UCLA International Institute, May 20, 2016 — David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to the United States, gave a spirited defense of the achievements and durability of the EU in a talk at UCLA on May 11. The event was organized by the Center for European & Russian Studies and cosponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations and the Consulate General of Poland in Los Angeles.
The EU is currently facing several major challenges: the global refugee crisis, a difficult recovery from the fiscal crisis of 2008, security crises to the East and South, and the potential exit of the United Kingdom from the EU. Yet O’Sullivan argued that the European Union had a history of overcoming crises, emphasizing that all of its 28 current member states had benefited enormously to date from their membership.
Origins and development
“I think it's terribly important,” said the EU ambassador, “to remember what inspired the original creation of the European Union and why people felt that twice in the 20th century… European civil wars — and I choose my words very carefully because they were European civil wars — plunged the rest of the world into a global conflagration. And we wanted to make sure that that would never happen again.”
Today’s European Union began as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. According to O’Sullivan, the community was an attempt to prevent a future war in Europe because it meshed the national industries on which the machinery of war then depended. Founded by Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, the Community over the course of 50 years grew into the EU. Along the way, the European Economic Community (EEC) was created in 1957 to integrate the economies of the same six countries, expanding in 1973 to include the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland and Denmark.
These interlocking institutions effected the reconciliation of Germany and France, which O’Sullivan reminded the audience had previously fought three wars (the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and WWII) in succession. The EEC became the European Community (EC) under the 1993 Maastricht Treaty and was ultimately absorbed into the European Union under the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. The euro became the common currency of the Eurozone, comprised of a large subset of EC (now EU) members in 2002 (excluding United Kingdom and Denmark). And EU membership expanded to include most of the nations of Central and East Europe in 2004, 2007 and 2013.
Today, said O’Sullivan, the EU represents the world’s largest economy and one of its largest trading blocs. In addition to reconciling Germany and France, he said the EU had rebuilt a competitive, more efficient and open market in Europe; steered the relatively nonviolent transition of East and Central European nations toward democracy and free markets after the collapse of the Soviet Union; created a successful common currency (despite the recent financial crisis, the euro prevented competitive currency devaluations from arising after the 2008 crash); and the consolidation and defense of human rights within and beyond Europe. And the EU both delivers the vast majority of development aid and is the source of the majority of humanitarian assistance in the world.
Challenges past and present
“I can hardly think of a moment when someone was not making a speech saying that Europe was at yet another crossroads,” remarked O’Sullivan. Among the serious crises of the past, he cited De Gaulle’s removal of France from the decision-making process in Brussels for six months in 1965; the 1975 referendum held in the UK to confirm its membership, initiated just two years prior; the so-called “Euro sclerosis” of the late 1970s; and the unemployment crisis of the mid-1990s (when the unemployment rate reached 21 percent Europe-wide).
O’Sullivan acknowledged that the 2008 banking crisis and resulting Euro crisis had been difficult and taken several years to fix. “The EU discovered structural flaws in the architecture of its economic and monetary union,” he said. Consequently, it established a banking union, a common system for winding up banks in serious financial difficulty and the European Financial Mechanism (which will serve as a bailout fund for future acute debt situations). And it increased macroeconomic surveillance to ensure members’ adherence to the agreed government deficit limit of three percent. Today, the EU has returned to positive economic growth, which is expected to increase in 2017.
The ambassador described the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 as a “shock to the system” for Europeans who believed they were building a Europe “where military conflict would never again be used to resolve frontier issues.” Calling the situation deeply disturbing, O’Sullivan said the annexation and intervention in Eastern Ukraine by Russia had torn up the rule book that Europe had painstakingly created, particularly the Helsinki Accords of the 1970s. “It puts security back on the agenda in Europe in ways that frankly, we never expected,” he said. Despite expectations to the contrary, the EU has successfully implemented strong sanctions against Russia without losing either trans-Atlantic or intra-European unity.
With respect to the refugee crisis in Europe, O’Sullivan insisted that only a pan-European solution would work. “The frontline states can’t carry the brunt of the response,” he remarked. And he insisted that EU’s agreement with Turkey to hold refugees for processing, together with attempts to better manage Europe’s borders and help frontline states process applicants, were necessary measures to restore control to a situation that had long been chaotic.
From left: Kate O'Sullivan; EU Ambassador to the United States David O'Sullivan;
Director of the Center for European & Russian Studies Laure Murat; Associate Vice Provost Gail Kilgman;
and Consul General of Poland in Los Angeles Mariusz Brymora. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)
Die Zeit publisher throws cold water on Brexit
At a separate meeting on May 11, Die Zeit publisher Josef Joffe argued against the potential exit of the United Kingdom from the EU and predicted that the country would vote in favor of remaining a member. Joffe, who is also editor of the German weekly, spoke at a Center for European & Russian Studies event that was cosponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations and the Center for Global Management of the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In addition to his Die Zeit affiliation, Joffe is Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Fellow at the Hoover Institution, both of Stanford University, where he has been a visiting professor of political science since 2004.
Brexit part of a second revolt against globalization in the West
Joffe characterized the Brexit movement (which supports a British exit from the EU) as part of a “second revolt against globalization, defined as the accelerating movement of goods, services, capital and people across national borders — plus, of course, plummeting transportation and communications costs.”
The first revolt against globalization, he said, occurred in the United States and Europe from the mid-19th century until roughly World War II. "What we are living through now happened in analogous ways 150 years ago,” he said. “Wealth grew by leaps and bounds, but so did resentment against what was happening.”
Like today, significant reductions in the cost of communications and transport coincided with a huge influx of immigrants into the United States from the second half of the 1900s through the 1930s. Those conditions gave rise to the populist People’s Party [as well as the Know Nothing movement], which pushed back against the elites in favor of the average man. “[U.S. presidential candidate] Donald Trump is not a new phenomenon,” he remarked.
Today, a second populist protest against globalization is sweeping the Western world, he said. This revolt combines leftist ideas with nativist, nationalist and protectionist ideas. “All these parties are national socialist,” said Joffe. “The right wing is nationalist, and the left wing is redistributionist.” And its leaders — among them, Trump, U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage (who spearheaded the UK Brexit campaign), French National Front Party leader Marine Le Pen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish President Jaroslaw Kaczyński — all employ the same kind of demagoguery.
“The common thrust of all [of them] is to pull up the drawbridges, widen the moats and raise the walls of the nation state that have been battered by globalization,” he remarked. These forces, he said, seek ethnic, cultural, economic and even strategic isolationism from “undesirables — that is, immigration from undesirable cultures and creeds.”
Joffe judged the first wave of globalization more merciless and brutal than the wave that is occurring in the West today, largely due to the welfare state and its ability to reduce the impact of economic dislocation and downward mobility. The brutal responses to the first wave of globalization — which he identified as fascism, communism and Nazism — all promised people protection against the outside world plus a redistribution of resources domestically. “I don’t think that outcome is in any way plausible or likely [today],” he commented.
With respect to the demonization of free trade by anti-globalization forces, Joffe later asked, “What if the real enemy is not free trade but technology?” Perhaps, he mused, the consequences of free trade are not driving the current reaction to globalization and immigration, but the disruptive technology that is upending economic arrangements and people’s individual lives.
Refuting the Brexit argument
Joffe asserted that the UK was highly integrated into the EU, which remains the largest market for its manufactured exports. The newspaper publisher discounted the arguments that an exit would rid the UK of onerous labor regulations, reduce its monetary contributions to the European project and give it greater access to non-EU markets. The UK, he pointed out, already has the lowest level of labor regulation of any EU member state. And in order to continue to access the unified European market, the UK would then have to join the European Economic Area — for a fee that would nearly equal its current EU contributions (and without a voice in its governance).
Brexit sign. (Photo: Paul Lloyd/ Flickr, 2016; cropped. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
As for the “keep-out-the-foreigners” argument, he noted that the UK was not a signatory of the Schengen Agreement of 1985 and thus already controlled its national borders. And Joffe warned that should the UK move to limit immigration from EU members, it may provoke those countries to take action against the two million British citizens living on the European continent.
Prime Minister Cameron has already used the threat of a potential U.K. exit to wrest significant concessions from the EU, said Joffe. Those concessions include an agreement with the EU that the goal of “ever closer unity” does not apply to the UK, as well as relief from paying work benefits for new immigrants for a period of four years. Finally, Joffe stressed the long-term gains in trade and economic growth that the UK had derived from EU membership.
Should the UK vote to leave the EU, Joffe predicted that it would experience a stock market crash; a currency devaluation; the departure of Prime Minister Cameron from power; an “ever closer union” between France and Germany; and a successful second referendum in Scotland in favor of leaving the United Kingdom. Without free trade, he commented, the UK will simply end up with low-productivity firms at home.
Germany and the refugee crisis
Asked to comment about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis in Germany, Joffe said, “I think Merkel has been very, very adroit.” At first, he explained, she took the moral high road, accepted refuges without limit and sought to make amends for Germany’s racist past. “Then she realized,” he continued, “that with 1.2 million refugees in the country just last year, it was putting enormous strains on the political system.”
In what Joffe termed a brilliant tactical move, Merkel managed to retain her openness to refugees and avoid closing Germany’s borders by waiting for countries further south along the Balkan route to close theirs (as Hungary, Austria and others subsequently did). She then negotiated an agreement with Turkey on behalf of the EU in March 2016 that further de-escalated the situation. Under that agreement, Turkey receives monetary support, travel privileges and other perks from the EU in return for holding Syrian and other refugees in Turkey while their applications to the EU are processed.
“So for the time being,” he commented, “the crisis that really threatened to blow up in her face… is contained.” He conceded, however, that “the Turks have in their hands the power to regulate the flow of refugees at will… and it’s a very unpleasant position to be in.”
All non-captioned photos in text by Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.