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.
...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
...it 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.