Why Would Anyone Want to Join the EU?

The European Union is flailing, feckless, and fundamentally undemocratic.

Following Croatia's vote (albeit on only 44 percent voter turnout) in January to join the European Union, Serbia has now also been accepted as a candidate for membership. This is its reward for agreeing to a compromise with Kosovo, mediated by the EU, whereby Kosovo will be written with an asterisk at international and regional meetings to highlight the disputed status of the breakaway province.

This leaves Kosovo's future still something of a mess, especially because all the young country was offered by the EU for its agreement with Serbia was a "feasibility study" on integration. But the larger question is why the EU should want to absorb Balkan countries at all, given its troubles over Greece. More to the point, why should any country want to join the European project, which is itself in shambles?

The answer seems to be sheer desperation. The EU wants to prove that it is still attractive to someone, while Balkan countries, viewing EU members as richer and more stable than themselves, hope some of that residual wealth and stability will rub off.

Another curious case of EU membership that may soon arise is Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond has promised a referendum on Scottish independence within the EU. This, of course, is a contradiction in terms because Scotland would become a separate but minor province of the EU under this plan rather than a truly independent state. Salmond assumes that an independent Scotland would not have to apply for membership because it is already in the EU as a part of the United Kingdom.

True, Salmond now says he wants to retain the pound sterling as the currency for Scotland and not (as until recently) the euro. Whichever he chooses, however, his independent Scotland would still have its interest rates set by a foreign bank (the Bank of England in London or the European Central Bank in Frankfurt) and would depend on Brussels for almost all policy decisions (the EU generates 84 percent of domestic legislation in Germany, according to the country's Federal Ministry of Justice). In the weighted system of EU majority voting, moreover, Scotland's mere handful of votes would count for nothing. Yet Scots will soon be offered this tartan pig in a poke.

Superficially, the EU seems to have made great progress since the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Almost every aspect of policy is now determined by bureaucrats in Brussels in combination with the European Council and the European Parliament. The EU even has its own foreign service and is struggling to create its own intelligence and federal police services. No wonder it impresses Arabs and Africans, whose own struggles for unity have, relatively speaking, gone nowhere.

The trouble, however, is that the EU as a whole is in absolute demographic decline and relative economic and technological decline, and its major policies -- whether the common fisheries and agriculture policies or the euro and monetary union -- have failed. In terms of foreign and security policies, it is an international joke. It spends next to nothing on defense, and even its main contributors in this area, Britain and France, have seen their armed forces so severely cut recently that in the Libyan war, where Europe "took the lead," they were entirely dependent on U.S. logistics and supplies. If the EU boasts of its reliance on "soft power," that is because it has no choice. Its head of foreign affairs, the British baroness Catherine Ashton, has been called "the world's highest-paid female politician," yet she remains anonymous and has no influence on world events whatsoever. Her position sums up everything that is wrong with the EU -- expensive but ineffective.

The fundamental problem with the EU, however, is that the people of Europe have no faith in it and do not identify with it. A 2010 Eurobarometer poll found that only 49 percent of EU citizens think their country's EU membership is a "good thing," while only 42 percent trust EU institutions. Meanwhile, those institutions, like the EU's whole ethos, are positively anti-democratic. Its key decision-making bodies -- the European Council, Court of Justice, and European Commission -- are, for all practical purposes, unelected, unaccountable, and removed from the people (commissioners are usually washed-up has-beens whose political careers in their home states have ended in failure). Their decisions are irreversible in national parliaments, and the European Parliament, while vested with powers of co-decision-making with the European Council, is also remote. The Parliament is a glorified debating society -- not a government with an official opposition -- and its parties cannot promise any fundamental policy changes in their election manifestos; indeed, its election outcomes rarely have an impact on the course of EU politics. Its members are unknown and despised as opportunists who merely seek inflated salaries, perks, expenses, and pensions. Voter turnout in the EU's parliamentary elections is low and falling, reflecting the widely held belief among EU citizens that the EU doesn't protect or represent their interests.

One of the most egregious examples of the lack of democracy in the EU is the practice of making small states that vote "no" in EU referenda vote again. Denmark had to vote twice on the Maastricht Treaty, while Ireland was forced to go two rounds on the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty. Big states are not immune from this kind of bullying treatment, either. When voters in France and the Netherlands rejected an EU constitution in 2005, European leaders tweaked about 4 percent of the original wording, renamed the document the Lisbon Treaty, and then rammed it through the French and Dutch parliaments despite the popular votes. When then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou suggested a referendum on the Greek bailout last year, he was maneuvered out of office within days.

The EU does not believe in the tolerant British saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Instead, its policy is, "When in Rome, do as the Germans do." Altogether, the outlook in Brussels and Berlin is like that of Napoleon in George Orwell's Animal Farm: "He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

The official German attitude is summed up by the regular fury from German politicians and the German media whenever an EU country calls for a referendum on initiatives from Brussels. When Ireland announced in February that it would hold a referendum on the EU's new fiscal treaty, Der Spiegel marveled, "The Irish Again!" while Süddeutsche Zeitung declared that if the Irish fail to realize that the fiscal pact "is in their national interest," Germany "will not be able to help them." Perhaps nothing captures Germany's elitist attitude better than an essay last summer in Der Spiegel by German political scientist Herfried Münkler titled, "Democratization Can't Save Europe: The Need for a Centralization of Power." Münkler argues that elections and referenda cannot be trusted in Europe because "the European population has never been and still is not a European people." EU elites, he adds, "need to improve -- and power has to be taken away from the periphery." Can you imagine a leading U.S. magazine printing such stuff about American elites and voters in certain states?

But this is exactly what is happening in Europe today. Power is being taken away from the periphery by centralizing elites. But these elites are failing. The EU's key policy -- monetary union -- has been a disaster. The simple fact is that you cannot have a successful monetary union without a political and fiscal union, with monetary transfers between rich and poor areas legitimized by democratic institutions. (In a currency union of disparate economies where changes of interest and exchange rates are forbidden to members, weaker economies have no means of competing with stronger ones if there is no legal arrangement for democratic agreement among members that stronger economies will bail out weaker ones when they get into debt.)

In the EU, however, there is no appetite for political or fiscal union or for larger monetary transfers -- particularly not in Germany. So the only solution to the productivity gap between the north and south in the eurozone, if it is to not break up after a series of defaults, is for the southern states to deflate themselves through austerity to the level of Chinese peasants in order to become competitive with Germany (according to the World Economic Forum, Germany is the world's sixth-most competitive country, while Greece ranks 90th). Greece, for example, will see a 25 percent drop in GDP by the end of next year. Already, more than 1 million Greeks out of a workforce of 5 million are unemployed, suicides are going up along with homicides, barter is becoming the means of exchange in rural areas, and public support for extreme left- and right-wing political parties is growing.

Unsurprisingly, some now accuse the Germans of once again being bent on domination, because they have called the Greeks dishonest, doubted their ability to run their own economy, suggested a takeover of the country by a European commissioner, proposed the postponement of parliamentary elections, and called for the creation of a separate national account for the payment of debts to Frankfurt before any money can be spent on Greece itself. The quarrel, in any case, will probably be settled by Greece's exit from the euro, which Germans would certainly now prefer.

In the meantime, similar problems are looming in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. These have been assuaged temporarily by the policies of the new Italian head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, whose long-term refinancing operation has given more than 1 trillion euros to European banks to encourage them to buy bonds from states that could yet go bankrupt. Berlin and Brussels are headed in another direction and are staking everything on the ratification of the new European fiscal compact, which has been signed by 25 out of the European Union's 27 member states and forces EU members to have their budgets approved by Brussels.

The problem, of course, is that the compact needs to be ratified. And, once again, democracy is rearing its ugly head. The probable winner of France's forthcoming presidential election, François Hollande, promises to tear up the treaty. The hard-luck Irish may well vote "no" in a referendum. No one knows who will be ruling Greece or Italy within a year. The Spanish have just unilaterally rejected the latest deficit-reduction target set for them by the EU. Even in Germany, it now turns out that Chancellor Angela Merkel will need a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament -- in other words, support from opposition parties who will demand concessions -- to pass the fiscal pact. The whole initiative will likely be overtaken by events.

This is the European Union that Serbia is a candidate to enter. We wish the country well.

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images


Campaign Manager

Can a board game really simulate the grueling twists and turns of the campaign trail?

With the Republican candidates fighting state-by-state for the GOP presidential nomination, the winner may be decided not so much by the best candidate as the best campaign manager. Most of us will never have the chance to ride the campaign bus, but we can play Campaign Manager 2008, the board game of presidential electioneering. And for just $29.99, you won't have to suck up to Wall Street bankers or union bosses for campaign contributions.

True, the game is set in 2008, with Obama and McCain as the dueling candidates. It is unlikely that the Republican will again field a vice-presidential candidate from an alternate universe where Alaska annexed Siberia and Obama really was a Muslim. Nonetheless, the Democratic candidate is the same in 2008 and 2012, while the Republican candidate will likely face many of the same polarizing social issues and fight for the same key states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, as McCain did.

But first, let's briefly describe Campaign Manager 2008, which won an International Gamers Award (an important consideration if you plan to appeal to the geek vote). The game was designed by Jason Matthews, a former Hill staffer and now director of public and congressional affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Campaign Manager blends the fun of a card game with the intricate strategizing of a presidential campaign. The game consists of 20 battleground states (the other 30 are considered locked up by either camp), each represented by a big cardboard rectangle. Four of those states will be in play at any given moment. Each state has a certain number of voter groups (three for a small state such as New Hampshire, versus five for big states like Ohio) that are depicted by circles on the rectangle. Placing a blue or red wooden token in the circle signifies that it has gone Democrat or Republican. Whichever candidate is first to capture all the voter circles takes the state and its electoral votes. And, of course, like in real life, the victor is the first candidate to cross the 270-electoral-vote finish line (both candidates need about 115 votes from the battleground states to win).

But collecting voters isn't that easy. There are two umbrella issues in each state, labeled "Economy" and "Defense." One of those two will always be the primary issue. To win a state, a candidate must win all the voters, and the voters must all identify Economy or Defense as their primary issue.

Candidates win voters in Campaign Manager by playing cards from a Democrat or GOP "event card" deck. From a deck of 45 cards, each player chooses 15 cards for a play deck, from which he will randomly draw during the game. Thus, players can tailor their cards for a targeted strategy, but it also locks them into that strategy. For example, every state has two ethnic or identity groups, such as Women, Latinos, Evangelicals, and College Graduates. Filling your play deck with demographic cards for those groups can garner large numbers of voters, but only in states where those groups are present, so a Catholic card is great for Michigan but useless for Minnesota. Or, there are Economy and Defense cards that snare voters in any state, but only a few at a time. A few are "negative messaging" cards (which should have Karl Rove's portrait but don't) that offer a big payoff in votes, but risk a backlash that helps the opponent.

Though these are abstract game mechanics, they do capture the feel of an election campaign. Candidates end up choosing -- and being locked into -- a strategy at the beginning of their campaign. You emphasize an issue, be it unemployment or the Afghan war, and then attempt to rally voters around it. Because you can never be sure if you'll draw the card you need at the right time (better hope you have the Jewish card if Florida is one of the four states in play), and also because you never know what cards your opponent has at that moment, flexibility and resourcefulness are everything. Every candidate has a campaign plan, but it's the true measure of a candidate in how he reacts when things go wrong.

Campaign Manager offers many vital lessons for the GOP candidates of 2012. I'll distill a few:

First, you need to choose a strategy, which means deciding who you are going to woo and who you are going to antagonize. Judging by how the GOP hopefuls are prostrating themselves before the extreme conservative faction of their party, it seems like they have made their choice. But is this strategy a solid move or will it backfire?

Playing as the Republican candidate in a session of Campaign Manager, I opted to fill my card deck with Issue cards, like "Reform, Prosperity, Peace," that would garner small dollops of voters in many states. My plan was to appeal to a broad swath of voters across many states. My opponent chose the "Si Puede" and "Women for Obama" cards, which harvested lots of votes in Florida and Ohio, and ultimately helped win him those states and the election. Lesson learned: Just as the Pentagon prepares to fight a spectrum of missions from all-out war to peacekeeping, so too one's political arsenal has to be broad, but still focused enough to win specific niches.

Second, there is no such thing as a purely offensive or defensive strategy. All strategies must mix attack and defense. Whatever you plan on doing to your opponent, there's a good chance he's already doing it to you (so do it to him first). Romney has been aiming plenty of attack ads at his rivals, but he also must endure attacks on his record and his riches. The key to victory is balancing pursuit of your strategy with blocking his. There is no room for sentimentality. Losing Oregon might be embarrassing for the Democrats, but if Indiana has more electoral votes, go for the Corn Belt. Much like chess, sometimes you have to sacrifice a piece for a larger prize.

Third, like football, politics is a game of inches, as evidenced by the constant counting and recounting of how soon Romney will lock up enough votes to secure the Republican nomination. You have to be prepared to grab a few votes here, a few votes there, and hope they eventually deliver you victory. Perhaps the better analogy is the punch and counter-punch of boxing. Playing the Democrats in one game, I picked up voters in Ohio but during my opponent's turn, he'd swing them back toward the Republicans. Back and forth it went. If politics were nukes, Ohio would have been slag. Though I eventually won the state, I'm not sure the voters did.

Fourth, negative campaigning works. Even if there was a backlash, the overall outcome in Campaign Manager tends to favor the person who drops nasty cards like "Obama, Is He Ready to Lead?" In one game, my Democratic opponent took the high road and eschewed negative ads. Untroubled by such scruples (or blessed with a conservative realism), I played "Raising Taxes isn't Patriotic" and "Obama, Is He Ready to Lead?" cards. The Obama camp retained the moral high ground. The Koch brothers now have Cabinet seats.

Finally, be flexible. When Clausewitz spoke of the "friction of war," he must have been thinking of politics (which is truly war by other means). In Campaign Manager, things go wrong all the time. You don't draw the card you need, or your opponent has a card that you can't counter. Your initial choice of cards commits you to a certain strategy, and it is inevitable that it will prove deficient in some way. So be prepared to make the best of a bad situation.

Even if Romney does win the nomination, he will be facing an experienced and prepared Obama campaign. Mitt might want to pick up a copy of Campaign Manager. He'll need all the help he can get.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images