In the context of this pandemic, we tend to hear more active calls by Western politicians for urgent transformation of the European Union, i.e. achieving deeper political integration, which would supposedly meet the dynamics in global politics, Member of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat Political Group of the Seimas, Audronius Ažubalis writes.
As proponents of this approach, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are trying to convince others that fiscal integration is probably the only option available in the current situation, and, to reinforce their approach, they stick to a radical position in that the EU has to go for deeper integration, otherwise, it will collapse altogether.
Given this prevailing mood, various projects of a centralised EU are being put on the table, and they are all centred on granting a decisive voice to Germany and France. I believe Lithuania should not support the initiatives that could weaken our political position. The fact that the proposal put forward in the time of the crisis (and who can guarantee that the so-called revolutionary recovery fund will not become a written long-term practice, making the Community a debt union) enables sharing of a financial burden does not mean that issues directly concerning our national interests will not emerge after the end of the crisis.
Indeed, if the latter becomes the case, we would then be willing to enforce our veto right as an equal Member State in the decision-making process. There is, therefore, a need for a fundamental reflection on the proposals made and arguments offered.
Let me begin from the arguments on the alleged imminent collapse of the EU. It is argued that the southern Members States, namely Greece, Italy and Spain, having failed to receive grants under no accountability rules, would withdraw from the Community. The leadership of these countries have been making such hints quite often, too.
This begs the question, though, where will countries like Greece, with a public debt of 176.6 % of GDP, Italy, with a public debt of 134.8 % of GDP, or Spain, with a public debt of 95 % of GDP, go? Who would these countries call for help in the context of this pandemic and a deepening global economic recession? Perhaps, China or Russia? After all, the current economic, political and military potential of the southern Member States in no way allows for drawing any analogies with the UK’s decision to leave the Community.
This crisis has, without a doubt, demonstrated that the European Union is fostering the idea of solidarity. This was also highlighted and illustrated with examples by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in her speech on the EU action in the fight against COVID-19 back in mid-April. Therefore, yes, we do have to show solidarity with the southern Members States so that they do not go bankrupt. After all, the economies of the EU Members States are too closely interconnected to ignore that. However, actual support has to be contingent on the necessary domestic structural reforms rather than grants.
In the meantime, the said Franco-German proposals on non-refundable grants from the recovery fund to the Member States most affected by the pandemic, but never good at financial discipline, are, unfortunately, starting to look like an attempt to buy off the political elite of these countries. That is to say, the situation resembles an exchange, whereby the adoption of this financial project would allow securing the support of its advocates in the EU’s decision-making on matters pertaining to centralisation.
Why is the centralisation so important to France and Germany, you might ask? From my subjective and, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated point of view, large Member States have grown tired of the European democratic procedures guaranteeing equal treatment of Members States. For instance, Emmanuel Macron managed to muscle through the Mobility Package, which is completely lacking in solidarity and protects French hauliers from the competition and whose negative repercussions on Central and Eastern Europe, including Lithuania’s economy, I have already written about on another occasion. And this Macron achieved only by twisting arms, i.e. by resorting to a qualified majority vote.
Of course, we do see that the current EU decision-making process, particularly in the areas requiring unanimity, is often delayed and has ambiguities, while the results are sometimes disappointing. However, this is the fair price for democracy and the equality of Member States enshrined in Community treaties.
Today, we witness efforts to, on the one hand, defend this political mechanism as a value and, on the other hand, find opportunities to bypass it (like in the case of the crisis). What we, so far as passive participants, are observing is the way the proponents of centralisation are making use of the pandemic to exploit to their benefit the uncertainty of the situation to put into practice their long-nurtured political ideas.
That is why attempts are being made to transform the European Stability Mechanism into the European Monetary Fund overseen by a European Minister of Economy and Finance, to drop the unanimity rule in the EU’s area of taxation, and consolidating (possibly, indefinitely) the European instrument of joint debt (because the grants for the southerners would be covered by a debt shared jointly by all Member States at the cost of the EU’s future budget).
Given this, I’m afraid I have to disagree with former President Dalia Grybauskaitė in her open and unconditional campaigning in support of the Franco-German proposals, deepening and speeding up the EU’s fiscal integration. I doubt whether our approval of introducing a joint consolidated tax base and refusal of the right to shape our own tax policy will help us either wield any more clout in the future EU federation or better protect our interests.
Talks about the EU’s disintegration and warnings of withdrawals from the Union only confirm the fact that we tend to over-dramatise the present. This was also corroborated by Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, who acknowledged on Wednesday that ‘some countries will be more affected than others’ while issuing a firm ‘no’ when asked whether the pandemic could renew the danger of the euro area breaking up.
However, Grybauskaitė’s approach of the EU’s deeper fiscal integration has been vehemently supported by Vygaudas Ušackas, a former colleague of mine. In his article, he points out that the viewpoint maintained by the former President brings back a geostrategic debate on the foreign and national security policies in the Lithuanian domestic political arena. Likewise, he expresses public support for Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, as the patriarch of the Munich Security Conference (de facto ‘unofficial voice’ of the German governing parties), who has spoken in favour of the necessity to conclude a new EU treaty and review the clumsy decision-making mechanism of the EU. He also argues that consolidation of the principle of qualified majority voting would empower the Community to speak with one voice on foreign and security policy matters.
I am trying to make sense of what kind of a geostrategic debate can it be if we are campaigning for the refusal of our state’s powers in the area of tax management and foreign and security policy. Can an international political entity, in general, be treated as a state once it loses these competencies? That is why the article by Ušackas titled Grybauskaitė’s gift to Nausėda: an invitation to leadership seems ambiguous and is not a far cry from the meaning behind the phrase from Virgil’s Aeneid – ‘fear the Danaans, even those bearing gifts’.