Revisiting Europe, the heroic delusion
The European Union is what political philosopher Leo Strauss might have called a “heroic delusion.” It is a noble dream, a dream that the only thing necessary for peace in Europe is shared prosperity. And for a time, the EU was living the dream. The hardships of the 2008 financial crisis, however, showed what a flimsy basis shared prosperity was for the EU’s future.
Much of the infighting we observe today within the EU is a last-ditch effort by some to give the EU the types of powers it would need to forge an effective and politically sovereign entity. They are unlikely to succeed.
Take the bureaucratic spat between Poland and the European Commission. The two have long been at odds over the current Polish government’s desire to reform Poland’s judicial system in a way that gives it more power to select and remove judges.
The latest chapter in the saga began on August 28, when Poland’s Foreign Ministry released a statement rejecting the commission’s critiques of Poland as “groundless” and sent a 12-page document of legal reasoning to Brussels to underscore the point. The European Commission fired back on August 31, with the deputy head of the commission saying the body would not drop the issue and would seek all means at its disposal to bring Poland to heel. The same day, in an interview with Le Point, French President Emmanuel Macron said Poland’s policies were “very worrying,” saying they call into question European solidarity and even the rule of law itself.
This kind of back-and-forth isn’t all that unusual for bureaucracies such as the EU’s, but it ignores the inescapable dilemma: the Continent is populated not by Europeans, but by several vastly different nations.
The inability or unwillingness to understand as much was apparent in the rest of Macron’s interview in Le Point. When asked how he would revive Europe, his first answer was, “I believe in Europe.” To believe in Europe is to confess that the existence of ‘Europe’ as a political entity is based not on fact or shared interest but on hope. Hope is a good thing, and there is a time and a place for it. But hope is not what defines lasting political realities.
I don’t mean to deride Macron for suggesting a collective identity. Community, after all, is important. Humans formed them because the world is dangerous and volatile and, for better or worse, they have come to identify with them. After Hurricane Harvey, for example, Americans of all ethnicities, genders and political persuasions donated their time, money, thoughts and prayers to those in need. They did this because no matter their differences, they share an elemental bond of being American.
The problem is that the community Macron is talking about doesn’t really exist. At one point in the interview, the French president spoke of Europe regaining its sovereignty. The interviewer pushed back, noting with surprise that France’s pro-EU president would speak of sovereignty in his first major interview with the press. Macron, ever the believer, responded that he envisioned Europe as a continent “of the dimensions of American and Chinese powers.”
Strictly speaking, Macron is right about Europe’s potential. The EU has a gross domestic product of around $16 trln. That’s just a bit less than the GDP of the United States ($18.6 trln) and almost a third larger than China’s ($11.2 trln). Taken together, the EU has more than 500 mln residents, making it the third-most populous country in the