Only the EU could turn its “strength” into weakness
The EU’s economic might has always been its best asset, perhaps its only asset. It has the diplomatic and military stature of a cuddly toy and its wisdom is but that of an infant – the US is perpetually annoyed by the EU’s complacency and self-worthy idealism as it relies on US-NATO protection, whilst Russia sees the EU as a toothless laughing stock. However, a key attraction to EU membership is being a part of a single economic market that not only serves itself but also provides a collective bargaining chip to leverage excellent economic deals worldwide – this is a clear ambition of the “European Project”.
It is therefore ironic that today the advocate general of the EU’s very own Supreme Court (the ECJ) advised that all future EU trade agreements should be ratified not only by all of the EU institutions (of which there are many) but also by all relevant national governments (28 member states) and even some regional governments, such as Wallonia which recently held the EU-Canada trade deal to ransom.
Though the advocate general’s advice is not legally binding, in 9 out of 10 cases the ECJ will rule in accordance with the advocate general’s recommendation. In all likelihood, therefore, the EU will now tie its own hands in all future trade negotiations. As all negotiators realise, the strength of their negotiating position relies on their perceived ability to deliver on any agreement. Without this certainty, the EU must either negotiate by telling lies (which will soon destroy their credibility) or must caveat everything with “subject to ratification by [nations and regions whose people have their own independent agenda]”. As such, EU negotiators can dangle economic carrots all they like, but at best potential trade partners will laugh, and at worst they won’t even waste their time talking to the EU about totally hypothetical heads of terms.
This is a significant blow to the EU institutions, particularly the EU commissions, who had hoped to become more empowered to negotiate terms of future trade deals without recourse to internal powers that may scupper deals for completely unrelated reasons.
The benefits of EU membership are certainly diminished by this apparent masochism, and the growing appetite of EU nations (such as the UK) to go it alone and control their own economic destiny is quite understandable. The handicaps imposed by the EU on itself and its member states are staggering, and for some reason it brings it on itself – anyone would think there are “bigger” plans afoot.
Clearly the EU’s ambition to enlarge its economic might and geographical scope is becoming its greatest handicap as executive power is sapped. To some an unaccountable EU executive is an abomination and checking its powers is a triumph. From a business perspective it is a nightmare. Perhaps the European project is a nightmare. Perhaps it would be better and more democratically-palatable if smaller nation states delegate to executive teams the power to negotiate from a position of strength rather than abject weakness. Just a thought…