There Is No Libertarian Case for the European Union

Ah! Much better.

By Petr Mach


Dalibor Roháč wrote an interesting Reason piece where he argues that despite all its flaws, the European Union (E.U.) is the best real scenario that European libertarians can have and, therefore, should accept it. Roháč enumerates many of the E.U.’s weaknesses—and they are all on spot—but then argues that this European Union is better than no union because the real alternative to the E.U. is not 28 independent libertarian states but some kind of authoritarian dystopia in many if not all states.

It is pleasing that Roháč makes a coherent argument for the E.U., not the usual false dichotomy offered by right-wing politicians: Brussels or Moscow.

Roháč is an outstanding and inspiring libertarian scholar. However, in “The Libertarian Case for the European Union” I find his reasoning unpersuasive and lacking basic counter-arguments to his case.

It is true that the E.U. is overregulated, the euro is a disaster, the structural funds lead to corruption, the Common Agricultural Policy is unsustainable, and spending is absolutely wasteful as Roháč not only mentions but himself has authored in many of his criticisms of the E.U.

Yes, it is also true that the E.U.’s budget is just about 1 percent of the gross national product of its member states. But, to date, I haven’t seen any Euroskeptic claim otherwise. The budget of the E.U. is not the main argument for withdrawal; It is not even one of the main arguments. This is a straw-man.

“The continent clearly needs a massive, 1970s-style deregulation, as well as stronger institutional safeguards against the unchecked growth of economically destructive rules in the future,” writes Roháč. Not only would this be plainly illegal as the Treaty of Rome in its very first line commits to an “ever-closer union” it would be nothing short of a miracle to go through the 170,000 pages of acquis communautaire with all the 28 member states re-negotiating every paragraph, facing interest groups at the E.U. level first and then again at home when de-transposing the repealed directives and regulations from the member states’ law. E.U. law works fundamentally differently from US law. It is emphatically not enough to have a majority in the Parliament—which itself would be nothing short of a miracle where the eternal Europhile coalition of socialists, conservatives and liberals calls all the shots. (Note also the word “acquis”—these powers are acquired from the member states and are not to be returned.)

Roháč’s historical and legal account is also mistaken. He never mentions that an alternative exists: There is a European Economic Area, a European Free Trade Association, and bilateral treaties with the E.U. Roháč makes a powerful case for a free-trade area but the E.U. is a customs union and a political union, not a free-trade area. The Common Customs Tariff lists more than 10,000 items and member states are prohibited to make free-trade deals with any part of the world. The E.U. might have made more sense in the era of Wirtschaftswunder but those days are long gone. Europe is stagnating while other parts of the world are growing. Any seceding state could make any of the two basic arrangements with the E.U. which would help them tremendously.

But what is more worrisome is Roháč’s flawed utilitarian case for a non-libertarian policy. Libertarians generally embrace jurisdictional competition and Roháč himself wrote on it. In his current piece, Roháč opts for a Madisonian argument of sorts where centralization can do away with wicked socialist ideas of the States.

Maybe Hungary would be even more socialist outside the E.U. than it is now. Maybe some other state too. But over the long run, libertarians say, it is better for the government to be closer to the people and for it to have a competition.

There is no libertarian case for the European Union just like there was none for the Comecon. Seceding states would be able to arrange free-trade deals with the entire world in addition to the current 28 Member States and four EFTA members. They could easily deregulate by simple parliament majorities. They would not be forced to bail-out bankrupt projects like the euro. Their governments would be more accountable and could not excuse themselves on behalf of “Brussels.”

There is every libertarian case for secession from the European Union.

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