What kind of Europe?

The Guardian recently hosted a debate on ‘What kind of Europe do we want?’ between writer (and Guardian columnist) Timothy Garton-Ash and Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore. The full transcript of the debate is available in pdf format, but there’s also a shorter summary that covers most of tha min points the two made. Given that most would label Garton-Ash a ‘europhile’ and Moore a ‘eurosceptic’, it’s interesting to see that there is quite a lot of common ground between their two viewpoints.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee also makes similar points to Garton-Ash, addressing the problem that many of us who are ‘pro-Europe’ face – that the ‘Europe’ of our ideals is not lived up to by the EU of reality:

The limping Britain in Europe campaign now needs to reform itself into a radical anti-government voice, not the pet of ministerial patronage. Time to lay into both Brown and Blair with full euro knuckledusters. Time to attack Brussels, too, and lead the charge for reform; it will never be credible to defend the inadequate status quo.

The European idea is magnificent, but pretending that current reality matches the rhetoric only heightens scepticism.

The combination of EU expansion, the constitutional proposals and the advent of the Euro have brought us to a ‘where do we go from here?’ moment. 50 years on from Schuman and Monnet, there is now a concept of ‘Europe’ as an entity that there wasn’t back then. However, the question of what that that entity will be in practice has still not been decided (and probably never will entirely be) but the onus is now on all sides of the debate to actually think about where we’re going and how to get there.

13 thoughts on “What kind of Europe?

  1. Britain in Europe is incapable of “reforming itself into a radical anti-government voice” – BiE was explicitly ensure that the “yes” campaign would be government friendly (and not do dastardly things such as organise without Tony Blair’s explicit say so).

    The only future for such a voice in British politics is if either the European Movement begins to extricate itself from BiE (tough, given that they appear to have allowed themselves be swallowed whole now), or the Federal Union (which alienates some people for its unapologetic use of the “f” word). For either to grow, BiE needs to be killed.

  2. It was a fun debate, but I was struck by the strangeness of Charles Moore, an upper-class Etonian better known for his defence of the hereditary peerage, banging on about a (correctly perceived) lack of democracy, e.g.

    “The most difficult thing about the EU is that it has very little to do with the people.”

    I don’t think that’s his real complaint with the EU, somehow…

  3. Poly Toynbee writes: “The European idea is magnificent.” But just what is that “idea” when there manifestly isn’t a consensus in Europe as to aims, objectives or route maps.

    If there were then Fischer wouldn’t be proposing a two-speed Europe and Straw wouldn’t be taking Prodi to task for saying Sweden will lose influence in Europe for voting not to join the Eurozone.

    Remember Robespierre who wanted to create the “virtuous state”? That sounds great until we start asking how are we to decide what virtue is and then about how to achieve whatever it is. Robespierre, of course, applied a quick and decisive method of ending dissent to his vision but I was under the impression we had given up on totalitarianism in Europe for good. It seems not.

  4. The present European Union has a lack of democracy which would be healed if the Union became a federation.

    On the other hand to force this superstate upon the people isn?t democratic either.

    So its an dilemma.

  5. “Its like riding a bike”, wrote Percy Barnevik about the EU project, “either you go forward or you fall”,

    He was replied by Rolf Englund Swedish EU sceptic who stated that,” but every 5 year old knows that its very easy to stop the bike without falling, you just brake and put your foot onto the ground”.
    “The same should be applied on the EU”.

    Which of them is right?

  6. Until now I did not now of the existence of Mr Charles Moore so without any prejudice towards the man I immediately noticed the contradiction between his statements
    “The most difficult thing about the EU, and I am sure this is why the Swedes voted no, is that it has very little to do with the people. It is constructed to make sure that it is an undemocratic structure because the authors of it were frightened of popular power.”
    And
    “Yes. Withdrawal is an option. But it is a difficult option because the politics of withdrawal would be that it would come on a wave of hatred because if people are excited enough to want to get out it would have to be that they were angry with the European continent.”
    Apparently he is frightened of popular power too!
    Quickly reading some posts and articles related to this topic I am amazed again and again to see so many people talking (writing) of THE Germans, THE French etc.
    One example from the article of Toynbee: “The chill Scandinavian wind sent shudders right across Europe”. What is that? People with very very positive ideas about European cooperation, maybe unification even, can have the idea that the Euro was introduced to soon, that the stability pact is to rigid and/or that there is no clear idea on which we agree as to what is causing the recession(s) and so pro-European Swedish voters are right to say no to the Euro. And still almost half of the Swedish wanted to give up their own currency and so part of the tools of economical policy for their government!
    Why “chill wind”?

  7. The European idea is “magnificent”? I guess… if you call a culture based on cowardice and feeloading magnificent.

    But then again, Europeans do like to distort reality to fit their dreams. They’ve been doing that for quite awhile, and could have succeeded… if not for the American example to throw cold water on that empty dream.

  8. It is clear that all europeans discussing about Europe on this site share a sense of community even if they are anti EU.
    After all we are fellow human beings though born in different countries and speaking different languages.
    The question is do we need a common democracy for us all or is the nation state better?
    Perhaps these big democratic projects risks being to centralised and elitist in its power.
    How centralised wouldn not a world government become even if its aims are to unify humanity ?
    Perhaps the world need competing democratic countries if democracy shall continue to develop just like the free market with competing companys.

    Or does the global problems crave global governance?

  9. Yes things were so much better in 1912.
    The titanic sank on its maiden voyage, Russia was ruled by the tzars and sweden did not have voting rights for women.

  10. “The titanic sank on its maiden voyage, Russia was ruled by the tzars and sweden did not have voting rights for women.”

    Magnus – There is still scope for the triumph of hope over experience in Europe.

    There was enough time to rearrange the deckchairs on the unsinkable Titanic before it finally slid beneath the waves, the tzars in Russia were succeeded by a different kind of tzardom for 70 years, a tzardom where the despotism was even less tempered by inefficiency, and women did not get full voting rights until 1928 in Britain, until after WW2 in France and not until 1971 in Switzerland. That was progress of a kind. Even so, the more perceptive of American historians appreciate how much America owes to its legacy from its oppressed, adventurous and enterprising migrants from Europe but perhaps we need now to focus on the fast changes underway in geopolitical factors which tend to be below the horizon of interest of much popular media.

    For the last five hundred years world affairs were largely dominated through decisions taken by governments of nation states located either side of the North Atlantic. That is not so now and will not be so for the foreseeable yet popular perceptions of global realities tend to be parochial and largely determined by sheer inertia.

    Extrapolating present economic growth rates, China will become the world’s largest economy by GDP within a quarter of a century or so and Japan’s economy, the present second largest in the world, now seems to be reviving after a decade of stagnation. India, the world’s largest democracy, now has an economy that is growing strongly, not as fast as China’s, but certainly faster than its own historic standards. IT companies and buyers in north America and Europe are outsourcing work to India. These changes in the centre of gravity of global fundamentals will probably turn out to be of greater significance for the living standards of the average family in Europe in the longer perspective of history than mongering new constitutions.

    This quote from the perennially preceptive Paul Krugman in his: Peddling Prosperity (1994) appears to have a message for us in Europe:

    “Yet most people, even including the [US] senators who voted for the [hugely protectionist] Smoot-Hawley [Act of 1929], soon realised that protectionism had gone too far. The US began trying to negotiate tariffs down again as early as 1934, and after WW2 both the political and economic environments were very favourable for trade liberalisation. Once the global trading system had been shattered, however, it was very hard to put back together; trade among industrialised countries did not regain its 1914 level until 1970.” [p. 288]

  11. “Extrapolating present economic growth rates, China will become the world’s largest economy by GDP within a quarter of a century or so”

    However, Chinese economic data are widely believed to be overly optimistic, if not fraudulent. China has enormous structural problems (huge deficits, moribund but politically untouchable state-owned enterprises, high rural unemployment) that its gerontocratic bureaucracy is not equipped to handle.

    (BTW I should probably mention that my earlier post was meant to be sarcastic… notwithstanding any resemblance between such an attitude and that of Karl Rove, who clearly wants to return the U.S. to the McKinley era.)

  12. “However, Chinese economic data are widely believed to be overly optimistic, if not fraudulent.”

    This is a bit off topic, but it has occured to me today that there is an interesting parrallel between Argentina and China. Argentina, we may recall, had a hard-peg 1:1 with the dollar. At the time the WSJ consensus was wildly enthusiastic. Why was this: because such a peg was deemed to give stability to an unstable financial system.

    Fast forward five years, and the same consensus is now in unison that the renminbi should be revalued. But the very same people are often to be found arguing that the Chinese numbers are rigged, that the growth is not real, that the financial system is on the point of collapse. In which case you would have thought that the currency needed the dollar peg, and that the authorities were right to intervene to maintain it……..Or, the growth is real, and with time the renminbi, like the rupee should be allowed to appreciate. Now which is it?

    BTW: most responsible economists manage to retain serious doubts about the reliability of the numbers, whilst remaining convinced about the reality of the underlying growth. There are other ways to get a measure like monitoring energy consumption, or taking export numbers, which are much harder to fudge, and extrapolating.

    A bit off subject for a discussion about what kind of Europe we want, well not necessarily. What we need, among other things, is a Europe which is capable of responding positively to the changes which are taking place in the world around us, and which does not,when things don’t go our way, only know how to cry ‘foul’.

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