what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

what is Europe for?

The USE – United States of Europe – is back. For the eurozone, at least. Such "political union", surrendering fundamental powers to Brussels has always been several steps too far for the French to consider. But Berlin is signalling that if it is to carry the can for what it sees as the failures of others in this global crisis, there will need to be incremental but major integrationist moves towards a banking, fiscal, and ultimately political union in the eurozone.
It is a divisive and contested notion which Merkel did not always favour. In the heat of the crisis, however, she now appears to see no alternative. The next three weeks will bring frantic activity to this end as a quartet of senior EU fixers race from capital to capital sounding out the scope of the possible.Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European council, Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg
leader and longstanding head of the eurogroup of single currency countries, and José Manuel Barroso, chief of the European commission, are to deliver a eurozone integration plan to an EU summit on 28-29 June. All four are committed European federalists.

This is a rare blog (for me) about the European Union. It tries initially to “fix” the mainstream British attitude to what was once “The Common Market” but which, a couple of decades ago, underwent a name change and resurrected ambitions.
Unusually for a Brit, I try to be objective – since I have always been favourably disposed to things European. This was, actually, one of the reasons I felt unable to go forward in 1983 as a Labour candidate for my hometown to the British Parliament. Neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown (in the same year) had any such dilemmas in fighting for election with a manifesto which threatened British withdrawal.
The blog is written in response not only to this news item - but also to a reread yesterday of the powerful overview of the European scene (and of its core academic writing) contained in Perry Anderson’s The New Old World. One of the many fascinating insights the book contains is that the intellectual framework for most of the tens of thousands of academics whose full-time professional occupation is European studies is…..American political science. Rather dryly, Anderson quotes (on page 80) Alfred Cobban’s definition of this branch of learning 50 years ago – a device “for avoiding that dangerous subject (politics) without achieving science”     
The fixation of the European political class on Federalism has been a constant source of puzzlement to even the most highly educated and pro-European Brits. Of course we understood the initial post-war drive to ensure there could be no more bloody conflicts between Europeans; we were reasonably convinced in the 1980s by the arguments about the potential a European system had to mitigate the power of the multinationals (although the sad reality has been that the multinationals have become a powerful but hidden part of the European constitution); and we recognised the powerful role which prospective EU membership had played in creating and grounding the legal, political and commercial institutions and processes of ex-communist countries.
But otherwise, we are not convinced by the relentless drive toward homogeneity; nor of the results from all the time and money spent on closed bureaucratic meetings and summits. Winston Churchill’s comment on the latter “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war” no longer packs the punch it once did. Brits are, of course, famous for being an awkward squad. In European circles we are always ready to puncture overblown rhetoric - although, sadly, New Labour brought its own brand of opaque Newspeak to negotiations.
De Gaulle’s dismissive image of the UK being “a nation of shop-keepers” and of bean counters is sustained by the overriding defence of the British political class of the privileges of the London financial elite; of the country’s 1990s rebate; and by its zealous compliance with European regulations. 
Other countries take a more relaxed attitude to their European obligations, appearing good Europeans at the negotiation stage but less so in their failure to implement. Membership of what became the European Union was always for us a matter of economic calculation rather than political commitment. 
And the calculations continue – alongside growing anxiety about the transfer of powers to a complex and opaque system of bargaining (amongst officials and lobbyists) and questionable judicial judgements in other countries. The previous generation of British politicians seemed to value democracy more than the present lot. After all they had fought a war for it! 
We have always been wary of the Eurocrats – and I was shocked during my (short) experience of working in Brussels in the mid 1990s by the privileges and their curious combination of indolence and arrogance. European structures are modelled on the French system which, in the post-war period, has been governed for the most part by civil servants – with citizens being reduced to the role of protestors.  
In the 1980s it was still possible to believe that the EU might build on the European social model (which owed nothing to the European Commission). Delors, after all, was still imbued with the values of most of the founders of the “European project” but, since then, the Commission officials and policies have become infected with neo-liberalism – a disease which most new member countries have also brought to the European political table since 2004. 
It has always been obvious that "the European project" had no place for the citizen - talk of the "democratic deficit" was so much eyewash (and the German push for greater powers for the European Parliament just a guilt reflex). 
But the scales have only now fallen from people's eyes as they saw the ease with which the European Union powers displaced the elected rulers of Italy and Greece..... 

Since writing this, I've come across an extensive overview of current British attitudes to the EU - which reveals the full scale of the British alienation from Europe.

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