European Union a Titanic Wreck in Waiting?
BRUSSELS -- The European Union has been called the most ambitious political project in history, but it faces a very troubled future. And in politics, as in boxing, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
While Russia was fighting Ukraine and the Middle East was in chaos, European Union leaders were tackling the really important issues, like banning powerful household vacuum cleaners.
EU bureaucrats made the heroic move to save the planet. Now whenever Europeans use their weaker vacuum cleaners, they'll be reminded of how EU laws have taken over more and more of their lives.
The 'Soviet' EU
In 2009, former leader of the Czech Republic Valcav Klaus came to Brussels and gave a speech in which he told EU lawmakers that the European Union reminded him of the Soviet Union. He was booed.
Klaus, who grew up under communism, saw in Brussels a Soviet-style group of elites deciding what they thought was good for Europeans and then ramming it down their throats.
But all of the new laws out of Brussels restricting everything from vacuum cleaners to the size of fruit have not made Europeans freer or more prosperous.
EU economic growth in the second quarter was zero, and economists say the third quarter is looking worse. Economic sanctions against Russia will rob Europe of key markets, and now even powerful EU member Germany is reported to be at risk of recession.
The healthiest, most competitive economy in Europe is not even in the EU; it's Switzerland.
So, if the European Union isn't making Europeans freer or more prosperous, what's the point of it? Dutch filmmaker Peter Vlemmix asked himself a similar question and made a documentary called "Euromania."
"The European Union, its mission statement says, it's to improve the lives of European citizens. But in my eyes, it's improving the lives of some European politicians," he said.
Vlemmix's film, parts of which Christians might find objectionable, shows a corrupt, bloated bureaucracy that keeps growing and taking more and more sovereignty away from member nations. It has replaced 70 to 80 percent of national laws with EU laws.
"Every law coming out of Brussels overrules national laws," he said. "So, every day there are laws coming and taking powers away from countries."
And several years ago when some European nations showed their disapproval of where the EU wanted to take them by voting down a proposed European constitution, the EU just went around voters and ratified one anyway.
Laws were cranked out by an unelected European Commission and forced on member nations. Vlemmix said the EU is undemocratic, and it certainly looks that way.
EU expert Marco Incerti, with the European Centre for Policy Studies, denies such allegations.
"Those accusations are somewhat misplaced, but of course they make for nice sound bites," Incerti said.
"The European Union is not more undemocratic than other organizations, including national governments," he continued. "All of the surveys show the level of trust Europeans have in the European Parliament is actually higher than they have in their national parliaments, and it's way higher, for example, than the Americans have in the U.S. Congress."
The 'Unsinkable' EU?
But according to a Pew survey released earlier this year, European support for the EU continues to fall.
When the new session of the European parliament opened in July, several members stood with their backs turned while the EU anthem was played.
After disastrous May elections that led to historic gains by so-called "eurosceptic" parties, like Britain's UK Independence Party, the European Parliament is now full of members who don't like the European Union and, in fact, want to destroy it.
"I don't just want Britain to leave the European Union, I want Europe to leave the European Union," UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told reporters. "I don't believe that that flag, that anthem, and that president, whose name no one knows, really represent what Europe should be."
Pro-EU parties are still in the majority for now, and the behemoth that is the European Union will continue to rumble on, regulating almost everything and taking more and more sovereignty away from member states.
But despite a quiet summer, all is not well within the European Union. With yet another economic crisis on the horizon, Europeans' anger at Brussels could flare up again.
The EU may seem big and unsinkable, but like the Titanic, it may also be headed for an iceberg.