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Guy Verhofstadt served as the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.
(Photo credit: 360b / Shutterstock. Editorial use only.)
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Is a European-wide empire compatible with liberty? A prominent EU leader recommended transforming the European Union into an “empire” at a UK political party conference this weekend, to sustained applause.
“The world order of tomorrow … is a world order based on empires,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a Member of European Parliament (MEP) and the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit. He is the leader of the EU’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe faction.
His comments came at the party conference of the Liberal Democrats, a pro-Remain party with 18 Members of Parliament.
Verhofstadt told the Lib Dems:
The world order of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries. It’s a world order that is based on empires.
China is not a nation; it’s a civilization.
India, you know it better than I do, is not a nation. There are 2,000 nations in India. There are 20 different languages that are used there. There are four big religions at the same time, and its 2011 census recorded five regions with more than five million inhabitants.It is the biggest democracy worldwide.
The U.S. is also an empire, more than a nation. Maybe tomorrow they will speak more Spanish than English; I don’t know what will happen.
And then finally, the Russian Federation.
The world of tomorrow is a world of empires, in which we Europeans and you British can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together in a European framework and a European Union.
Although this weekend’s comments made news due to their audience and reception, the former prime minister of Belgium has used identical language for years, with increased urgency.
EU leaders envision a continental imperium
In a speech on April 29, in Maastricht, Verhofstadt used nearly identical language and closed by calling for “a new Europe in a new world.” A few days later, he added:
In a world increasingly dominated by empires, the next five years will be crucial to turn our Union into a real Union, with increased unity and ambitious policies for all Europeans. The clock is ticking - it’s now or never! #RenewEurope#FlorenceDebatepic.twitter.com/3qG4dOm8mA
Verhofstadt responded to the election of Donald Trump by proposing, “Let's create a European defense union. Let's take on our responsibilities. ... Let's become an empire.” However, he promised this would be “an empire of the good and not of the bad.”
His imperial ambitions link with those of such Europhilesas Bruno Le Maire, Emmanuel Macron’s finance minister, who told the German business newspaper Handelsblatt, “Europe needs to become a kind of empire like China and the USA. … Europe can no longer afford to shrink from exercising its power and being an empire of peace.”
EU officials have proclaimed the political union in Brussels an empire-in-waiting for more than a decade. José Manuel Barroso, then the president of the European Commission, said, “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organization of empire. We have the dimension of empire.” He clarified the EU is “the first non-imperial empire,” since its 27 members opted “to pool their sovereignty.”
Statements of this variety fueled early calls for a UK referendum on EU membership. Mark Francois, then-Conservative shadow minister for Europe, responded to Barosso by saying, “The British public will be genuinely surprised to hear the suggestion that we are now part of an EU empire.” He added, “Anyone who thinks that we have been exaggerating in calling for a referendum on a revived constitution only has to look at what Mr. Barroso has said to realize the scale of what is now being contemplated.”
The Brexit vote, the largest vote in UK history, comprehensively rejected EU leaders’ starry-eyed visions of a continental imperium.
“Liberty consists in the divison of power” – Lord Acton
A secularist, supranational government based in Brussels would be inimical to people of faith. Robert F. Gorman wrote in a 2016 Acton publication on global governance that under the “mantle of peace, justice, human rights and humanitarian advocacy – the social gospel of the Church” – global bureaucrats “have systematically attacked the Church as an institution, the traditional family and traditional moral values,” including the freedom of conscience. For instance, last year the EU’s highest legal authority, the European Court of Justice, ruled that secular officials can punish churches for refusing to employ atheists.
Aside from the content of their rulings, empires are artificial entities without a shared history, language, culture, or morality. They ignore national particularity. Their leaders’ remote location and broad constituency make it virtually impossible for common citizens to make their voices heard. The wealthiest international corporations hold greater influence over politicians, and EU funds constitute "the largest source of corruption for Central and Eastern Europe."
Empires cannot reflect the views of a local demos. Instead, they impose a one-size-fits-all solution on vast swaths of the territory. For instance, Verhofstadt called for replacing the EU’s decision-making “based on unanimity” with the “majority ruling”in his 2017 book Europe’s Last Chance. This reduces citizens’ satisfaction with their government and economic efficiency and dynamism.
As Lord Acton said, “Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.”
(Photo credit: 360b / Shutterstock. Editorial use only.)
Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.