President Obama’s tele-prompted speech to thousands of hand picked town hall guests at a sports stadium in Strasbourg was received with the customary rock star greeting that the President and the stylish First Lady have grown used to by now in Europe. Throngs of students applauded rapturously when President Obama talked passionately about the urgent crisis of climate change, and the ‘moral shame’ of Guantanamo bay. Less enthusiastic were they for his message about the essentialness of winning in Afghanistan, which perhaps explains why he spent such little time on the topic. Even though he fluffed his lines reading France’s political motto “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,” the crowd forgave the young and charismatic president this minor faux pas.
However, it is the President’s unfettered enthusiasm for the European Union which is most confusing. President Obama was effusive in his praise for European integration, and more than once alluded to the EU as a symbol of European unity. He referenced the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament as an example of European achievement; he even told Europeans that an EU defense identity was a good thing!
On all of these things, he is profoundly wrong. Firstly, the treaties of Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon have all, at one time or another, been rejected in free and fair referenda – but pushed through by the EU regardless of the law. It is patently obvious that the process of EU integration lacks both credibility and legitimacy among the publics of Europe. European integration is an elite driven, undemocratic project perpetuated by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats.
Secondly, the Strasbourg Parliament is one of Europe’s largest money wasting projects, which is a pretty difficult category to top. The European Parliament’s official seat is based in Brussels, but the entire parliament travels 250 miles to Strasbourg one week per month in order to satisfy French vanity. It costs c. $270 million annually and tens of thousands of tons of CO2 emissions. It is akin to moving the entire Congress (including Congressmen, aides, advisors, administrators, reports, papers and office supplies) from Washington D.C. to Raleigh, NC once per month.
However, it is his enthusiasm for an EU military identity, separate to NATO, which is most confusing. At a time when defense resources are becoming scarcer and competition for them fiercer, it makes no sense to create a duplicate, Europe-only military alliance on the Continent. The militarization of the European Union embodies the worst elements of European animosity toward the United States and has created uncertainty about the primacy of NATO in European security affairs.
When President Obama attends the NATO summit tonight and tomorrow, he must be far more clear-headed about the transatlantic alliance. He must defend the supremacy of NATO in European security affairs and he must challenge Continental Europe to take the mission in Afghanistan seriously. Finally, when he moves onto Prague to meet with EU leaders after the NATO Summit, he must view the European Union not through rose-colored spectacles but through the eyes of the 450 million European citizens who want a European Union of free-trading, free-moving peoples and not a monolithic political entity foistered upon them.