One of the difficulties of discussing the future (if any) of European countries is the insistence by people who are supposedly sceptical of the European Union of talking about “Europe”. This is true about numerous American publications and websites and the worst perpetrators are the think-tanks on both sides
When the British think-tank Centre for European Reform, which is wholly sympathetic to the “European project” (it used to take a perestroika view of a need to reform and readjust but no longer does so) talks of a “European social policy” or a “European farm policy”, the terminology is understandable. But when a website like Brussels Journal, which boasts of its opposition to European integration, or a think-tank like Open Europe produce postings or, in the case of the latter, papers and discussions about the best way forward for “Europe” one needs to call a halt.
Let us return to our muttons. To all political intents and economic purposes, there is no such thing as Europe. To argue, for instance, as one well-known American Republican politician did some years ago in London that the European Right must have the same crucial debate that the American Right had had some time before, in order to recreate itself and face the new century is fatuous. The European Right does not exist in any coherent sense. The Right in Central Europe is completely different from the Anglospheric British or American one, though there is the occasional overlap. France divides politically along fault-lines that are not repeated anywhere else. And the Right in Scandinavia tends to be somewhere around the moderate Left everywhere else.
Europe is a geographical expression, though there is some debate about its boundaries. It is, to a great extent, a cultural expression but mostly as opposed to certain other cultural entities. Even in this we can see the almost unbridgeable differences when we look at the spread of “European cultures” to the New World. The massive difference between the Anglospheric and Hispanic colonization and the countries that have grown out of them has been well documented.
Historically, the European experience is very varied. In the west it was largely defined by various wars between Catholics and Protestants and the ongoing struggle between England (later Britain) and France, the east’s experiences centred first on the split between the Latin and the Orthodox Churches, then, for centuries, on the fight against the Ottoman Empire.
Even such supposedly unifying historical events as the Second World War left very different marks on the many different countries. It is not just a question of whether you were on the winning or the losing side. There is the matter of whether there had been an occupation and if so, how many, how popular and how long did they last. Which parts of the population or the political elite supported which occupation? Where does treason lie? One can go on asking these questions for a very long time.
There is, of course, the European Union, a political construct of massive complexity, which has reached the point of non-reformability. One assumes that the muddle-headed calls for European reform often mean the reform of the EU. They usually come from people who have no understanding of the organization or its structure. In order to hand social policy back to the member states, as suggested by a recent Open Europe paper, there needs to be an amendment to the consolidated treaties. To achieve this, there needs to be an Inter-Governmental Conference and an agreement by all 25 member states; the amended treaty has to be ratified by all of the latter. An unlikely sequence of events.
It is true that the EU frequently prevents the member states from developing their own changes and reforms. On the other hand, if the various governments were really determined to carry them through they could do so, without monumental EU reforms. (This does not apply to anything that has become EU competence like external trade.)
But to talk of reforming the European economy or agriculture or social model is to accept the whole European integration project, which is nonsensical in most ways. There is no such thing as a European economy, as the tensions within the eurozone prove quite conclusively.
There is no such thing as a common European interest, which means there can be no common European foreign policy.
The differences in the agriculture of the various states are so great that the straitjacket of any common policy, however reformed is unlikely to help anyone. How can countries like Greece, Finland, France and Britain all be part of a common agricultural policy? It is pointless even to talk about its reform that would somehow push European agriculture into the world. Individual countries might be able to open up to the world (or might decide not to do so) and might compete. Europe can do no such thing.
The creation of the European concept in economy, agriculture, environment etc is merely a method to enhance political integration. Those who talk of European reforms, European opening up, European development in the twenty-first century have accepted the integration project and cannot see its inherent senselessness.
Cross-posted from Albion’s Seedlings