“Hope is a good thing, and there is a time and a place for it. But hope is not what de­fines last­ing po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

world af­ter China and In­dia – if it were a coun­try.

The EU, how­ever, is not a coun­try, and it is not about to be­come one. If Europe were a coun­try, Ger­man tax dol­lars would be al­lo­cated to­ward pay­ing down Greece’s debt. If Europe were a coun­try, its mil­i­tary would be de­ployed in Poland to de­fend its borders from Rus­sia. If Europe were a coun­try, rules would ap­ply equally to all: France wouldn’t get to ig­nore Euro­pean bud­get deficit rules and then sin­gle out Poland as a black sheep for vi­o­lat­ing demo­cratic norms be­cause of its ju­di­cial re­forms. If Europe were a coun­try, a Ro­ma­nian would be will­ing to die to pro­tect a Spa­niard. I have no doubt that there are peo­ple of good­will in all th­ese coun­tries, none of whom wish to see harm vis­ited upon oth­ers. But there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween pas­sive hope for all to live in peace, and ac­tive sac­ri­fice to pro­tect mem­bers of the same com­mu­nity.

This sense of com­mu­nity is alive and well in most pock­ets of Europe. And it has to be. In the era of the na­tion-state, gov­ern­ments are le­git­imised in part by their abil­ity to rep­re­sent and pro­tect a par­tic­u­lar na­tion: a group of peo­ple who speak the same lan­guage, who grew up in the same place, and who feel that if one of their own is un­der at­tack, then the na­tion is un­der at­tack. Even the most stal­wart sup­port­ers of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion feel a deep sense of na­tional pride in their own coun­tries. France, Ger­many and the other western Euro­pean states rep­re­sent the very cra­dle of na­tion­al­ism it­self, and even the most pas­sion­ate of EU sup­port­ers don’t want to sur­ren­der their na­tional iden­ti­ties.

And yet the lead­ers of th­ese coun­tries cower in the face of their na­tion­al­ists, no doubt a con­se­quence of the Con­ti­nent’s sor­did his­tory. Af­ter all, it wasn’t all that long ago that there were those who sought to con­quer Europe with Panzer di­vi­sions in­stead of ne­olib­eral trade regimes.

But per­haps there is more than just fear of the past at work here. Per­haps there is also a yearn­ing for the past too. Per­haps western Euro­pean coun­tries are nos­tal­gic, wist­ful for a time when in­di­vid­ual Euro­pean na­tion-states ruled the world, and cog­nizant of the re­al­ity that the only way that can come to pass again is if all of Europe’s vast ge­o­graphic, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic re­sources are har­nessed and di­rected to­ward the pur­suit of one goal as op­posed to 51 sets of dif­fer­ent goals.

And therein lies the dif­fi­culty of talk­ing about Europe. So di­verse is the Con­ti­nent that it’s of­ten more use­ful to think of it re­gion­ally: western Europe, east­ern Europe, north­ern Europe, south­ern Europe. (Use­ful doesn’t mean per­fect. There are neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions as­so­ci­ated with “East­ern Europe,” for ex­am­ple, as be­ing con­sid­ered ret­ro­grade or back­wa­ter. You might get into knock-down, drag-out fights in bars in places like Prague and Bu­dapest if you sug­gest to a lo­cal that you are vis­it­ing east­ern, and not cen­tral, Europe.)

But even if th­ese des­ig­na­tions help to broadly ex­plain some­times-in­ex­pli­ca­ble dy­nam­ics, they still be­lie just how com­plex Europe re­ally is. Coun­tries such as Hun­gary and Poland, which we at GPF cat­e­gorise as East­ern Europe, have been push­ing back against the EU in re­cent years. Sup­port­ers of greater EU in­te­gra­tion of­ten try to sin­gle Hun­gary and Poland out as ex­cep­tions rather than as har­bin­gers of fu­ture trends. They don’t see, for in­stance, that Hun­gary and Poland’s re­fusal to take the refugees the EU wanted them to take in 2015 wasn’t ex­cep­tional but was a sign of things to come (think of how much anti-EU sen­ti­ment over refugees shaped Brexit).

They say, as Macron said last week, that Poland does not speak for east­ern Europe, that Hun­gary’s govern­ment does not speak for the true de­sires of the Hun­gar­ian peo­ple. They say that the masses of Europe are pro-Euro­pean, and that Brus­sels is charged with safe­guard­ing Europe’s cher­ished prin­ci­ples of tol­er­ance, equal­ity and free­dom, and that if ev­ery­one would just fol­low the rules Europe would rule the world once more.

And they’re right, in­so­far as Poland does not speak for East­ern Europe. Hun­gary does not speak for Ro­ma­nia. But France and Ger­many don’t speak for east­ern Europe, either – the only times in his­tory when they did was at gun­point. Con­sider also the per­spec­tive of a coun­try like Poland.

Poland has roughly two-thirds the pop­u­la­tion of France. But in eco­nomic terms, Poland’s GDP is just un­der 20% of France’s. While western Europe was re­built af­ter World War II with Amer­i­can dol­lars, east­ern Europe lan­guished be­hind the Iron Cur­tain. Now, east­ern Europe is emerg­ing – more self-con­fi­dent, more de­fen­sive of its in­de­pen­dence, the most eco­nom­i­cally dy­namic re­gion in Europe. The govern­ment in Warsaw does not op­pose the EU in prin­ci­ple. It wants to be treated fairly and re­acts harshly when it faces what it sees as

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