Friday, 21 May 2010

Be careful what you wish for

Timothy Garton-Ash needs help:
Can anyone save me from Europessimism? I feel more depressed about the state of the European project than I have for decades. The eurozone is in mortal danger. European foreign policy is advancing at the pace of a drunken snail. Power shifts to Asia. The historical motors of European integration are either lost or spluttering. European leaders rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic while lecturing the rest of the world on ocean navigation.

The European Union had pragmatic reasons to exist:
For more than 50 years after 1945, there were five great driving forces of the European project. They were: the memory of war ... ; the Soviet threat ... ; American support ... in response to the Soviet threat; the Federal Republic of Germany, wanting to rehabilitate post-Nazi Germany ... ; and France, with its dual-purpose ambition for a French-led Europe. All five driving forces are now either gone or greatly weakened.

What's left?
...we have a set of new rationales for the project. They include global challenges such as climate change and the globalised financial system, which increasingly impact directly on the lives of our citizens, and the emerging great powers of a multipolar world. In a world of giants, it helps to be a giant yourself. But a rationale, an intellectual argument, is not the same as an emotional driving force, based on direct personal experience and an immediate sense of threat. We don't have that sense in today's Europe.

Garton Ash reckons Europe might need a new Winston Churchill to inspire 'an emotional driving force ... in the poetry of 'blood, sweat and tears''.  But there doesn't seem to be one available.
Where, then, is the dynamism to come from? I do not know. I do not see it. Yes, we have been through many bouts of Europessimism before; for as long as I can remember there have been such bouts. Every time Europe has somehow got out of the dumps, to take another step forward. Europe's global competitors all have big problems of their own. In 10 years' time, historians may yet look back and laugh at the Europessimism of 2010. But only if Europe now wakes up to the world we're in.
Europe, wake up!

But what for? Why does Europe need to take 'another step forward', to 'wake up'? The main reason appears to be because punches far below its weight. If it still wants to shape the world in the interests of its citizens then it must close the gap between its potential and its actual power.

And yet the rest of the article demonstrates that the common 'interests of its citizens' are not strong enough to propel the new Europe forward (or perhaps even to keep it together). What hope then that they can be projected internationally as an expression of a single European interest in anything other than a limited fashion? Rather than punching their weight internationally as Europeans, Greeks and Germans may soon be more keen on punching each other.

We're left with an account of how an exercise in wish-fulfillment didn't turn out to fulfil the wish. The launch of the Euro saw the ambitions of people like Garton-Ash running so far ahead of the reality of a common European citizen that the collapsing of wish into reality was bound to be jarring.

For Garton-Ash it's a matter of bemoaning how the world isn't the way he'd like it to be in newspaper articles and seminars. He's reduced to hoping that some Great Man might rescue his dreams. The unemployed, bankrupt and over-taxed people of those countries the wish-fulfilling Euro has locked into depression may take another route to express their disillusionment - let's hope it doesn't involve a Great Man of another ilk.


Sean said...

I was in Germany last week, the mood is "Livid". People who I have dealt with for years, whos views have greatly differed on the EU and the Euro from my own, seem not to be looking me in the eye anymore, knowing my warnings have been proved right, I cant say I am happy to be proved right, the Euro looks to me to be a weapon of world economic apocalypse.

They are a very proud people and they have been comprehensibly humiliated, and the target for that feeling is France.

Dave this afternoon needs to get John Majors "euro dual currency" policy papers out of the cabinet office archives and suggest some escape routes for Germany quickly. Otherwise it will be death in slow motion.

People who have argued in favour of this project in its present form both the Euro and the EU such as TGA need to do some serious explaining not just on the above, but the problem they ignored "the democratic deficit" that lies at the heart of this dangerous project.

Recusant said...

Quite right Gaw, That wish-fulfilment was (is), in its way, rather childish.

I see it all as being bound up with the death of that great exercise in wish-fulfilment, the Welfare State.

The Welfare State could exist in Western Europe for as long as it did for four reasons, each of which has ceased to apply:

- The Americans were prepared to take on the vast burden of providing the bulk of of our defences, thus saving immeasurable amounts of money.
- We were a young continent, demographically speaking. Now we are positively geriatric.
- That energy aided the remarkable economic growth and vitality we saw through the Fifties and Sixties.
- We were prepared to spend tomorrows money today. That possibility has now come to a shuddering halt.

There are billions of people in Asia, Africa and the Americas who look at us and see no God-given right for us to have what we have bar an absurd sense of entitlement. They are prepared to work to get what they want; we don't even seem capable of putting up a struggle.

Peter said...

Perhaps Mr. Garton-Ash would understand the depth of the problem better if he sounded out his fellow French and German Europhiles on the notion that Europe needs another Winston Churchill to put matters back on track.

Brit said...

I wonder if I should feel guiltier about enjoying the Euro disaster?

Peter said...

I think not, Brit. I mean, it's not like they weren't warned long ago.

Surely one of rationalism's greatest defeats. How could they ever have thought nonsense like EuroSong contests and stylized flags could replace the rich historical significance of indigenous national symbols?

Gaw said...

Sean: Who knows what will happen next - the German politicians look like rabbits in headlights right now.

Recusant: I see it more as a recently imperial class looking for a new supra-national ideal - as well, in some cases, for re-employment in the great new venture. They got way ahead of themselves and everyone else through some high-flown rhetoric, a backdrop of increasing material prosperity, and a good bit of dissembling. Two out of three isn't sufficient to keep the show on the road as G-A has realised.

Peter: Brilliant! Would it be Churchill vs de Gaulle vs Adenhauer? Let's hope so...

Brit: I'm afraid it will mean very bad news for everyone. Possibly Lehman all over again but probably worse as it will involve governments who are now skint. It's one of those situations where the worst case is truly terrifying. I think the ECB should be QE'ing morning, noon and night.

Peter: I fear that 'I told you so' will only have limited comfort value. Anger, though? That could have legs.

Gaw said...

Peter: Those giant silver penises? They're not anything to do with the London Lympics are they?

Peter said...

You haven't heard?

Brit said...

You're probably right Gaw. It'll be ordinary bods that catch the flak, after all.

Love the sinner, hate the sin. Love the europeans, hate the project.

Vern said...

Can't believe TGA doesn't recognize the greatness of M. Rompuy. The Messiah is already among us.