We are all familiar with the large political behemoths that dominate our globe, not just in terms of political influence, but also through their financial strength. The United States, although having a federal structure, has power centred very clearly on Washington. The same would apply to the other superpower, namely China, albeit under a completely different totalitarian political system. As events in Hong Kong have so perfectly illustrated, any thought of an alternative political view or opinion, let alone action, will not be tolerated.
We should also mention Russia, who although no longer a superpower, is still formidable and a potentially dangerous entity. By way of illustration, the value of the entire economy of this geographical giant, as measured by its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is less than half of that of Germany. It, too, despite nominally titling itself as a democratic nation, is quite obviously under a firm central system of Putin’s command and control.
These three, therefore, stand in great contrast to the real strength and opportunity supplied by the structure of the EU. Since its birth back in the 1950s, some have desired and dreamt of creating an alternative to the US via “a United States of Europe”, with a similar centralized strength and concentration of power in order to combat those other leviathans.
However, we should also remember that the US had to go through an extremely painful and destructive civil war to enforce its domination over a group of recalcitrant “slave” states. So I would suggest that there is an alternative to these big and butch policies, and that is to recognise the unique strengths and opportunities that the EU and its members have – their differences.
This may seem counterintuitive, but the very diversity of culture, economics and talents is something not just to be applauded and appreciated, but also used as an effective lever to help in its growth.
In fact, in my view, it has been the more authoritarian and centralised approach of the EU Commission and the Brussels power base that has created both the backlash from certain members against such control, and to a great extent hampered faster and more exciting recovery from the pandemic and the now-forgotten banking crisis.
The history of the European nations and their economic, cultural and financial development gave rise to the greatest and speediest range of developments, rivalling any other region in the world. This was not achieved by a command and control political and economic structure, despite the wishes of various emperors, kings and dictatorships. In fact, we have seen the diametric opposite. Whether you look at the economic ignorance of the Brexit campaign, through to the comments from the Visegrad group of eastern EU members, to most recently the spat over the precedence of Poland over EU legal issues (you may recall the comments from this group to the effect that they had not suffered the yoke of communist Moscow for half a century, to have it replaced the more smartly dressed hegemony of Brussels), there are obvious resentments against such control. The real strength of the EU is this rich economic and cultural diversity of its members and not the domination of what is perceived as a Brussels bureaucratic elite. There may be 28 national members of the Union, but there is another country – and that is the huge centre of the apparatchiks in Brussels.
The pandemic highlighted many of the strains in the system and this has not just been as EU issue, as we have seen with the disruption of global supply chains failing to maintain the “just in time” mantra of business discipline. Companies and even government operations have been searching for new ways of reducing their supply chain risks and building both greater resilience and flexibility. This has been managed far more effectively at a local and regional level rather than by central dictat. Already we have seen businesses not just adapting but innovating according to their own local needs, requirements and skills.
Some see this as a failure of the concept of the EU, but that would be to completely miss the point. The cornucopia of talent across the continent is its very strength. For those who appear to see the political and economic hammers as tools to hit diverse nails hard – this is the dogma of bureaucracy. And trying to bang a round German nail into a square Greek hole is the illustration of the failure of centralized dogma over the regional initiative, individuality and innovation.
The sum of the parts is greater. But it is those parts that are so vital and not the sum itself!