The reader doesn’t have to read to far into Ann Applebaum’s latest essay, in the New York Review of Books, titled A New European Narrative? of October 12, 2017, a review of six books about Europe, to find this diagnosis of the European Problem:
And yet in very different ways, and for very different reasons, all six of these books ultimately argue that yes, a new narrative, or a new European political project, or an institutional revolution, is exactly what Europe needs. It’s not hard to understand why. The continent is plagued by crises that cannot be solved by any one European nation acting on its own: the arrival of millions of migrants, the rise of terrorism, the spread of international corruption, the imbalances created by the single currency, the high youth unemployment in some regions, the challenge from a revanchist Russia.
Her diagnosis of the problems that face Europe are carefully laundered, by which I mean, that she avoids the most telling problem: The Depression of 2008, the collapse of The Free Market dogmas, and it effects upon an EU, that in not a democracy, it is a Federation of Technocrats. The shameful treatment of the Greeks, by Merkel and her ECB are a glaring example of convenient German Historical Amnesia! The Brexit Vote doesn’t yet qualify for attention, nor the War on Terror being pursued on eight fronts by America. Those Migrants are fleeing from America’s Wars of Choice. Parts of this collection of the woes of Europe, carefully enumerated by Applebaum, are the product of America’s fracturing hegemony, and the a fore mentioned EU as Cartel. What is given pride of place is revanchist Russia. Ms. Applebaum is a Neo-Conservative and hews to the Party Line on Russia, without fail. But Applebaum provides an historical analogy to explain Europe’s conundrum:
At the same time, Europe, like the American states before they adopted the Constitution in 1789, still has no political mechanisms that can create joint solutions to any of these problems. A common European foreign and defense policy is still a pipe dream; a common border is difficult to enforce; a common economic policy is still far away. Instead, decisions made unilaterally by the larger states wind up determining policy for the continent, often creating anger in smaller states. Alternatively, decisions are not made at all, in which case the anger comes from the general public.
A telling aside: that ‘anger of the general public’ became, in the pages of the august Financial Time, ‘The Rebellion Against The Elites’. This historical/political precis provides the introduction to her first book under review:
The Great Regression
Most of the contributors to The Great Regression at least start from the same vantage point. Geiselberger explains that his book is designed to address not just a crisis but a “neoliberal” crisis, one that he believes has been caused by the ruling economic philosophy of the past three decades, by which he means the philosophy not just of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher but of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and the International Monetary Fund. Some of the arguments here are familiar and can be heard not only on the left but on the right and in the center. Financial markets are too powerful; trade unions are too weak. Globalization has been good for the wealthy in the West, bad for the poor. Deregulation has brought some ugly surprises.
Particularly given the EU’s reputation among conservatives in Britain and the US as a left-leaning institution, some will be surprised to discover that several contributors to The Great Regression believe that despite its redistributive functions and its support for the social welfare state, the EU is part of this same neoliberal problem. Robert Misik argues, for example, that with its uniform regulations and competition laws, the EU makes “practical implementation of left-wing ideas” impossible. Because this is the view held by Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party leader, it’s an important one to reckon with: after all, if Labour had a pro-European instead of a Euroskeptic leader, Britain might well not be leaving European institutions at all.
The trouble is that it isn’t clear what an alternative, more left-wing EU would look like. Should the members of the deeply interconnected European single market be allowed to nationalize industry again? Nationalize banks? Since these are all ideas that failed in the past, why would they work in the present? With surprising pragmatism, Slavoj Žižek suggests that a “left alternative” to the current international trade regime might be a “programme of new and different international agreements—agreements which would establish control of the banks, enforce ecological standards, secure workers’ rights, healthcare services, the protection of sexual and ethnic minorities, etc.” Since this is some of what global trade agreements do already, this is not particularly revolutionary, but at least it is a concrete idea that could be implemented jointly, if there were the will to do so.
After Europeby Ivan KrastevUniversity of Pennsylvania Press, 120 pp., $19.95
The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Ageby James KirchickYale University Press, 273 pp., $27.50
In The End of Europe, James Kirchick also offers dark comfort: “Although there are many arguments in favor of European integration, perhaps the strongest is that the alternative is so much worse.” Kirchick, like Krastev, believes that Europe’s deepest problems are not so much economic as psychological and cultural. But he phrases the problem differently. What Kirchick fears is a “loss of faith in the universal, humanistic values of what might be called the European idea.”
He sees, on the populist right, the same scorn for rule of law and democratic norms that Krastev has observed. In a chapter on Hungary he quotes at length Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s famous oration in praise of “illiberal democracy,” during which he disparaged the “divisive” nature of democracy and advocated, instead, the emergence of a “great governing party…a central field of force, which will be able to articulate the national issues…without the constantly ongoing wrangling.”
But Kirchick also sees dangers coming from an ideologically rigid left that has sought to ignore the problems caused by the immigration wave, including the dangerous plague of Islamic terrorism and, in some places, a rise in crime. He excoriates the “constricted political discourse in which decent, ordinary people are told not only that plainly visible social phenomena don’t exist but also that voicing concerns about these allegedly nonexistent phenomena is racist.” Along those same lines, he worries that the entire debate about immigration will become a partisan, bifurcated battle between the genuinely racist far right and a “multicultural” left that can’t bring itself to address the public’s legitimate (or even illegitimate) desire for more security.
In the political present, the strategy of the respectable bourgeois opinion writer, like Mr. Kirchick, is to place themselves into an imagined ‘Center’, while contrasting that with the extremes of both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’. Ms. Applebaum engages in the same strategy. Mr. Kirchick was once a part of a Neo-Con Troika at the Daily Beast: it was Eli Lake, Josh Rogan and Mr. Kirchick, this collection of Neo-Cons flourished under the leadership of Michael Weiss, the once editor of the Interpreter Magazine: a publication of The Atlantic Council, the propaganda arm of NATO. Yet Mr. Kirchick, in the above paraphrase by Applebaum, recites one of the shibboleths of ‘Right‘ , the fear of the ‘Other’, while putting its expression into question, as cover. Applebaum fortifies her political respectability by placing Kirchick’s claim into the conjectural notion of ‘more security‘. As an American Neo-Conservative Mr. Kirchick has as irrational fear of that ‘Other’. The reader just needs to consult notorious Neo-Conservative Samuel P. Huntington’s Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004), in which he posits that the Mestizo Hoards about to engulf the Anglo-Protestant virtue of America.
After this we are confronted by the crimes of the ‘outside force‘ of the malign political actor Vladimir Putin, in the next paragraph. Mr. Putin is the all purpose villain, in this continuing and always self-serving melodrama. Putin strategy is to back both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ as the means to undermine the Noble European Project from within. This is the stuff of TV Soap Opera! Think of Ms. Applebaum as a political Agnes Nixon:
Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noirby Anton ShekhovtsovRoutledge, 282 pp., $150.00; $35.95 (paper)
Slippery Slope: Brexit and Europe’s Troubled Future
by Giles Merritt
Oxford University Press, 320 pp., $29.95; $16.95 (paper)
In Defence of Europe: Can the European Project Be Saved?
by Loukas Tsoukalis
Oxford University Press, 238 pp., $30.00
Ms. Applebaum gives a perfunctory synopsis of the Merritt and Tsoukalis books, characterizing them as ‘both of which are far more Brussels-centric, policy wonkish, pragmatic, and thus somewhat harder to read than the others.’
For a wider range of possible solutions and policy proposals, the reader must turn back to the books by Giles Merritt and Loukas Tsoukalis, both of which are far more Brussels-centric, policy wonkish, pragmatic, and thus somewhat harder to read than the others. These focus on the EU as an institution, and they offer laundry lists of policy recommendations. Merritt calls for, among other things, an EU-wide program to modernize infrastructure, a larger community budget, a more activist central bank. Tsoukalis wants policies that encourage social cohesion, such as a European unemployment scheme. Both men want, as many others do, reform to the EU’s democratic institutions. Suggested changes to the EU’s parliament have been under discussion for years, including changing its composition to include members of national parliaments, or electing candidates from multinational constituencies. So far, all such projects have been halted by inertia.
Both men also want, again like many others, a more robust EU foreign policy, one that would give Europe a voice in the world commensurate with its size and economic strength. Indeed, it is possible to argue that Europe’s failure to have a foreign policy is the source of many of its problems. A Europe that could stand up to Russia would not be so easily manipulated by Russian disinformation. A Europe capable of ending the civil wars in Libya and Syria, instead of pretending they weren’t happening, wouldn’t have a refugee crisis on the current scale at all.
The trouble with all of these ideas is that they come back to the problem that I began with: to push through parliamentary reform, to construct, finally, a real European army, to build support for a larger budget or central bank, Europe needs a set of institutions to which people feel loyal and attached. To provide small European nations with the confidence they need to thrive in a globalized world; to inspire enough growth to keep people thriving in rural Bulgaria or Spain; to create a real border agency that makes people feel secure; to persuade southern Europeans to take the Russian threat seriously and Eastern Europeans to take the refugee crisis seriously—all of this requires a level of political energy that always seems to be missing at the European level, and even, in many European countries, at the national level too.