Serbia Should Shun the European Union

By John Laughland
Friday, 10 Jun 2011

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(Keynote address at The Lord Byron Foundation Conference Serbia: Strategy for Survival, held in Belgrade on May 26) It is more than ten years since Serbia allegedly embarked on its path to integration in what Eastern Europeans accurately call “Euro-Atlantic structures”. Serbia has achieved precisely nothing.

You will recall that Vojislav Kostunica was fêted by European leaders meeting in Biarritz on 13 and 14 October 2000. At that meeting, Serbia was formally welcomed “back into the European family.” Since that date, Serbian politics has been completely submerged by the European question. For a decade, the television news has been showing men in grey suits greeting each other in conference rooms with the same monotony as Soviet television used to show summit meetings between leaders of the fraternal states. In other words, there has not been real politics, just a rather grisly make-believe.

Take almost any day and the headline news concerns international meetings. On 23 May 2011, for instance, B92’s web site led with a meeting with IMF officials; a statement by a Serbian government official about a forthcoming EU report on the country’s accession; and a visit by Vuk Jeremic to a regional conference. This sort of subordination of national policy to foreign policy is perverse and degrading.

Over the last ten years of attempting to join the EU, Serbia has achieved precisely nothing. On the contrary, the subjection of national policy to a foreign policy goal has led to the supreme negation of national interest, the amputation in 2008 of a part of national territory by the very European Union which Serbia says it wants to join. That same EU has illegally established itself as the protectorate power in Kosovo and its word is also sovereign over neighbouring Bosnia, as this month’s intervention by Catherine Ashton, over the proposed referendum in Republika Srpska, shows.

Far from succeeding, Serbia has suffered significant diplomatic defeats, most notably in last year’s ruling by the International Court of Justice on Kosovo. More generally, as the Bosnian civil war recedes in time, the demonization of the Serbs has paradoxically only been entrenched as convictions continue to be handed down by the ICTY, for instance against Vlastimir Djordjevic in February. Like other convictions, the latest upholds the theory of a “joint criminal enterprise” perpetrated by the Serbian leadership. The same goes for Bosnia where the ICTY and other tribunals continue to hand down convictions for genocide, again incriminating the Serbs as a whole. The recent convictions handed down against General Gotovina and other Croats over Operation Storm should give no comfort to Serbs. They show only the truth of the old Arab saying about the British: “It is better to be their enemy than their friend. If you are their enemy, they may try to buy you. If you are their friend, they will definitely sell you.”

During this period, moreover, the monotony of the continuing visits to and from Brussels, and of the unchanging judicial version of events of a war which finished a decade and a half ago, hides the fact that the world in general, and the European Union in particular, has changed.

The Brussels bureaucracy likes to spin things out unnecessarily – how else would its army of pen-pushers justify their comfortable salaries? – but today it is being hoist by its own petard. The truth is that the EU itself is in deep crisis, and has been for many years now. The Tadic government’s continuing determination to join it, as if nothing had changed since 2000, is perhaps the first known example of rat rushing to board a sinking ship instead of fleeing it. Throughout the previous decade, indeed, the EU has

been plunged in an intractable institutional and now economic crisis. It took the EU the whole of that decade to sort out its institutional structure: the European Convention, which drew up the so-called European Constitution, was created in December 2001. The Constitution, drawn up in July 2003, was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The Lisbon Treaty, which is the European Constitution re-phrased in terms of amendments to the existing treaties, was signed on 13 December 2007. Rejected by a referendum in the Republic of Ireland in 2008, eventually entered into force at the end of 2009, just over a year ago.

In other words, the period of institutional crisis lasted for 8 years. It had been preceded, indeed, by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 and the Treaty of Nice in 2001 (rejected by a referendum in Ireland in 2000) which were, like the Constitution and the Treaty of Lisbon, supposed to make the EU more functional and to prepare it for enlargement.

I have no idea how much money was spent by the EU on these huge efforts to reform itself (I expect no one really knows) but the sums must be gigantic. Even after so much effort, there is already pressure to introduce further institutional changes (centralisation of power) because of the second area of crisis which I would like to address, the crisis of the euro.

As you know, the European single currency has been in crisis now since at least late 2009. Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are hovering around various forms of bankruptcy, all of which are the direct result of the euro. Although the crises are different (sovereign debt crisis in Greece, banking crisis in Ireland, property bubble in Spain) they all have a common cause: the single European currency caused the situation to spiral out of control, whereas if they had had national currencies, the effects of these crises would have been mitigated. Interest rates would have risen or exchange rates fallen; since neither could happen within the euro zone, the various forms of debt ballooned. This is why the EU has rushed in to bail out the various banks (the banks, not the countries) which have bad loans: if one of these countries left the euro, the EU project would be even more in tatters than it already is.

This euro crisis derives from precisely the institutional weakness which many (and not only myself) identified when the single European currency was being constructed in the 1990s. The architects of the single currency tried to pre-empt a debt crisis by introducing limits on government borrowing (the “Maastricht criteria”). But these were never respected, neither when countries were selected for euro membership nor after they adopted it, and so the predicted collapse is now occurring. The crisis, in other words, is structural and will be resolved only when the structure breaks down, as it inevitably will.

By the same token, reckless enlargement of the EU, and the equally reckless preservation of a centralist institutional model which worked for 6 homogenous countries in the late 1950s but which is quite unsuited to a pan-continental ensemble of 27 states, means that the EU can simply not continue to exist for very long in its present form. Numerous are the pro-European commentators, for instance in France and Germany, who would love to escape from the excessively restrictive structures of the Europe of 27 to re-establish a Franco-German directorate over the EU.

To this state of severe uncertainty, we must add the looming issue of Turkish accession. The EU is now in the 6th year of negotiations with Turkey (they were opened on 3 October 2005) and it is obvious that the prospect of allowing them to conclude will blow Europe apart. The European political class is already handing on by its fingertips in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and even Germany faced with a rising recognition that Islam and Europe cannot mix. The prospect of not allowing the talks to conclude in Turkish accession will also be highly problematic because the Turkish elite is determined and ruthless. It cannot succeed in entrenching its post-Ottoman and Islamist agenda until the modernising and sovereignist structures of Kemalism are firmly buried under the post-modern and post-sovereignist concrete of the Berlaymont.

In the wider world, the situation is no less stable. For 20 years now, since the end of the Cold War, the institutions inherited from the Cold War (NATO and the EU) have been rearmed, ideologically and materially, as the victorious West sought to impose a Carthaginian peace on a defeated Russia. This rearmament – the emphasis on “human rights”, “democracy” and “humanitarian intervention” as the ideological bases for Europe and NATO – is falling apart. The EU preaches democracy yet systematically disregards referendum results when they do not go its way (as it has done 5 times now). NATO wages war to protect civilians yet defends attacks on civilians when it kills Colonel Gaddafi’s son and grandchildren. The Mafia bosses who run the West – just look at the hoods who work as their bodyguards, just look at the armour-plated cars they drive around in - have met their match in the lunatic Gaddafi, and it is a sorry comment on the moral corruption of the West that it has taken a man like him to show us up.

This rearmament started to run into the sands by the middle of the last decade. Of course people in Serbia knew that the Kosovo war of 1999 was a moral outrage but it was not (and is still not) perceived as such in the West. Instead, I would say that the events in Ukraine showed how the ride was receding. The euphoria generated by the Orange Revolution in 2004 (modelled on the events in Belgrade 4 years earlier, as you know, and largely orchestrated by the same people) lasted only 2 years, until Victor Yanukovich became prime minister again in 2006.

More significantly, the Russian-Georgian of August 2008 led to an unambiguous geopolitical victory for Russia. Not only was it henceforth impossible for Georgia to join NATO but also the whole Black Sea project collapsed: Ukraine, too, has announced that she will not join the Alliance. Most importantly of all, the West seems to have more or less accepted the fact. Russia has been positively courted by the Obama administration since early 2009.

During that time, as we know, the West – and especially the United States – has been in terminal turmoil. The “financial crisis” is, like the euro crisis, both structural and spiritual. It is not just a passing phase, part of the economic cycle. It is structural because spiritual – the inevitable result of the culture of debt, such gigantic quantities of which have been amassed by states and individuals that there is no prospect of it ever being paid off. Apart from mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren (who in any case are being born in ever fewer numbers) this debt will, in the short and medium term, fatally undermine the very fabric of the economy by debasing the currency. It is not just Greece which is struggling to raise debt, it is the USA as well.

Under these circumstances, it makes even less sense for Serbia to continue on the (failed) Western path adopted by the Tadic government than it did in the first place. The Ukrainian model shows how EU membership can be retained as a theoretical goal while in fact recalibrating national policy according to national interests and reality, that is, according to the political and economic interests of ordinary people. In my view, Serbia should precisely copy the Ukrainian model by renouncing NATO membership (which is in any case an aberration and an anachronism) as a statement of geopolitical priorities: national interest first, international interests second. EU membership can also be downgraded as a priority, because even in the best-case scenario it will not occur for many more years to come. Ukraine has paid precisely no price at all for renouncing NATO membership; on the contrary, there is evidence that relations have improved with the West once its electorate got rid of the quarrelling kleptocrats installed by the Orange revolution. Kiev retains lip service to the principle of EU accession but there is a tacit understanding that this is only for form’s sake. The country has not suffered as a result; instead its foreign and domestic policy have been reinvigorated by a very welcome and overdue reality check.

There is another country from which inspiration can be drawn and that is France. France is currently one of the few countries in Europe with healthy demography. To be sure, a large part of the national statistics showing a high birth rate is due to immigrants. But there is also a culture of large families among the French middle classes which all European countries should look to with admiration. Last year, I had dinner with a retired general, a former army colonel, and a lawyer in his 40s: between them, the 3 men had 22 children. It is quite common to meet people from the upper middle classes who have large families – 6 or 7 children or even more. The French elite is reproducing and, as an elitist, I welcome and admire this enormously.

Finally, agriculture. It is obvious that countries need to modernise in order to prosper. However, and without wishing to argue for a complete withdrawal from the world – il faut cultiver notre jardin – I do think that a national strategy for survival involves the defensive strategy of ensuring food security. France pursued this policy in the 1960s and continues to do so; the unleashing of social unrest in North Africa is due, at least in part, to rising food prices there. Food and agriculture should not be taken for granted.

European accession is fatal to national agriculture and this is one of the many areas in which a Serbian strength would be destroyed. I will never forget crossing the Austrian-Czech border before the Czech Republic joined the EU and noticing how the lovely flowers in the hedgerows in Moravia disappeared as soon as one entered the EU which is as herbicide as it is liberticide. The Dutch hydroponic tomato is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the EU. It is imperative that it be driven back into the greenhouses of Scheveningen if life in the rest of Europe is to be worth living.