E.U. ill-pre­pared to grap­ple with 21st-cen­tury challenges

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - RE­VIEW BY MATTHIAS MATTHIJS Matthias Matthijs is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal econ­omy at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity’s School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Over the past decade, Europe’s cel­e­brated project for an “ever closer union among its peo­ples” has been in a con­stant state of paral­y­sis be­cause of a series of crises: the eu­ro­zone debt cri­sis, the flood of refugees knock­ing on Europe’s doors, Rus­sia’s il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and covert sup­port for pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine, and the sys­tem­atic move away from demo­cratic prin­ci­ples in Hun­gary and Poland. Fi­nally, Brexit — Bri­tain’s vote in fa­vor of leav­ing the Euro­pean Union — raised fears of the union’s dis­in­te­gra­tion.

To get a broad sense of Europe’s predica­ment, there is per­haps no bet­ter guide than Wil­liam Droz­diak’s “Frac­tured Con­ti­nent.” Droz­diak, a for­mer chief Euro­pean cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Post, criss­crosses the re­gion from Ber­lin to Lon­don, Paris to Brus­sels, Madrid to Rome, War­saw to Copen­hagen, and Riga to Athens, with jaunts to Moscow, Ankara and Tu­nis, end­ing with a fi­nal trip to Wash­ing­ton. Along the way, he skill­fully in­ves­ti­gates the state of pol­i­tics in Europe’s cap­i­tals, its cit­i­zens’ am­biva­lence to­ward Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion and the shift­ing bal­ance of power among the large E.U. mem­ber states. Com­bin­ing the ob­jec­tive dis­tance of a well-in­formed out­sider with the sub­jec­tive warmth of some­one who for a long time adopted Europe as his sec­ond home, Droz­diak con­cludes that each coun­try strug­gles with its own unique cri­sis of na­tional iden­tity, while Brus­sels — the cap­i­tal city of Europe’s two key post­war in­sti­tu­tions, NATO and the E.U. — mostly re­sem­bles the Tower of Ba­bel, with “many tongues in search of one voice.”

Droz­diak demon­strates that while na­tional elites are pre­oc­cu­pied with do­mes­tic prob­lems, the E.U. and NATO have a hard time deal­ing with the com­bined in­ter­na­tional challenges of the 21st cen­tury, i.e. trade, mi­gra­tion, cap­i­tal flows, cli­mate change, ter­ror­ism and a steady global re­treat from demo­cratic val­ues. Droz­diak ex­plains why Ger­many has not yet come to terms with its sta­tus as Europe’s in­dis­pens­able na­tion — the con­ti­nent’s chief cred­i­tor and dom­i­nant econ­omy — and why it sees its lead­er­ship mainly in terms of mak­ing sure the south­ern-pe­riph­ery coun­tries in the union fol­low the rules. He dis­sects Bri­tain’s mis­guided de­ci­sion to break away from the rest of Europe, an­a­lyzes France’s quest to re­cover its lost glory un­der Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, and won­ders whether the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter can hold in Spain, Italy and Greece. In­formed read­ers will find lit­tle to dis­agree with in those chap­ters.

They will prob­a­bly learn most from Droz­diak when read­ing about is­sues that have re­ceived rel­a­tively less at­ten­tion in the me­dia, such as Den­mark’s unique com­mit­ment to fight­ing cli­mate change, the strange para­noia of Poland’s re­cently elected ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment about Ber­lin’s and Brus­sels’s in­ten­tions, and Latvia’s daily treat­ment of its eth­nic Rus­sian pop­u­la­tion as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens.

Droz­diak ob­serves an in­ward turn in Europe’s cap­i­tals and in­sti­tu­tional navel-gaz­ing in Brus­sels, not­ing that it could not have come at a worse time. The tra­di­tional guar­an­tor of Europe’s post­war se­cu­rity, the United States, is liv­ing through one of its oc­ca­sional iso­la­tion­ist mo­ments. Pres­i­dent Trump has por­trayed NATO as “ob­so­lete,” dis­par­aged the E.U. as a ve­hi­cle for Ger­man power and hinted that Ar­ti­cle 5 of the At­lantic Al­liance — which states that an at­tack on one is an at­tack on all — is con­di­tional on NATO mem­bers pay­ing their fair share. Rus­sia’s saber-rat­tling on the E.U.’s eastern flank, first in Ge­or­gia then in Ukraine (both once touted as prospec­tive NATO mem­bers), has served as a wake-up call for the West. Fi­nally, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s power grab and au­to­cratic temp­ta­tion, as well as the crushed demo­cratic hopes of the Arab Spring of 2011, are stark re­minders that Europe’s soft power is not enough to trans­form even its own neigh­bor­hood.

What seems to be miss­ing from Droz­diak’s book, how­ever, is a cen­tral ar­gu­ment for how Europe ar­rived at this mo­ment of con­ti­nen­tal dis­cord. While he does an ex­cel­lent job of weav­ing to­gether the dis­parate threads of Europe’s cur­rent malaise, he does not re­ally ex­plain how we got here, thereby leav­ing the reader bereft of any po­ten­tial so­lu­tions. The cen­tral thread that seems to tie the chap­ters to­gether, and the ar­gu­ment he should have made, is twofold. First, un­like many other ad­vanced in­dus­trial states, the E.U.’s mem­ber coun­tries have lost much of their dis­cre­tion over na­tional eco­nomic pol­icy and have given up con­trol over their borders. Sec­ond, as long as demo­cratic le­git­i­macy lies with the na­tional cap­i­tals, Euro­pean rules agreed upon 25 years ago and en­forced by an un­elected tech­noc­racy at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in Brus­sels will quickly lose their pop­u­lar ap­peal in tough times in fa­vor of na­tional gov­ern­ments tak­ing back con­trol. Sub­tly wo­ven through Droz­diak’s chap­ters is a hid­den but re­cur­ring theme: While many eco­nomic prob­lems are idio­syn­cratic to the E.U.’s mem­ber states and there­fore in need of na­tional so­lu­tions, most po­lit­i­cal and for­eign pol­icy prob­lems are cry­ing out for Euro­pean so­lu­tions.

Many of the E.U.’s prob­lems are of its own mak­ing, even though it is fash­ion­able to re­peat ad na­seum in elite pol­icy cir­cles that mem­ber states them­selves are largely to blame. Be­tween the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, Europe’s mem­ber states chose to take three am­bi­tious leaps for­ward in eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion. They cre­ated the sin­gle mar­ket and the com­mon cur­rency, and em­barked on mem­ber­ship en­large­ment to the east. The idea was that eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion would lead to con­ver­gence in liv­ing stan­dards and would nat­u­rally be fol­lowed by po­lit­i­cal in­te­gra­tion. The dic­tum of E.U. founder Jean Mon­net that Europe would be forged in crises and would be the sum of the so­lu­tions adopted for those crises was be­lieved by many to act like an iron law of progress to­ward Euro­pean unity.

But while E.U. mem­ber states em­braced the four free­doms — of goods, ser­vices, cap­i­tal and peo­ple — and a com­mon cur­rency, they for­got to put in place the in­sti­tu­tions nec­es­sary to man­age them in an or­derly man­ner. They chose to give up na­tional con­trol over im­por­tant eco­nomic pol­icy levers, de­priv­ing mem­ber states of vi­tal do­mes­tic shock ab­sorbers, in­stead opt­ing for a set of rigid (and Ger­man) rules. That choice may have made sense dur­ing the be­nign eco­nomic cli­mate of the 1990s and 2000s, but it proved coun­ter­pro­duc­tive af­ter the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008. At the same time, the E.U. re­lied on the Amer­i­can se­cu­rity um­brella for Europe’s de­fense, rather than putting in place a mus­cu­lar for­eign and se­cu­rity pol­icy of its own. En­large­ment to the east also made for a much less co­he­sive union and mul­ti­plied the po­ten­tial for dis­cord.

In this elite-driven process, Europe chose to largely ig­nore its own peo­ple, who were per­haps will­ing to en­ter­tain closer co­op­er­a­tion on is­sues of for­eign pol­icy, ter­ror­ism and cli­mate change, but did not nec­es­sar­ily long to give up na­tional dis­cre­tion over trade, mi­gra­tion and eco­nomic pol­icy mat­ters that cre­ate lo­cal win­ners and losers.

Even though a re­cent uptick in eco­nomic data may sug­gest that the “wind is back in Europe’s sails,” as Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker put it in his most re­cent State of the Euro­pean Union ad­dress, the un­der­ly­ing causes of Europe’s re­cent crises have not been ad­dressed. Like other fed­er­al­ist ro­man­tics, Juncker still be­lieves that “more Europe” — more pow­ers for his com­mis­sion and con­tin­ued trans­fers of sovereignty from the mem­ber states to Brus­sels — is the an­swer. But if one reads Droz­diak’s book care­fully, one will quickly come to the con­clu­sion that most prob­lems ail­ing Europe’s na­tional democ­ra­cies can­not be solved at the supra­na­tional level, as there is no one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion. Many na­tional and lo­cal eco­nomic prob­lems have only na­tional and lo­cal so­lu­tions. Where there is a need, and a pop­u­lar de­sire, for more Europe — in deal­ing with refugees, ter­ror­ism, Trump’s Amer­ica, Putin’s Rus­sia, Er­do­gan’s Turkey, etc. — there is no ap­petite among elites to forge a com­mon strat­egy.

While Droz­diak leaves open the pos­si­bil­ity that the E.U. may yet turn out to be a ris­ing phoenix, a more re­al­is­tic take­away from his book is that Euro­peans have yet to come to terms with their shat­tered dream.

JUSTIN TALLIS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

FRAN­COIS MORI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: An anti-Brexit rally in Lon­don in June 2016. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel leads Europe’s re­luc­tant “in­dis­pens­able na­tion.” French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron aims to re­cover France’s lost glory.

TO­BIAS SCHWARZ/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

FRAC­TURED CON­TI­NENT Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West By Wil­liam Droz­diak Nor­ton. 298 pp. $26.95

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