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For most of the European voters that constituted part of the first European Union, made up of 12 member countries (Germany, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Holland, Luxemburg, Ireland, Denmark, Austria, Greece, Spain, and Portugal), the expansion or acceptance of some eastern countries (Poland, Hungary, etc.) to become new members of the European Union has not been to their liking. There are many reasons: the fear that an immense workforce will compete for scarce jobs is one. But also these new member countries are considered true Trojan horses, being more pro-American than the USA itself, something which will undoubtedly generate tension between those who are for European interests above all and those who would prefer to see themselves in the US’s orbit while being in the European Union.

During the Cold War, Europe was the fruit of a dual desire: on one hand, the desire of Europeans to put an end to incessant wars they had faced throughout history and, on the other, the desire of the United States to control and include Western Europe in the Atlantic bloc (NATO). This proposition was formalized within the framework of the Marshall Plan.

Since the fall of the USSR, that consensus has died. Washington no longer seeks to stabilize the West, but rather to isolate the Russian Federation. On October 2, 1991 James Baker, Bush’s (the father’s) Secretary of State, called for the merging of NATO, the European Union and the CSCE under the aegis of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. This was above all draw the “Visegrád group” (Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) [1] and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) closer to NATO and to the Union.

The Visegrád group entered NATO in March 1999, and the Baltic States May 1, 2004 [2]. Others joined the European Union the same day, while at the same time Cyprus and Malta were on the waiting list and Slovenia was figuring out how to get on the train. The expansion of the European Union with states of Central and Baltic Europe (countries of the former socialist bloc) was not the wish of the original members, or of the new members - but a modification imposed by Washington and accepted by all.

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As one can observe, in this sense it is not possible to distinguish between the history of the European Union and that of NATO; nor can one analyze the current crisis of the Union without understanding the evolution of NATO.

The European Parliament

Although the European Parliament’s powers have been strengthened through the Maastricht Treaty (1991) and the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), they continue to be limited. Parliament has been called to issue an advisory opinion on the matters that depend on the Council of the Heads of State and Government (agriculture, budgeting, the environment, social security, justice, etc.)-a consultative procedure; to issue an opinion relative to initiatives of the Structural Fund Program Administration and cohesion-a cooperative procedure; and to jointly legislate with the Council regarding other questions-a joint decision-making procedure. It cannot make any decision for itself and appears, often in a caricaturist way, as a huge forum with no purpose.

Created in 1958, the European Parliament was initially composed of deputies delegated by national parliaments. Beginning in 1979, members were chosen by direct vote on the basis of proportional representation [3]. In the initial perspective of the Union, the European states were called on to integrate themselves in a federation whose sole assembly would end up being the European Parliament. That focus culminated in the Maastricht Treaty (1991) which foresaw the financing of European political parties. However, after the collapse of the USSR, the same Washington which had exerted pressure to achieve political integration was now opposed to it.

This divergence was sharply accentuated when a portion of the European population, led by Germany and later by France, refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq. The new question of European political integration was translated, among other things, into the halting of the integration process of the European Parliament.

Abandoned was the idea of carrying out elections by means of a single vote count in all the member states using national districts but with European electoral lists. Conversely, what was adopted was a system of regional balloting with the pretense of creating less distance between deputies and citizens, although its true aim was to guarantee that Parliament never possessed the necessary legitimacy to assume new powers, as assemblies had done in specific moments in the construction of democracies. In France, regional balloting was promoted by Michel Barnier (UMP) and Pierre Moscovici (PS) with the veiled intention of taking advantage of the situation to eliminate small parties.

The fact that national political parties have not even carried out campaigns in coordination with their future foreign allies in Parliament, and the fact that they don’t worry about the results obtained by their allies in other state members confirms the intrinsically anti-European character of this balloting. The national press have reflected this state faithfully in fact when reporting abroad on the results without ever referring to future political groups, but limited themselves to interpreting the results according to local interests in play.

Abstention

In June 2004, the 25 member states of the European Union chose their 732 deputies to the European Parliament. The graph that appears below confirms that the participation index has suffered a constant decline since 1979. During the first fifteen years, the erosion is slow, reflective of the discouragement from a parliament without powers. But starting from 1999, when the powers of Parliament were strengthened, the fall sharpens as a reflection of the voters’ bewilderment in the face of the evolution of their very own Union.

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The legitimacy of a democratic institution is maintains a relation to its electoral base. Below the critical threshold of 50 percent participation, no election can bestow democratic legitimacy. If we omit Belgium and Luxemburg, where the vote is mandatory, the graph reveals that voter participation is only satisfactory in the Mediterranean bloc (Italy, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus) and in Ireland. All the other nations refuse to participate in the enlarged Union. This rejection is particularly extreme in the countries of the Visegrad group and in the Baltic States, that is to say, in all those introduced under the pressure of Bush (the father) and James Baker.

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The confusion of voters reverberates in political parties. In all the state members, most of the large groups are divided in their vision of the future of Europe, to the point they find it impossible to develop legislative programs. Consequently, those who are elected occupy seats for political groups and not for their convictions, something which prolongs this confusion throughout their entire terms.

The first important decision that they will have to make will be voting on the Constitution. Contrary to the title that designates it and its showy appearance, it has absolutely nothing to do with a constitution that regulates a federation and establishes a separation of powers. It is nothing more than a treaty that rectifies the Nice Treaty (2000). The main objective at play is to redefine the weight of member states’ votes to adapt rules established by 15 members for all 25.

The massive abstention makes illusory the adoption of this “constitutional” initiative which, incidentally, deeply modifies the character of the Union. But the non-adoption of this effort is also problematic, since the alternative would be the Treaty of Nice, which was approved for appearances with no one wishing to apply it. The Union, therefore, is in a mire. However, it is not the first time in its history, and it has always known how to invent solutions at the last hour. This time it won’t be enough to use imagination, but rather, and above all, it will be necessary to clearly identify if member state do or do not wish to pursue political integration. This they would do then, not under the pressure of the United States, but against it.

[1] It was in Visegrad, near Budapest, that King Casimiro III the Great (the king of Poland), Carlos I (Hungary) and Jan de Luxembourg (Bohemia) met in the nineteenth century to resolve their disputes. It was also in Visegrad that on February 15, 1991, Lech Walesa, Arpad Göncz and Vaclav Havel-inspired by the American economic model-decided to create a free trade area among the three countries.

[2] This is something more complicated: Czechoslovakia has been divided in two. The Czech Republic entered NATO first, later Slovakia. The two states entered the Union at the same time.

[3] Except for the United Kingdom, which repealed that decision.