Dreaming Europe in a Wide-Awake World

Dreaming Europe in a Wide-Awake World

Mini Teaser: When it comes to Europe's gilded future, success is always just around the corner. Europeanists need to wake up--or risk being left behind by an unlikely coalition.

by Author(s): James C. Bennett

Timothy Garton Ash, a British historical scholar of high reputation and a convinced Europeanist, has produced a work that promises to help move the debate toward a consensus on at least the underlying questions, if not necessarily the right answers to them. He imaginatively casts Britain as a four-faced Janus, looking simultaneously in four directions, each of which represents an aspect of British reality, and each of which calls Britain down a particular path. These four directions he identifies as Europe, the Anglosphere, the wider globalized world, and finally the inward-looking focus on the traditional Britain. The Europeanists call for the whole-hearted involvement of Britain in the European Union, the Anglospherists call for the rebuilding of institutional ties to the United States and the Commonwealth, the globalists emphasize the UN and other fully international or transnational bodies, and the Little-Englanders emphasize the recovery of traditional Britain with an unaligned, self-interested foreign policy. Resolving this "Janus dilemma" is both Britain's problem and a wider problem of the Euro-Atlantic West.

Ash's formulation is a welcome advance for the Euro-Atlantic debate. One of the principal obstacles to a useful discussion of Euro-Atlantic issues and Britain's options therein has been the insistence by the Europeanist side that Britain is entirely a European power and that its Anglospherist side is either defunct or irrelevant. Ash states forthrightly that "the Anglosphere is an economic reality", both in the sense that the economies of the English-speaking nations share a recognizable and distinct profile compared to others, and that they do a very substantial amount of business with each other. He cites also the "Inglehart Human Values and Beliefs" study, which found that English-speaking nations form a separate and distinct cluster from other world cultures. So for Ash, the question becomes, "what formulation of interests balances Britain's European, Anglosphere, global and inward sides?"

His question is useful because it proceeds primarily from his awareness of the new global situation: one in which the need for the poorest of the Earth to catch up, the need for the newer developed nations to prosper, and the need for the old developed nations to preserve their prosperity each gets due attention. His answer is, basically, for the developed nations, and particularly the Euro-Atlantic West, to set aside whatever differences they have, renew the mutually advantageous working relationships they enjoyed between 1945 and 1989, and focus on creating a genuinely global prosperity.

In pursuit of this goal he makes a remarkable plea for mutual understanding, reaching out to Americaphobes in Europe and Europhobes in America. His attempt at explaining the actions of the United States since September 11, 2001 from the American point of view for the benefit of Europeans is fascinating to read. If it had been written by any literate American other than a convinced internationalist, it would seem like an unremarkable statement of reality. In fact, it represents a stupendous feat of imaginative reconstruction on Ash's part, comparable to Anthony Burgess's writing a first-person novel-length narrative from a homosexual viewpoint in Earthly Powers.

Given this recognition of the genuine case for an Anglosphere identity and dimension, two questions for Britain regarding Europe arise. First, is Britain a European nation with a special relationship to the United States, or is it an Anglosphere nation with a special relationship to Europe? Second, given that it must interact with both spheres, what should the exact nature of the institutional ties with each be? Ash does not really answer the first question, although his presentation gives plenty of evidence for the idea that its Anglosphere identity is primary, while his stated conclusions imply that the European predominates. Ash's answer to the second question is essentially that Britain must fulfill its destiny by participating fully in the European Union and embracing further integration. But it must also attend to its Anglosphere side by pursuing larger Euro-Atlantic integrative structures, such as a trans-Atlantic free-trade area and a revived NATO integration.

Laudable as such structures are, Ash at the last minute weakens his argument by shying away from the difficult points. His diagnosis is convincing, his prescription less so. The question comes back to this: Are the structures of the EU the best vehicle for resolving Britain's need to maintain both cross-Channel and intra-Anglosphere ties? And are the structures of the European Union adequate to the task of maintaining the integration of Europe in the wider Euro-Atlantic world, and in the world in general?

Before attempting to answer this question, it would be highly advisable to read Booker's and North's The Great Deception. These authors, experienced journalists and committed British Euroskeptics, have written a history of how the EU came to be and what the consequences of its peculiar genesis have been. The book is a substantial achievement. It meticulously documents the origins and development of the Union, and in the process destroys a number of common myths, including ones beloved of Euroskeptics and Europhiles alike. For example, although they write from a Euroskeptic perspective, the authors dispel the charges made by many Euroskeptics, including historian John Laughland, that the EU derives primarily from wartime Nazi plans for a Europaische Wirtschaftgemeinschaft (European Economic Community, also the original name of the EU). They demonstrate that such plans were never much more than a propaganda exercise to permit collaborationists to rally local support in occupied countries, and that there was no significant continuity between this planning and postwar Europeanist activity.

On the other hand, they re-examine the myth that the EU was the product of gallant anti-Nazi resistance fighters who wished to make sure that war and tyranny would never trouble Europe again. In fact, Booker and North demonstrate that the Europeanist idea dates back to the experience of Jean Monnet and a handful of European bureaucrats in the First World War. They first glimpsed that the way to achieve intra-European economic (and ultimately political) integration was through the same kind of unelected international technical organizations, such as the World War One Inter-Allied Maritime Transportation Board, in which they routinely made decisions that affected the economies of a third of the globe.

It was these experiences that led Monnet and a few partners to set up a series of economic bodies during the chaos of postwar reconstruction, beginning with the European Coal and Steel Community. Having once established them, they relentlessly expanded their reach. The underlying pretense--that the move toward European integration was primarily an economic rather than political exercise--is the "Great Deception" of the book's title. Like a miser hoarding his coins, Europeanists never missed an opportunity to shift power away from nation-states. This strategy led to the European Union, but also became its Achilles' heel. For in gathering power by stealth and exercising it without effective accountability, a substantial "democracy gap" arose--alas, not entirely to the creators' dissatisfaction.

Populations in many European countries repeatedly found their governments making decisions that went against their explicit wishes, and finding, like the Irish, that when they voted the "wrong" way on European matters in referenda, they were told in effect to "vote again until you get it right." This democratic deficit, inherent in this model of transnational governance, threatens to weaken support for European solutions just when the pressures of demography demand they be strengthened and reformed. For the British, who have an escape hatch in the form of their Anglosphere and global connections, this may not be fatal. But for the Continental Europeans, their pressing problems require a realistic assessment of their global situation.

Draw a circle on the map of a thousand miles radius, centered on Brussels. Within that circle the states are free and democratic, and military conflict is virtually unthinkable. Now draw a similar thousand-mile circle centered on Tokyo. Within that circle or very near lie a half-dozen states. Three of them have nuclear weapons and the rest are close. These states are rising economic, technological and industrial powers. In contrast to Europe, it is highly conceivable that such weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, could be used at any time. The transnational institutions and agreements that preclude war in democratic Europe have little purchase in this region.

Europeanists have maintained that Europe's model is the world's future, but while Europeans were combining nation-states into a wider entity after World War II, northeast Asians were taking an existing single-market area (pre-war Japan, which integrated Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria) and turning it into separate nation-states, with equally prosperous results. Even today there is no visible movement to a Northeast Asian Union, although many writers automatically assume that other regions will imitate European structural models. Both Free World and The Great Deception suggest the conclusion that the EU is probably a one-off happenstance from unique historical circumstances. Once one leaves the immediate neighborhood of Brussels, transnationalism does not seem so inevitable.

America faces both Brussels and Tokyo, and must act in both of these universes. It deploys troops and nuclear weapons in both theaters. Is it any wonder that America cannot wholeheartedly adopt the Europeanist outlook?

Essay Types: Book Review