goulash country, too.

  8. I'm in general agreement but the way to dal with the minimum wage is to eliminate all of the. Off subject, a book, The Declaration of Independents, has a lot about Vaclav Havel.

  9. the guy from rhinocerosSep 14, 2012, 11:25:00 AM

    Hello Lubos! You are writing like your brilliant, confident, old self! Have you successfully cleared that candida phobia from your mind, or were you conducting an experiment to see how much sympathetic vibration you could elicit?
    BTW, the enormous economic disparities and cultural/identity issues within the European Union are not insurmountable to the formation of an unitary (Super)-State. Putting the issue of dreamy megalomaniacs in Brussels aside, look at India. India is at least as diverse as all of Europe and the Classical Orient combined, and the world's largest and most populous Democracy functions without engaging in the Imperialist modality of Repression, unlike your Austria-Hungary of olden days, or the Iran or Red China of today. The problem in your Europe is that you have institutions based on incomplete law staffed with lots of bureaucrats who engage in Brownian Motion in their Petri dish, sans the legal foundations for federal authority. But you'll get there eventually because the Germans need it. The dirtiest German secret of all is that they are the numero uno beneficiary of monetary union, and they will pay the bills for perpetual Club Med semi-easy living if push comes to shove. But the Germans will likely feel a bit of consolation if they can convince the other Nordics and you Slavs to share in the suckling of Iannis, Gianni, and Juanita in their relative indolence. India would fail as a State too, if they ever got conned by their politicians into the delusion that they had become so prosperous as to afford to sustain a Welfare State. Then they will experience what Americans are experiencing: a vigorous taffy-pull between the grasshoppers and the ants, with much in-fighting among the elite grasshoppers for a fairer share of the loot taken from the ants for their own protegees. Given the anciently diverse communities that comprise Mother India, if any of these became infected with the idea that they were entitled to benefits from the other communities, there would certainly be a civil war.

  10. Hi, I received my, i.e. capryllic acid plus probiotic culture, plus vitamin C, and my immediate reaction was amazing improvement, although I must say that I made a decision to let the placebo effect improve my expectations arbitrarily in the positive direction. So I can't strictly separate what is placebo and what is real - whether the blood really started to flow happily through the tubes and whether the level of toxins really decreased as it seemed.

    I am surely far from being fit but I was able to make my standardized 160 pushups, run around, and write things. I urge the federation of hells and heavens to notice that - as evidence that I don't want to join them yet! ;-)

  11. That is good to hear Lumo :-)

    I still wish you all the best and that you can fully gain back your strength soon.
    Still take good care of yourself and enough time to relax.

  12. Yep, you still have a lot to do down here Lubos.

  13. Dear Lubos,
    this article is brilliant and I seldomly say this about your political articles (which does not mean at all that I think they are bad.)
    I also hear that you are better and I kind of feel it in the way this article is written.
    Keep my fingers crossed that the right medication will fix your health problems in no time.

  14. Great analysis Lubos, The reason JMB gets so much approval from the assembly is a great many of them are in office with simmilar credentials and have no grounding in reality.
    As for any sort of reforming the instution of the EU the only people who could effect such changes for the benefit of the citizenry have thier own vested interest not to.

  15. the guy from rhinocerosSep 16, 2012, 10:43:00 AM

    Hello Lubos! So very pleased
    and happy to read that you are feeling much better! I would be most
    dismayed if you were no longer with us to share your amazing perspective
    on physics. Sometimes an intractable reservoir of disease remains in
    the imagination. Glad that you are not suffering from that problem. As
    some one who actually experienced severe candida infection due to
    overuse of cortocosteroids, I affirm to you that if you actually were
    suffering from an intractable infection in some parts of your body other
    than in your mind, you would not be aware of subtle signs of
    abnormality. Your experience would feel like being body-slammed
    continuously by a 800 lb gorilla. You would have felt obviously,
    agonizingly, deathly, ill.
    I suspect you may had some kind of transient viral infection that your
    immune system has been able to clear on its own. New infective agents
    and diseases are being discovered every year, usually because the
    infection produces symptoms that are sufficiently severe and unusual to
    warrant medical investigation. I would infer that there might be
    thousands of unidentified pathogens - viruses, bacteria, protozoans -
    which are infecting human beings all the time and which go unrecognized
    because their symptoms are too mild and transient to excite any
    attention from public health agencies or from medical researchers. These
    pathogens might be borderline commensuals or species of ordinarily
    symbiotic flora that occasionally go wild.


    to Brussels and much more severe and intractable diseases of
    imagination: We should remember that while gazing with wonder at the
    economic fiasco of the Common Currency and the impossibility of squaring
    a Common European Law with the parochial selfishness of all the member
    states, that The Common Market was a great success. The Common Market worked
    precisely because there was no Single Currency or Fixed Rate Exchange Mechanism.
    Free Market Currency Exchanges efficiently arbitraged the relative
    advantages between the member states. The sustained trade and investment
    flow problem that has developed between The United States and The
    People's Republic of China is due to the currency peg, but that is
    really only a copy of the relationship which developed within Europe
    between the Teutonic North and the Latin South, thanks to the abolition
    of national currencies.

    Your observations about the
    impossibility of equalizing income and productivity within the EuroZone
    are spot on. But this dilemma is largely the unwanted child of Currency
    Union. Freely floating exchange rates among national currencies would
    provide a efficient and natural mechanism so that Bulgarian
    manufacturers, products, and jobs would not be displaced by German ones;
    and would end the perverse flow of savings and investment capital out
    of the less developed regional economies of the Eurozone to the most
    developed and productive. Unfortunately, it appears that politicians do
    their best to live up to their reputation of thinking about economics
    like Star Trek scriptwriters think about physics.

    shows that men and nations take the best and wisest course of action
    after exhausting every other possibility. - Abba Eban.

  16. Nothing has changed. Northern Europe will pump an unlimited amount of money into southern Europe provided the recipients meet their commitments, which they simply cannot do. This may go on for years but I dread the eventual collapse. I don’t think it will lead to large-scale violence but there will be a lot of human suffering.

  17. Lubos, take it easy, man:

  18. From my observations, Europeans want free trade, to move freely about and to seek work where they want.

    Contrary to those desires for freedom, the EU interprets such wishes as the desire for more regulation. For formalising an undemocratic stratum of RULERS above nation states.

  19. I listened to all those songs a few months ago, kind of fun. Just to be sure, I am surely no anti-monarchy mujahideen. ;-) But it's a long time ago and things are too different today.