Opinion: A trench once again divides Europe – and it’s not the English Channel

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Seventy years ago, the countries of Europe discovered a new way to prevent a heated feud between nations from erupting in the Third World War.

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The feud was centered here in the Saarland, the far-western part of Germany that happened to hold most of Western Europe’s coal reserves and steelmaking capacity. France, which was struggling to re-industrialize after the war because it lacked its coal supplies, wanted to seize the Saarland as war reparations, as it had done after World War I. . But the American occupiers and Germany’s new democratic leaders feared it would produce the same result: a spiral of bitter nationalism in an economically isolated and impoverished Germany that would once again lead to insurgency and war.

In 1951, the Treaty of Paris offered Europe a solution: the coal and steel industries would not belong to any country – they could enjoy markets and investment in all of Europe’s democracies as if they were a single country.


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The agreement would later be expanded to include almost all industries and dozens of other countries. For this to work, it needed free movement of labor and shared rights of residence, standardization of trade rules and regulations, a democratic assembly to hold it accountable, and a high court to ensure that companies and workers would be subject to . Uniform principles of justice and fair treatment in each member country.

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The agreement, which was renamed the European Union in 1992, is celebrating its 70th birthday in a mood of fear and tension. I have spent weeks talking to European officials and national politicians, and there is a shared feeling that the EU is facing a unique moment of existential threat.

It has nothing to do with Brexit. In fact, I wonder how little the UK captures the views of European leaders, only months after the country formally withdrew from the EU. In hour-long briefings about the continent’s troubled state, Britain usually doesn’t arrive at all – the price of its departure was on the market long ago, the deal is done, its finance sector has moved to Paris and Frankfurt, and the Post The Brexit crisis is completely within its limits.

Rather, the threat to Europe now comes from its eastern border. And this week it exploded into the least well-understood jurisdiction of those main European-unity institutions, the aforementioned European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Poland and Hungary are both currently governed by governments with a deep disdain for the EU and its values ​​and will likely launch a Polexit and Hungexit if it is politically possible. But their population, even voters of their own parties, are in favor of the union and the resulting jobs and money – and Britain’s horrific five-year exit odyssey is not something one wants to repeat (as of now). for). So they are determined to systematically weaken and destabilize the block from within.

Last week, Poland’s Supreme Court ruled that the Luxembourg-based ECJ has no authority to pass judgments on its decisions. Hungary recently made a similar announcement. These may seem like legitimate disputes over judicial independence (Germany, France and Ireland have also recently opposed ECJ rulings). But the underlying issue is far more serious.

The far-right governments of Poland and Hungary have both imposed systems that seriously curtail the independence of their courts. In the case of Poland, the disciplinary body of the Supreme Court is filled with political figures, making it word According to Human Rights Watch, “composed of ruling party loyalists whose goal is to take immunity from judges who criticize the government and initiate disciplinary and criminal proceedings against them.” In July, the ECJ ruled that it could not be considered a legitimate judicial body.

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In other words, those fundamental peace-keeping principles established in 1951 – including the assumption that businesses and workers will be subject to fair and equal laws in every country – are under threat.

In retaliation, last week the European Commission announced that Poland and Hungary would no longer be eligible for billions of euros from massive post-pandemic recovery funding. On Monday, both countries tried to fight that painful decision, ironically by taking it to the ECJ. The judicial leaders of the ECJ told me that they were shocked by this contradiction of jurisdiction.

To make matters worse, the feud between France and the United States over submarine deals with Australia threatens to further isolate Eastern and Western Europe. Former communist states have an almost religious belief in NATO, while French President Emmanuel Macron has doubled down on calls for an independent European defense force, in retaliation for President Joe Biden’s deputy insult.

Top German officials are clearly saying that if Mr Biden and Mr Macron are unable to resolve their differences over defense when they meet next week, the “gap between Eastern Europe and Western Europe” opened by the judicial dispute will further Can be wide. And if German leaders are talking about trenches, you know things are not good.

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