Wasn't that Nice?

  • 2000-12-14
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
Last week, the Lithuanian delegation to Nice, where EU leaders were discussing reforms for accepting new member states, entered the proceedings through clouds of tear gas. While the tear gas wasn't specifically meant for President Valdas Adamkus and his ministers in attendance, there is something at once both ominous and amusing about their reception. In reality Nice was to be the city where the EU succeeded in imposing its hidden agenda: reshaping voting procedures to reflect the authority of its Western members. The system of consensus voting in the Council of Ministers and the European Commission would become unwieldy with the addition of the poor cousins in Europe's backyard. Why should Romania or Albania be able to block the progress of the entire union at some important juncture in the future?

And the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has no problem with these so-called "structural reforms." Lithuania, unlike Latvia and Estonia, has a long history of statehood to draw upon for counsel. It's fairly well known that during the joint Kingdom of Lithuania and Poland the principle of consensus ruled in the parliaments (Sejm/Seimas) of the landed gentry. The ethos of personal freedom required that if even one free man in the Parliament objected to some new law, he couldn't be compelled to go along with it. The process was legally christened liberum veto - the veto of freedom. In practice, one member of the Parliament had the right to dissolve the entire assembly. While it presented problems in the drafting of legislation and the adoption of decisions, the tradition also insured the rights of the gentry against incursions of the monarch, and individual rights in the face of organized pressure.

The structural reforms afoot in the EU mean the union Lithuania and the rest of Eastern and Central Europe had sought to join has essentially changed. EU membership has become a moving target. Candidate countries who have fulfilled the legal requirements of the earlier union will be invited to join under different terms of agreement. The old principle of one state, one vote, or liberum veto, in the European Commission is doomed, and that means a scale of membership, and therefore a ranking of statehood. Statehood means sovereignty, but can one state be more sovereign than another?

The historical imbalance in Europe, following the line of the Iron Curtain, was addressed by the Clinton administration in 1997, which realized the Marshall Plan for the East should come from the EU. But citizens in EU countries don't have any wish to be responsible for funding the rebuilding of Soviet-ravaged Eastern Europe, and the EU's leadership seems at best half-heartedly interested in redressing the historical inequity. The words of an EU commissioner, seeking to quell the Czech Republic's position at the time, come to mind. He said the EU hadn't asked to join the Czech Republic, but that the Czech Republic was seeking to enter the EU. This rude sort of establishment of relationships is normally hidden by the terminology the EU still uses with candidate states in the East. That's why we talk about negotiations, agreements and harmonization periods. Such terms suggest communication is two-way: the harmonization period is as much for the EU as for the candidate state.

The Marshall Plan, if it ever comes, will come at least 15 years too late for Lithuania, and in the guise of an EU that has demonstrated its rashness and disrespect for democracy and national sovereignty in Austria, even if the message it was trying to send there was most likely meant to ward off Nazi ghosts in Germany. If it comes, it will come bearing bags of an ultra-weak currency that seems set to fall further for the immediate future. If it comes, it will come with a list of legal and cultural demands that don't make much sense in the Baltic context. It promises to deplete even more the young population of the region, as in the title of the old American musical number: "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm Now That They've Seen Paree?" Freedom to travel and work in the EU is probably the only benefit most Lithuanians expect out of union.

Instead of joining a wannabe superpower, Lithuanians may want to rethink one of the planks in the nation's pitiful twin foreign policy objectives: to join NATO and the EU. Lithuanians don't seem especially interested in joining the United States of Europe. Culturally and politically Lithuanians would rather join the United States, however much they protest the idea.

Indeed, they do protest too much, while the EU will continue its Quixotic fight against U.S. cultural dumping on its entertainment markets. Is the EU really in favor of free markets and democracy, or is it still engaged in the European project of days gone by, the attempt to insure European cultural and racial continuity against the perceived brown, black and yellow hordes pressing in on all sides? It doth protest too much to be taken at face value. In discussions of sovereignty in the age of globalization, the maxim "if you want something done, do it yourself" makes good sense. The price of sovereignty is to provide oneself some modicum of self-sufficiency, however unpopular that notion is at the beginning of the 21st century among economists and politicians. To mix a metaphor, there is no royal road to sovereignty. Physically Lithuania cannot defend itself against Russian aggression except with a nuclear deterrent or membership in a defense umbrella like NATO. But the idea of rejoining Europe through a restrictive and increasingly undemocratic European Union in order to receive economic benefit is a little bit silly. Europe can't afford not to invest in Lithuania eventually.

Lithuania's diplomatic corps must remember the lessons of history and not jump into union without deeper reflection. Lithuania would do well to assume the position of the United Kingdom, which is seeking to safeguard its veto, on "structural reforms" in the EU. Lithuania would do even better to avoid the spectacle of three threadbare, teary-eyed Magi from the East following a star in the West to Nice, bearing gifts of debt, ecological degradation and unemployment to shower the birth of a false messiah.