This week's Economist mockingly awards Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the current holder of the European Presidency, the "Louis XVI Prize - for being out of touch." That is much to good for him - I hope Luxembourg rejects the European Constitution so that he can keep his pledge to step down if that should happen.
In recent weeks Mr. Juncker, who is strongly in favour of increased European integration, has been making a series of totally unhinged and undemocratic statements. Not only do they make him sound out of touch, they are also endangering the integrity of the European Union itself.
Smart move, Jean-Claude!That should be particularly troubling for the EU, because it is a club that is based entirely on confidence and goodwill. If the idea gets around that it is a discredited organisation whose leaders are living in la-la-land, it may find it increasingly hard to impose its authority, even when it is enforcing EU law. National governments may become increasingly inclined to ignore edicts from Brussels. This process is already well under way with the destruction of the stability and growth pact. But the unravelling of the authority of the EU could, in time, extend to areas well beyond the enforcement of fiscal discipline. What would happen if tomorrow the commission were to tell Italy or France that they could not bail out troubled companies such as Alitalia or Alstom? In the current political climate, it would be tempting for the Italian or French governments simply to tell the commission to take a hike.
Such a confrontation would expose the flimsy foundations of EU power. When Little Rock refused to desegregate its schools in the 1950s, there were federal troops to enforce the will of the United States Supreme Court. Even Louis XVI had an army behind him. But the European Court of Justice and the European Commission, like the pope, have no divisions. They rely on the goodwill of EU members and the credibility of the organisation. Both are now under considerable strain.