“We all know what to do. What we do not know is how to get re-elected once we have done it.” This was said by the European Commission’s current president, Jean-Claude Juncker, a few years ago, when he was still leading the institutions in Luxemburg. This phrase best captures the trap in which the European Union has fallen: already not so popular, it is called to take measures which would make it even more unpopular.
The volume by Giles Merritt, exceptional observer of European affairs, is genuine and direct in outlining the situation of the institutions and to include it in a broader context. Merritt addresses the theme of the Union by facing the more obvious issues head-on, to take them apart, one after the other, providing an amount of data that we cannot recount here but that forces the reader to think. He places particular emphasis on some points: Europe is not at all overcrowded. Indeed, it absolutely needs immigration to continue to pay its welfare and to provide workforce to its industries (a comparison? In America nine-tenths of the new jobs are due to the arrival of people from abroad); Europe is not going to be forever and obviously rich: money is shifting to Asia; Europe is technologically advanced, but Chinese patents are now more numerous, and three-quarters of the investments in technology and development in the United States are from Europe – a sign that shows that even European financiers have little faith in Europe; Europe is not just losing jobs to Asia, as the Asian Tigers are investing heavily on European soil, giving jobs rather than stealing them; Europe is a pillar of the international scene because of the economic and political balance among its member states, rather than the success of its supranational institutions; the Europe-United States partnership is loosening: Barack Obama has shifted the center of his political-military focus to the Pacific Ocean.
Merritt does not simply demolish some myths. He proposes a rethinking made of exchanges, capacity for innovation, enduring international relations, without neglecting the military option. The title, pretty dark, actually conceals a moderately optimistic book, which rattles off numbers and information to show how Europe is set to become irrelevant without a unitary structure and, even before that, without a genuine identification of priorities, but at the same time shows that the worldwide economy and society are in need of Europeans, especially when united. In this regard, the volume is appreciated for a final chapter in which, rather than indulging in the creation of an alternative myth, the author attempts to draw a very concrete agenda for Europe’s next moves.
Speaking of European action as Merritt does seems really utopian right now. The Union limps, looking for a popular legitimacy that would enable it to take those unpopular, even extreme decisions that the individual states would not be able to sustain individually. It is probably too optimistic to hope for a realism that would allow to establish a European tax levy, to use the euro to support growth through debt, to facilitate legal immigration rather than to be overwhelmed by the hysteria, and to develop a political structure, effective from a militarily perspective too.
The European institutions were born out of the need of pragmatism and realism, rather than the symbols and appearances that have accumulated over time and that have made it an unattainable utopia for its own citizens. Yearning for a European area of rights and democracy rather than confronting the real problems has not done a great service when the need for the EU has been sensed in a special way. Buried under the criticism of the national states, Europe is now trying to resurrect through idealistic outbursts close to myopia. But what will remain of all this in a few years?
[This article is published in Oasis no. 24. To read all the contents buy a copy or subscribe]