May 28th 2014

Europe and Anti-Europe

by Harold James

Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and Marie Curie Professor of History at the European University Institute, Florence. His most recent book is The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle.

LONDON – The European Parliament election has set off a painful process of rethinking not only how the European Union works, but also what it is fundamentally about. The outcome made it clear that there are now two Europes: one in which the logic of integration is deeply embedded in the political system and the social order; and one that rejects the basic assumptions of pooled sovereignty.

The good news is that most of Europe is in the former category; the bad news is that the exceptions include two very large and powerful countries.

The debate about Europe is not simply a discussion of the merits of this or that institutional or technical solution to a problem of political coordination; it is about how societies can organize themselves successfully in a globalized world. Up to now, there has been too much emphasis on institutional design, and not enough on social dynamism and innovation.

Before the election, pro-Europeans regarded the upcoming vote as evidence that a new pattern of EU-wide democracy was emerging. Europe would look more like a country, with pan-European political parties proposing a top candidate (Spitzenkandidat as the Germans put it) to be the European Commission’s next president.

But Euroskeptics countered that the new political order would not work. Voters would treat the elections as they had in the past: an opportunity to protest – though not against Europe so much as against their own national governments. They would also vote against austerity, imposed as a part of the EU’s strategy to defend the monetary union.

Neither the optimists nor the pessimists were correct. No obvious European leader emerged from the election, and political haggling among EU governments over the next Commission president is likely to be prolonged and to look anything but democratic. At the same time, despite news headlines suggesting the contrary, there was no uniform wave of anti-Europeanism, or of disillusion with the European project.

Indeed, in many countries, including some of those most severely hit by the financial and economic crisis, voters turned out to endorse both their governments and the European project. The pro-incumbent effect was discernible in Spain and, most dramatically, Italy, where the new reform government of Matteo Renzi defeated expectations that Italians would deliver another big protest vote. In Eastern Europe, Poland’s governing Civic Platform outperformed the nationalist opposition, while voters in the Baltic states, where the economic effects of austerity were the most severe in the entire EU, endorsed centrist European Parliament candidates.

The unexpected weakness of the populist right in the Netherlands and the solid performance of the ruling Christian Democrats in Germany was a reflection of the same phenomenon: a new core Europe that is politically stable and self-confident.

Across the Rhine and across the English Channel, however, things look very different. In both France and the United Kingdom, the success of insurgent populist parties has shaken the political landscape. In both countries, the incumbent party – the French Socialists and the British Conservatives – were not only beaten, but finished third.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the victory of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front as a political “earthquake.” And, though the Front’s triumph could easily be ascribed to the unpopularity of Socialist President François Hollande and his government, the parallel triumph of the UK Independence Party cannot be explained as a protest vote against the coalition government, which is delivering an economic recovery. The UKIP’s stunning victory was unambiguously a popular rejection of Europe, in particular of immigration from the EU.

The election outcomes in France and Britain reflect both countries’ deeper deviations from the European pattern. For starters, their imperial legacies constrain them to behave like nineteenth-century Great Powers, not as part of the globalized and inter-connected world of the twenty-first century. This is reflected in their economic models. In Britain, over-dependence on financial services reflects the view that finance is the central coordinating activity of economic life, which made more sense in the nineteenth century than it does today.

For France, the equivalent weakness is a proclivity for corporate gigantism. There are highly successful large industrial enterprises, most of them politically well connected, and tiny mom-and-pop businesses that are vestiges of a lost country. But the panoply of small and medium-size enterprises that make Germany and Spain entrepreneurial and economically successful is almost entirely missing in France.

Both Britain and France are having vigorous debates about how to change their economic models. Some reformers in government want more German-style apprenticeship schemes; there is talk of tax breaks for small businesses, and of easing excessively intrusive regulatory burdens.

It is difficult to see how either Britain or France can survive on the basis of nostalgia. Reforming both countries is as essential a task as reforming Europe’s creaky and complex political order. And that requires much more than just tweaking public spending and introducing some high-tech infrastructure projects; it means recreating the basis for a more dynamic society.

Domestic reform in Europe’s two large former imperial powers is also an essential element in making Europe work. While it is conceivable that the European project could survive without Britain, a united Europe without France is unthinkable.


Harold James is Professor of History at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 5th 2017

As Americans are still reeling from the shock of hearing their President dignify the actions of hatemongers, there is another social crisis brewing. Starting on Sept.

Sep 4th 2017


CAMBRIDGE AND NEW YORK – The United States and China have reached a precarious moment in their relationship. Ensuring a peaceful outcome will be the greatest geopolitical challenge of the twenty-first century. Are our leaders up to it?

Sep 2nd 2017

Keeping track of important policy developments with Donald J. Trump as President is difficult and yet vital.

Aug 29th 2017
 

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a lot in common. Both are in trouble, confronting problems that are more legal than political.

Aug 27th 2017

President Trump’s new strategy that would presumably win the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan is doomed to fail, just like Bush’s and Obama’s before him.

Aug 25th 2017

CAMBRIDGE – For years, Americans have misunderstood the nuclear threat from North Korea, misjudging how to address it. They have also misunderstood the bilateral trade deficits with China, overestimating their importance.

Aug 23rd 2017

Robots can store sensitive information, including encryption keys, user social media, e-mail accounts and vendor service credentials, and send that information to and from mobile applications, Internet services, and computer software.

Aug 22nd 2017

NEW YORK – In 1940, with Britain standing alone against Nazi Germany, a short book called Guilty Men was published under the pseudonym of “Cato.” Its authors were the future Labour Party leader Michael Foot, the Liberal journalist Frank Owen, and the Conservative journalist Peter

Aug 18th 2017

Much has been written about Syria’s civil war which has engulfed the country for the past six years, but sadly the mounting death and destruction in Syria has long since become mere statistics.

Aug 18th 2017


NEW HAVEN – Is the United States threatened by Nazism? The short answer is no, notwithstanding the frightening events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend.

Aug 16th 2017

Three days after the violence in Charlottesville, Donald Trump doubled down on his shocking accusation that when it came to political violence in the United States, there were “two sides.”  In fact, he argued that the media simply ignored the “Alt-Left” and left-wing p

Aug 16th 2017

The last thing the Middle East needs is a major conflagration in Israel-Palestine – but a summer crisis in Jerusalem made it clear that in the right circumstances, it really could happen.

Aug 13th 2017

If you were away from news on Friday, you might like to know that in addition to hot wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen (and maybe Somalia and Libya), the Trump administration talks as though it is on the brink of opening new fronts in Venezuela and North Korea (is this what Anthony Scar