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Thursday, August 09, 2012

The choice facing Europe: Conformity or Diversity?

For German speakers, this op-ed from Berthold Kohler - one of FAZ’s editors-in-chief - is definitely worth a read. We've translated the key bits below.

Without lapsing into populism, Kohler nails the problem with the narrative pushed around by certain politicians that: "the only choice available to Europeans is to seek refuge in a political union". However, as Kohler argues, this is a false dichotomy:
“Among the alleged certainties was one that the organisation of Europe only ever grew in its times of crisis. However, many of the contradictions, differences, and conflicts of interest that led to the previous escalations of crises were merely pushed aside, glossed over or covered up with a lot of (German) money. These skeletons in the closet of the European house played an essential role in ensuring that the over-indebtedness of states evolved into the mother of all EU-crises.”
“By and large, it is no longer seriously disputed that it was a mistake to establish a monetary union without having first laid the foundations for a common budget, fiscal and social policy. The participating states were not ready to accept the relinquishment of sovereignty that this would have entailed; many EU member states are still not ready… Warnings of experts were at best ignored; the euro was portrayed as a miracle healer in of itself… This belief-bubble has, like similar such speculations, burst. Yet the debris of earlier European political axioms have already clumped together to form a new dogma. There is only one choice: giving up the euro and returning to national currencies – regularly associated with the ‘failure’ of Europe and a return to the Middle Ages – or a great leap into a political union which alone can save the euro.”
“The Europeans are thereby told that in truth they have no choice, there is only one way out of the crisis – the one that the majority of them previously did not want to take. For this reason, the descriptions of the political union are made largely vague. The small print is not very popular. Any form of standardization is associated with a loss of diversity and autonomy.”
Kohler concludes that:
“Not only the economic and national conditions in the participating countries, but also their political presumptions and ideals utopias are still too disparate as to be able to be accommodated within a political union. To believe that this variability could be reduced to a common denominator with a single strike of constitutional and political genius, which the peoples of Europe will enthusiastically agree to in the face of all previous experiences, is to underestimate the strength of their cultures, collective memories, myths and mentalities – the very diversity that belongs to the essence of Europe.”

Writing in Die Welt, politics correspondent Alan Posener makes a similar point:
“The crisis in Europe is not only about money but also the limits of ‘ever closer union’. Jean Monnet’s model of integration by means of the supranational [European] Commission is outdated... This is a good thing…it is time for proper democracy in Europe.”
Outdated indeed.


Anonymous said...

What is really staggering is that the realisation that we are all different is only now coming to the fore!

Bob Lagaaij said...

Three hurrah's for mr Kohler: an excellent analysis but , I am afraid, coming too late. The train to Brussel Central is, despite some circles in Germany,in full speed leaving one for one the small stations along the line.

Denis Cooper said...

The position of the British government on this dilemma is perfectly clear.

As much conformity as possible for the rest of you, as quickly as possible.

Why don't you just get on and do it?

We won't stand in your way, and if you want more EU treaty changes we won't even ask for any other EU treaty changes in return for our agreement.

But not for us; not yet, not until we're left in a position where we obviously have no choice but to join you in your conformity, and if necessary can convince our backward population to accept it.

Bugsy said...

This a clear demonstration of the arrogance of the political elite everywhere in Europe. If you do what we tell you it will be o.k.

Ted Heath said at the time we joined that it was too difficult for the us to understand and that we should simply allow ourselves to be led.

Rollo said...

You could phrase it like that, choosing conformity or diversity. Or you could say that the attempt to impose an undemocratic rule, by a collection of self serving politicians and bureaucrats, is a total failure and should be resisted by every possible means by every right thinking person.

Average Englishman said...

Anonymous. You are very charitable to believe that this is the first time European politicians have understood that the various peoples of Europe really do have different cultures and aspirations that cannot be stuffed successfully into a single superstate.

The EU elite have always known this but have chosen to ignore it; partly for their own benefit (keeping the EU gravy train going along with their new Mercedes and expenses) and partly from a misplaced belief if they just ignore the concerns of the masses they will, eventually, go away.

Well, as the Americans say, it is time for a reality check. An Open Europe blogger accused me recently of being naive when I voted for the UK to join a Common Market in 1975 without realizing the joys of the EU superstate that were to come. Have most of the politicians of Europe been naive on a grand scale over the last 30 years or so or, perhaps they were negligent or worse still, perhaps they were criminal in their intent to forge a new superstate without the consent of the people?

History will be the judge but my money is on the last of these three. I believe that the politicians and bureaucrats supporting full EU integration knew exactly what they were doing and have pressed ahead with their pet project regardless of the bad consequences, to satisfy their own arrogant belief that the end justifies the means (oh and those Mercedes are very nice cars). They are extremists that wear moderates' clothing.

Lenin was all for causing chaos and then offering the Communist Party as the only reasonable solution to that chaos, and Franco was quite content for as many people as necessary to die in the Spanish Civil War if only his concept of a Spanish nation state could be preserved.

In essence, the EU evangelist politicians are the same; without the violence - yet. They knew that the Euro would come to its current state of grief in due course but expected this to be an opportunity to bring more integration out of the chaos they had created. Also, although we do not have a civil war in Europe (yet) I suspect that the same people would consider a few (hundred? - thousand? - tens of thousands?), of dead rioters to be an acceptable price to pay for the forging of their New Europe.

Only time will tell how this saga eventually plays out but I am feeling more hopeful by the day, as more and more people realize what is really going on and refuse to see their democratic rights ignored. I am particularly delighted to see that democracy is alive and well in Germany and hooray for that!

Anonymous said...

But, what does all of this mean in practical terms?

Tom said...

Is it deliberate that the EU makes a 'mistake' to establish a monetary union then tells us that our only answer to their mistake is to seek refuge in a political union or return to the middle ages
How arrogant but we the voters will have the last laugh, just look at the trial referendum votes in Cheadle and Hazel Grove, and remember these are former Lib-Dem voters look out David Cameron

Anonymous said...

Greece is living proof of how anti-democratic the EU has become. Greece is run by an unelected Troika who care nothing that austerity is killing the country. The Troika - and the rest of Europe - yawn while austerity drives Greece to massive impoverization and catastrophic unemployment. Greece needs to rid itself of the Euro, print its own money, and start deciding its own destiny again.

Idris Francis said...

Having been more or less indifferent to the EU, but in favour in principle of free trade, I realised all of this in about 30 seconds at the time of Maastricht, when I saw that working time would be limited by law to 48 hours a week (I worked 70 to 80 for 30 years)

Accordingly I agree completely with, and warmly welcome these comments from Germany - EXCEPT for this one important point:

It was NOT A MISTAKE "....to establish a monetary union without having first laid the foundations for a common budget, fiscal and social policy".

As we now know from leaked documents and other reports, and as I was told by a close observer of these things as long ago as 1998, the EU went ahead with the euro qute deliberately KNOWING PERFECTLY WELL that it could not and would not work, that it would inevitably cause a major crisis, intending to use that crisis - as they are currently doing - to grab the power they knew they could never achieve openly and democratically.

PRECISELY this form of power grab - "Only a single European State can solve this problem" was described in detail at a small dinner at the IoD at that time.

Once again I make the point here that the only way to deal with such people is to get out - and having saved ourselves, save the others by our example. To coin a phrase,

David Barneby said...

This EU talk , that Good Times Are Just Around The Corner is a total nonsense . Suppose we all take the path to convergence , unity ; that isn't going to work either . Even if Germany took over all the member states , they will not be able to create rich industrial economies as in Germany , because the people are all different and won't take it . A single federal state would be a transfer economy . The wealth created in the north being shared with the south would bankrupt the whole or lead to WWIII . This Soviet communist idea has already been carried too far and will never succeed , no matter how hard they try . The EEC that many thought a good idea has been destroyed by the imbalances created by the single currency , one size does not fit all !