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Canada here we come – the EU dream of global empire


REMEMBER when Australia entered the Eurovision Song Contest a few years back? That was not merely a gimmick. Influential figures in the European arm of Western-orientated globalisation want to change the world to their progressive design, and that entails branding the EU as a global venture. Indeed, Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford, pushes the preposterous notion of a ‘post-imperial empire’. 

In the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, house bulletin of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank specialising in US foreign policy and international relations, Garton Ash argues that ‘to stand up to Russian aggression, the EU must itself take on some of the characteristics of an empire’. With its strategic (and considerably more powerful) accomplice, the US, the European superstate is striving towards global government. Whereas Nato acts as the military force of a new world order, the EU is the political vanguard.

War in Ukraine, in Garton Ash’s view, ‘has brought the EU and Nato into a more clearly articulated partnership as, so to speak, the two strong arms of the West’.  As Nato expands eastwards, Garton Ash suggests that the EU should cross the Atlantic, opining that ‘Canada would be a perfect member of the EU’. I’m sure Justin Trudeau would agree. The European Union reaching the Pacific shore of Vancouver, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation courting Tokyo, show that names should not be taken as definitions of scope.

Garton Ash looks forward to Russia facing a crescent of Nato front line from the Baltic to the Caspian, pressure to which a post-Putin Kremlin might relent. Although he admits that France and Germany opposed the American plan for Nato expansion to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, he omits mention of the Ukrainian people’s reluctance for such Western encroachment (as shown by opinion polling at the time).

I wonder if Garton Ash has read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard (1997),which warned that Russia must not be allowed to regain strength through an anti-Western alliance with China.  Washington’s strategy of ‘dual containment’ of Russia and China would severely stretch its capabilities, potentially undermining its power and further discrediting its role as global policeman. For Garton Ash this challenge is positive, because it necessitates support from Western partners, thereby increasing EU influence. 

Division of the world into three major players is remarkably consistent with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which the West becomes Oceania, alternately at war with Eurasia (Russia) and Eastasia (China). Is the EU already central to Oceania? As I suggested previously on UK Column, the blue and yellow of the EU flag is a colour scheme so ubiquitously used for virtuous causes (although the Ukrainian flag may be coincidental) that it seems to be programming people for a globalised identity.  

Recently the EU’s digital vaccination passport was adopted by the World Health Organisation as the global standard for future health crises. For those of us who voted for Brexit, the EU is like the Hotel California from the Eagles’ song: you can check in but you can never leave, trapped by the illusions of others. In true Orwellian speak, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides boasted that the expansion of the EU system worldwide would not restrict liberties, but facilitate safe mobility.

Garton Ash’s article is accompanied by a graphic transformation in the EU flag from a circle of stars representing member states to a crown, conveying the rising power of Eurocrats. Liberal Europeans tend to find the concept of empire distasteful, because it represents a dark past of colonialism and racial supremacy. But Garton Ash argues that such interpretation is narrow. As a progressive empire, the EU can be a force for good. Like the Holy Roman Empire which lasted for centuries across western Europe and Prussia, it would have no national hegemon to exploit the others. As I wrote for the Bruges Group in 2017: ‘Just as the European Union is becoming less united, the HRE was not really holy. The rich statelets presented themselves as hubs of intellectual enterprise and the arts, but as the princes sought to fortify their privileged status against popular rebellion, survival was prioritised over aesthetics or virtue. The Vatican with its papal bulls was a hindrance, and religious fervour was regarded from the castle ramparts as dangerous populism.’

A director of the Oxford University’s Europe in a Changing World project, Garton Ash has an idealistic view of Europe that is blind to the disgruntlement and powerlessness of citizens, who naively still believe in democracy and sovereignty. He wants the veto removed, to disempower allegedly regressive countries such as Viktor Orban’s Hungary. As I wrote on its similarity to the Holy Roman Empire: ‘The EU is more powerful than ever, yet also more detached. It reigns supreme in the cosmopolitan cities, in the financial centres, and on university campuses: Berlin, Heidelberg, den Haag, Frankfurt-am-Main, Gothenburg, Barcelona, Fiorentina. These islands of the liberal intelligentsia look condescendingly on the masses, whose unpredictable and uninformed votes put progress in peril come each election. The provincial hinterlands are stifled by backwardness, with rising tension between nostalgic nationalism and expanding ethnic enclaves. Among the commoners, rule by Brussels is at best tolerate, at worst despised.’

Garton Ash urges the EU to look outwards, to build its sphere of influence. Some might say that the US has the brawn and the EU has the brain, but in Timothy’s World, Brussels must not be shy of wielding power.

For sure, Garton Ash has banked Ukraine as new territory (or at least whatever is left after the West’s proxy war with Russia fought on Black Earth Country). He declares: ‘Here, then, is the surprising prospect that the war in Ukraine reveals: the EU as a postimperial empire, in strategic partnership with an American postimperial empire, to prevent the comeback of a declining Russian empire and constrain a rising Chinese one.’

The EU must work with Washington to beat the Russian bear and prepare for the bigger battle with China, according to Garton Ash. But as often happens with empires, they spend so much time, manpower and resources on fighting external foes that they fail to see the subsidence within. Garton Ash is full of delusional hubris.

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