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European Conservatives in Tampa

John Fonte

European conservatives will sponsor an event at the Republican National Convention in Tampa entitled “Hey America Don’t take this road.” RSVP here (limited seating). The conservatives are affiliated with the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) a center-right political group that includes the British Conservative party, the Czech Civic Democrats, and the Polish Law and Justice party among others.

The speakers at the AECR event in Tampa (including British MEP Daniel Hannan and Czech MEP Jan Zahradil) are self-described Reagan-Thatcherites. The overall thrust of the AECR is pro-American, pro-NATO, pro-free-market, pro-free-trade, pro-Israel, and pro-national-democratic sovereignty. Our European friends will probably convey two messages. The first message, that America should “not take the road” of European social democracy, has already been internalized by most Republicans.

The second message is more complicated. It concerns the future of Europe. The AECR and its think tank, New Direction, seek to reform the EU, to move it away from the current trajectory of more centralization, more integration, more power to Brussels, and diminished sovereign self-government. Our friends argue that it is time for a new paradigm for Europe premised on Reagan-Thatcher principles of free enterprise, a common market, democratic accountability, Western self-defense, and national sovereignty. 

As the crisis over the euro intensifies, an ideological struggle to define the European center-right is being waged between two forces. The relatively new Reagan-Thatcherites of the AECR are challenging the long-established, euro-federalist political bloc of mostly Christian Democratic-oriented parties including German chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the French neo-Gaullists of former president Sarkozy, and a wide range of conservative parties throughout the continent.

This grouping, called the European People’s Party (EPP), is much more statist than the AECR. On many economic issues there is little daylight between the EPP and European Social Democrats. (“Socialists who might go to church” is how one MEP described them.) Significantly, the EPP is strongly committed to increasing European integration and expanding decision-making authority to Brussels.   

Since the end of World War II, the bipartisan American foreign-policy establishment has continuously supported the euro-federalist project for greater European integration. During the past half dozen years, the International Republican Institute (a John McCain stronghold) has had close ties with the EPP and given a cold shoulder to the new AECR. But since the financial crisis the economic and (even more important) the political landscape of Europe has changed significantly. It is time for a “new direction” for American conservatives towards Europe. It is time to recognize who are friends are and why.    

One of the best explanations of the euro crisis is Dan Hannan’s essay in Standpoint in December 2011. Hannan (who will speak in Tampa) explains that the euro project itself is the problem. This utopian scheme to impose a single currency on many disparate nations with vastly different economies and political traditions (to say nothing of cultures) was problematic from the start, as Martin Feldstein and Milton Friedman predicted it would be.

Hannan notes that while a return to national currencies will certainly be costly, maintaining the euro will be much costlier. He states that the new initiatives to “save” the euro will “inflict penury and emigration on their southern members and perpetual tax rises on their northern members.” In the same vein, he argues, “The euro is a recessionary device. The survival of the single currency and the economic success of its constituent members, far from being synonymous are becoming incompatible.“ 

Moreover, current proposals fiscal union, banking union, etc. to prop up the euro would result in the increasing diminution of democratic self-government. As Hannan puts it, “You can have European integration or you can have full democracy, but you can’t have both.”

Obviously an economically and politically healthy Europe is in American national interests. It is unlikely, however, that increased European integration in an effort to “save” the euro in its present form will achieve economic or political success. In any case, certainly no American taxpayer funds, directly or indirectly, should be spent to prop up the euro. Not surprisingly, Hannan decries British financial support for the euro bailouts (“Britain, in short, is being made to pay for the privilege of impoverishing its neighbors”).

It is time for a new American approach to Europe. The political and economic landscape of the EU has changed dramatically during the last few years. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, when the facts change, it is time for us to change as well.

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