Ian Buruma on Europe's Crisis
Ian Buruma has an interesting article on the European Union for Project Syndicate, "Is the European dream dead?" (December 8th, 2011).
I say "interesting" because it echoes some of the points that I've made over the past few years in occasional posts. For instance, I've noted the need to enhance European identity if the EU is to survive, though I believe that such strengthening is possible if grounded in the traditions of Western Civilization, broadly interpreted and deepened, though this won't be easy, and doesn't appear to be working very well at the moment, as Buruma notes:
Since the EU is neither a nation-state nor a democracy, there is no "European people" to see the EU through hard times. Rich Germans and Dutch do not want to pay for the economic mess in which the Greeks, Portuguese, or Spanish now find themselves.I wouldn't go so far as to declare that no European people exists. The Greeks, after all, got in for being who they are, one of the fountainheads of European Civilization. But the nations of the EU are flirting with nationalism and its risks, which I consider a latent danger in the European psyche, as Buruma also notes:
Instead of showing solidarity, . . . [the northern Europeans] moralize, as though all of the problems in Mediterranean Europe were the result of native laziness or its citizens' corrupt nature. As a result, the moralizers risk bringing the common roof down on Europe's head, and confronting the nationalist dangers that the EU was created to prevent.National identities are not necessarily inconsistent with Western identity, but extremist views of nationalism will wreck the European project and set European against European. One way to increase a sense of European identity would be to give the people of Europe a greater role in EU politics. I've long argued that the EU suffers from a "democratic deficit" and thus needs more democracy . . . but how? Buruma has similar thoughts:
Europe must be fixed politically as much as financially. It is a cliché, but nonetheless true, that the EU suffers from a "democratic deficit." The problem is that democracy has only ever worked within nation-states. Nation-states need not be monocultural, or even monolingual. Think of Switzerland . . . . But democracy does require that citizens have a sense of belonging.Is a stronger sense of belonging possible? Can Europe draw upon common traditions beyond its national differences for the sense of belonging needed to make a democracy work well enough for a greater sense of belonging to develop? Buruma also wonders:
Is this possible in a supra-national body like the EU? If the answer is no, it may be best to restore the sovereignty of individual European nation-states, give up on the common currency, and abandon a dream that is threatening to become a nightmare.But there is a price to be paid for such a break-up:
Still, even if disbanding Europe were possible, it would come at enormous cost. Abandoning the euro, for example, would cripple the continent's banking system, affecting both Germany and the affluent north and the distressed countries in the south. And, if the Greek and Italian economies face difficult recoveries inside the eurozone, consider how hard it would be to repay euro-denominated debts with devalued drachmas or liras.What, then, can be done? Buruma speculates:
Quite apart from the financial aspects, there would be a real danger of throwing away the benefits that the EU has brought, particularly in terms of Europe's standing in the world. In isolation, European countries would have limited global significance. As a union, Europe still matters a great deal.
The alternative to dismantling the EU is to strengthen it –- to pool the debt and create a European treasury. If European citizens are to accept this, however, the EU needs more democracy. But that depends upon a vital sense of European solidarity, which will not come from anthems, flags, or other gimmicks devised by bureaucrats in Brussels.Buruma sees the difficulty, but reminds us of the stakes:
For starters, affluent northern Europeans have to be convinced that it is in their interest to strengthen the EU, as it certainly is. After all, they have benefited most from the euro, which has enabled them to export cheaply to southern Europeans. While it is up to national politicians to make this case, the EU's governing institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg also have to be brought closer to European citizens.
Perhaps Europeans could vote for members of the European Commission, with candidates campaigning in other countries, rather than just in their own. Perhaps Europeans could elect a president.
Democracy may seem like a mad dream in a community of 27 nation-states, and perhaps it is. But unless one is prepared to give up on building a more united Europe, it is surely worth considering.We find Europe caught between a potentially impossible deeper union and a recognizably catastrophic threatening crack-up.
Which will it be?