Re­vis­it­ing Europe, the heroic delu­sion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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