HISTORY is little but an inventory of errors. Even the best and most erudite can suffer delusions. Whenever I am in Washington DC I find many of those I most enjoy encountering come from the US State Department, a sort of graduate school that specialises in fallacies. The rest of the planet regards the State Department as on the side of the angels but gaspingly naive.
A defining folly that resides in the State Department is an almost uncritical perception that the European Union (EU), the commission and all its works are a good thing. The argument is a stale remnant of the Cold War. We are talking bulwarks here. The US government regarded a prosperous Western Europe as the best assurance against a Red Army assault. What happier idea than the reconciliation of a crushed Germany with its ancient enemy France, victorious but depleted? In 1946 I readily accept this was all relatively wholesome and benevolent.
Yet what made sense 60 years ago is more than threadbare now. It is false. The Soviet threat has evaporated. If we did have a device to deter any imperial ambitions of Moscow the deterring agent was Nato not the common agricultural policy.
I think it is possible to detect a few stirring from their slumbers in Washington. The endless jostlings with Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, are plainly not the acts of a liberal or free trading entity. The EU has been busy banning genetically modified seeds for farmers. It has been harassing US corporations such as Microsoft with legal challenges that are, to put it charitably, contrived. US pharmaceuticals find the commission happy to draft retrospective laws and to disregard property rights.
The EU is not a democracy. Some in the State Department express some alarm that the EU powerhouse is unconstrained by any elective forces. Others speak in hushed awe at such a smooth bureaucracy unencumbered by troublesome politicians. Few Americans have really bothered to understand the nature of the commission. I believe it to be the most aggressive and ambitious force in the western world.
While China is opening itself up, the Europe of the Union is cocooning itself in ever more detailed rules, taxes, regulations and levies. India abandons is antique love affair with bureaucracy and chooses liberalisation. The Belgian Empire, as Margaret Thatcher calls it, is going in the opposite direction. If this were the result of electoral choice it would have a legitimacy. In fact it is an unconstrained autocracy.
For those of us in Britain who regard ourselves as Atlanticists with bonds of affection and respect for the US, the incomprehension of even elite Americans to the true nature of the EU is distressing. By the assessment of its own auditors the EUs budget is closely allied to organised crime: 40% of its funds go to rigging farming and food markets. No other single policy accounts for wider poverty. Yet Washington averts its eyes, still thinking bulwarks.
It is recognised that the endorsement of brutal and repressive regimes, if they were at least anti-communist, was a policy that nourished many evil tyrannies. It would be too colourful to describe the EU in these terms but it cannot be denied it is a mercantilist opponent of the liberalisation of trade in goods and services as much as foodstuffs. Note how the EU, born as a Common Market has decayed into a Common Bureaucracy. At the World Trade Organisation, the EU is effectively an opponent of the US.
A favourite debating trick of the late Sir Edward Heath, when negotiating the UK entry into the then Common Market, was to protest the talk of a vast Euro-bureaucracy was illusory. The commission employs fewer than the Scottish Office, he would tease. It was a clever trick. He simply ignored all those working for the commissions subsidiary bodies and for all the national civil servants executing commission policy or directives. There is no bigger bureaucracy on the planet.
A recent parliamentary answer in the Federal Parliament in Berlin admitted 80% of German legislation is merely compliance with commands from the superior body in Brussels. Westminster nods through what John Biffin terms a steady drizzle of rules and regulations. To most Americans the British have their monarch on her throne and her judges in their wigs. How can fellows like me say this is increasingly hollow? The Queens speech is mostly drafted by the commission. The Queens courts conform their law-giving as obedient to the true fount of lawmaking in Brussels. The British parliament debates on ever constricted grounds. It is only healthcare and education that remain untouched by the commission. There is no hyperbole in claiming the UK has no trade policy whatsoever. The DTI is merely the provincial office for the commissions commands.
Admirable Washington policy teams such as those at the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to open the closed minds of Washington. I fear it will take a few thousand more seminars or perhaps one spectacular event to alert the US to the real truth about its delinquent child.
John Blundell is Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs.