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Common Cents

Just imagine

Ralph Murphy

(1/2016) Note - The author travelled to France and Germany the week following the terrorist attacks in Paris on 15 November. As you can see in this article, the Europeans have a lot more on their plate than terrorism.

The late John Lennon's hit single "Imagine" released in 1971 envisioned "a world at peace without the barriers of borders, divisions of religions, or nationalities." It sold to a war weary, counter culture generation certain social and political directions that afforded "sharing" as opposed to structured competition as the means for constructive engagement. If not the ideological underpinning of the European Union (EU) it could surely serve as its anthem. "Imagine all the people sharing all the world", has led to massive financial debt, civil unrest and wars, as well as internal immigration concerns. It has to be appraised in light of unforeseen conflict no matter its initial objectives.

Refugees are streaming out of mostly Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa amid social turmoil caused by war following Arab Spring dislocations. Frustrated democracy movements there haven't been able to meet pluralist, political objectives. Thousands of religious refugees have drowned during Mediterranean and Aegean Sea crossings. A quota system was established to divide the largely unskilled, asylum seekers this past year and the wealthier nations of Germany, Sweden, Italy and France took in a large portion of the 812,705 refugees in 2015. Unemployment stood at about 10% in the EU that year, and the new arrivals would just drain resources if allowed to stay in Europe without employment prospects.

The 28 member EU also owed about $14 trillion that cannot be repaid without serious policy changes to their billing and repayment schemes. It can be written off by the 19 Eurozone members that share a common currency by returning to host currencies as a non-binding Brussels debt issue. That takes political will and conviction and no nation has yet ascended to the challenge though it will surely be realized shortly. The only alternatives are passing the debt to future generations who will have their own bills or by printing cash that just raises the general price level.

The 2009 EU Treaty of Lisbon resulted from a merger of two treaties. The first or Treaty of Rome in 1958 established the EC with 6 nations and lowered trade barriers between members with an eventual goal of further market integration to include a "Customs Union". This allows the free flow of goods and services between foreign powers. The second accord was the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 that founded the EU. It went further in allowing not only the economic integration, but also political control of member dealings from Brussels, Belgium. Brussels is the home of the European Commission or Executive body as well as the European Council that plays a Legislative role to include budget issues and treaty policies. A Parliament exists in Brussels as well as in Strasbourg, France for a supplemental role in legislative initiatives. The French body is elected by member nations. The Council is appointed but may have more power than its French counterpart in debt and treaty matters.

The EU grouping continued on to the 2009 Lisbon Treaty and while these nations were "locked" into membership without a prospect to decouple - it wasn't intrusive enough in action to be formally challenged. That all changed with the Lisbon accord. The momentum of political and economic integration of even cultural standards became potentially the sole standard for legal matters in Brussels. Perhaps anticipating the populist rejection of the accord - an "opt out" provision from the EU was allowed. However, members could not opt out from the treaty itself. Britain plans a referendum in 2017 or BREXIT to stay or leave the EU. Greece plans a GREXIT at an unspecified timeframe. Most all the major players have expressed an intention to withdraw because of debt issues or poor social dictates from Brussels.

The Maastricht Treaty was designed by French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It appeared to sell to the veteran politicians, a bullwark of European control against American businesses in most all parts of Europe. What it did in fact do was "drive out" the conventional interests and replace them with Brussels’ legal players, often anonymous in their dealings, but very powerful in their EU role. This syndicate including Russia, regional mafia, and even US interests had new access to old finance markets and "weighed in" often writing policy amid theft. The underworld filled much of the legal "vacuum" or opportunity created by Lisbon. Gambling concerns are now owned by and receive investment from commercial banks. Their debt is hidden in "shadow" or "off shore" arrangements that are vexsome to the continent. Money lent by the ECB or the Frankfurt, Germany Central Bank to indigents such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, or Russia keeps disappearing from ledgers as new accounts appear in Luxembourg, Germany, and Switzerland… and others.

The Treaty of Lisbon is a real concern. It allows "Exclusive Competence" which binds EU members to specific measures such as a Customs Union, monetary policy, and Common Agriculture Policy. "Shared Competence" goes further and is broader in powers to EU organs. It affords control by Brussels’ of interests in social, economic, agricultural, energy, and environmental areas. Just about any facet of conventional life can theoretically be legislated in the act, with the only opposition coming from whatever local officials can "muster". The last area or "Supporting Competence" is stated so broadly it again reinforces the others and allows laws and actions by the supranational, EU bodies in all aspects of political and private life such as health, industry, and culture. Even tourism can be controlled.

What probably started as opposition to American financial control of Europe has simply gotten "out of hand." Economic models presume competition between resource managers and workers, and appear to reflect that reality in dealings. Avoiding pain and seeking pleasure involves working within an approved and competitive framework. Countries also routinely compete. Any alliances such as defense must respect sovereignty in shared purpose. Nations, usually produce some goods that are better or cheaper than their neighbors and they can then trade. Blanket integration of economies with a mandate for a foreign power to dictate policies at all levels simply goes against the understood forces of nature. People share with very close partners, not to broad standard and any EU decoupling must reflect that reality. EU debt and immigration issues, as well as civil unrest will surely continue until domestic priorities can be better defined by their own leaders.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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