Van Rompuy concerned at growing EU nationalism


EUROPEAN COUNCIL president Herman Van Rompuy has expressed his concern about increasing nationalism in the EU, saying Euroscepticism was no longer “the monopoly” of a few countries.

In a speech last night in Berlin in which he argued against protectionist tendencies, he made the case that there were people in every member state who believed their own countries could survive alone in the globalised world.

“It is more than an illusion: it is a lie,” he said as he cited Franklin Roosevelt’s expression that the only thing to fear was fear itself.

“The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism and nationalism leads to war.”

He said today’s nationalism was not a positive feeling of pride in one’s identity but a negative feeling of apprehension to others.

“Fear of enemies within our borders and beyond our borders, it is a feeling all over Europe, not of a majority, but everywhere present.” The EU was born out of a will to co-operate, reconcile and to act in solidarity, he said.

“Fear is the source of immobility, of a lack of ambition, or worse, of protectionism, in Europe and globally. Those who are afraid of the loss of jobs and prosperity will thus create precisely what they wanted to avoid.” Mr Van Rompuy also made the case against renewed institutional debate in the EU as its leaders discuss “limited” treaty change to create permanent rescue measures for euro zone countries.

Praising the “exceptional” role of German chancellor Angela Merkel in the debt crisis, he said the European authorities had more pressing matters to hand than to reopen the entire internal debate on the nature, the goal and the architecture of the union.

Referring to the eruption of market contagion from the Greek sovereign debt crisis in May as a “global threat”, he told his audience that the national and the European interest can no longer be separated.

Mr Van Rompuy also argued against recent proposals from European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso for the development of own-resource taxation by the EU institutions. Redesigning the way the EU secured its revenue was not a priority, he said.

“The current system reflects as a rule the member states’ capacity to pay. Contributions are based on the gross national income and thus seen as fair. Some have suggested to replace this with a direct EU tax, for instance on financial transactions or carbon,” he said.

“It is argued that such real ‘own resources’ would make the Brussels institutions more responsible. I am personally open to new ideas, but since most alternative sources of income would risk [hitting] member states unequally, this would weaken the fairness of the current system.”