03 December 2011

The EU delusion


Der Spiegel has an article posted which is, if you read it in the right spirit, hilarious. And it's in English, too, so you don't even need to understand German to be entertained by it. The article is Citizens of the EU: How to Forge a Common European Identity.

The translator may not have realized just how well the secondary meaning of the word "forge" fits here, but let that pass. The point of the thing is that the European Union must and will not only unite its 27 assorted member countries into a single giant state -- that's already a given in these circles -- but also get the people of those countries to "feel and act as 'Europeans' rather than members of an individual nation-state."

The first two-thirds of the article, however, actually discusses various ideas for reorganizing the already-hideously-confusing structure of the EU's "government", if that is the correct term for it. A Senate with members representing each country, or a President elected by the whole EU population, would supposedly inspire feelings of European-ness to replace the old national identities.

Only someone who knew absolutely nothing about the human sense of group identity could believe this. If you were to ask a Frenchman what his sense of French national identity is based on, my guess is he'd talk about French history, the French language, the habits and traditions that differentiate French people from people of other countries, and perhaps the great French writers, artists, scientists, and other contributors to civilization. Far down the list, if mentioned at all, would be the structure of the French government, which in any case has gone through all manner of radical changes over the past two or three centuries while France remained France. The fact that France has a directly-elected President has very little to do with why French people feel French.

I'm not even going to touch the suggestion of a directly-imposed EU sales tax. People in Germany and Britain already fume about how much the EU is costing them, and that's with dues paid by national governments, not by individual citizens every time they buy something.

There are repeated assertions that national identity is inevitably eroding over time in favor of a common European feeling. No polling data are cited to support this. Meanwhile, in the real world, Greeks are putting up posters depicting Germans as Nazis, people in the northern European countries are sneering at Greeks and Italians for supposed profligacy and economic incompetence, a few months ago German newspapers were gloating that Ireland's need for EU economic aid would allow Germany to dictate changes in Irish tax policy, established countries like Britain, Spain, and Belgium are threatened with break-up by independence-minded ethnic sub-regions, and nationalistic political parties, some of them dangerously radical, are on the rise in Finland, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, and France. There is more rancor, hostility, and resentment between different European nations today than there's been in half a century.

Why on Earth would peoples with such rich and distinctive cultures and national personalities as the French, British, Germans, and Italians give them up and identify with a soulless polyglot jigsaw-puzzle of countries with no history of political unity or common identity? Three generations of totalitarian Soviet education couldn't get the Uzbeks and Estonians to stop feeling like Uzbeks and Estonians.

Then there's this:

In 2009, researchers conducted an experiment as part of a European Union project dubbed Europolis. They brought together 348 men and women from the continent's various linguistic regions for three days. Accompanied by moderators and interpreters, the participants were to debate two challen- ging subjects: climate change and immigration.

The polyglot group of Europeans did not come up with any answers after three days of discussion. Nevertheless, interviews conducted at the beginning and after the end of the debate led the scientists to recognize an effect across all language barriers, namely that opinions had changed. "There are no fundamental obstacles to the introduction of deliberative democracy in Europe," they concluded. In the hothouse of the conference room, a miniature version of a European nation had begun to emerge.

Good grief. You could assemble a great big group of Americans, Koreans, Brazilians, and Ukrainians in a nice hotel somewhere, provide them with "moderators and interpreters", and have them rap about things for a few days, and they'd have some interesting discussions and in some cases change each others' opinions. That doesn't mean there's any basis for a common national identity for those countries.

Towards the end, the question of what actual ordinary Europeans think of all this does get a mention. In Germany, for example, there are two "problems", namely "the Federal Constitutional Court [Germany's Supreme Court] and the German population." Yes, giving up national sovereignty would be unconstitutional, and that pesky group of obstructionists known as "the German population" doesn't want to do it. A couple of minor obstacles there.

But it doesn't matter what the surly masses want, because

.....the population, neither in Germany nor in neighboring countries, has never been asked their opinion about Europe under fair conditions. Who knows what the people think? In fact, for lack of what Habermas calls a functioning European "deliberation" process, the people themselves don't even know what they think. The failed referendums on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands are a poor indicator of popular views, because in both cases misinformation and domestic political rancor distorted the picture. The new "elite project".....consists in the political class and academia explaining Europe and their goals to the citizens.

Take a moment to savor the rich, steaming arrogance of that. Europe includes some of the best-educated populations on the planet, with some of the oldest traditions of democratic self- government, but the fact that they vote against the elite's grand project every chance they get just means that the elite need to keep lecturing them about what the correct opinions on these matters are.

The EU's leaders, in any case, seem more incompetent than elite these days. Like the Republicans in the US, they are ignoring Europe's gigantic real problem -- high unemployment -- and imposing spending cuts and austerity which have locked country after country into a death spiral of economic contraction which can only end in utter collapse unless those insane policies are reversed. Indeed, the southern countries need not only economic stimulus policies but currency devaluation -- impossible unless they reinstate separate national currencies.

You can see why these people are so terrified of public opinion that recent proposed referendums in Greece and Britain had to be prevented by any means necessary.

While the ivory-tower thinkers quoted in Der Spiegel spin visions of a grand march toward a United States of Europe, in the real world European leaders are staggering from one crisis meeting to another trying to stave off the collapse of the EU's misbegotten common currency, which even some of its boosters are now saying may happen by Christmas. One is reminded of the failed general in his bunker, losing both his war and his grip on reality, dictating grand maneuvers with armies that no longer exist.

There is not going to be a United States of Europe. The effort to create it has led to unnecessary rancor and conflict, wastage of money on a vast scale, a swath of wrecked economies from Lesbos to Lisbon, and a financial crisis even more dangerous (and boring) than what happened in the US in 2008. Only when this grandiose failed experiment is put out of its misery will democratic national governments, freed from EU decrees and the straitjacket of the common currency, finally be able to start repairing the damage.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jack Jodell said...

Verrrry interesting, Infidel753. My belief is that "Red Danny" and others who think like him are overly optimistic and are putting the cart waaaaayyyyy before the horse! I don't think we'll see a United States of Europe even in our lifetime, if ever. For one thing, even the U.S. isn't all that united; we are tremendously polarized. For another, Europe is far too diverse both culturally and economically to even begin to attempt such an undertaking at this time. Fir yet another, they're even having trouble holding the "Eurozone" together---how the hell will they ever be able to achieve single nationhood? They had problems with the Common Market too. Plus, Russia is now attempting to reassert itself on the world stage. I just don't see this single European nation coming to fruition for many decades to come, if ever.

03 December, 2011 10:12  
Blogger Ahab said...

"...get the people of those countries to "feel and act as 'Europeans' rather than members of an individual nation-state."

It didn't work for pan-Arab nationalism. Why would it work now?

03 December, 2011 15:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JJ: The US works despite our political differences because it really is all one country, even if it's an unusually large one. The real equivalent of the EU project would be creating a unified government for all of North and South America, and you can imagine how unworkable that would be.

Ahab: Good point. The Arab world is a much more logical candidate for unification than Europe -- the Arabs have a common language and similar cultures, and some of the countries are new, with arbitrary borders drawn by European colonialists. Yet the recent outpouring of democratic rebellion has not included any calls for pan-Arab unification, as far as I know.

04 December, 2011 06:10  

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