Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Europe in the world of the "G-2"

"Living well is the best revenge"
George Herbert (1593 - 1633)
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The Lisbon Treaty, the European Union's de facto constitution, is finally ready to roll out. For euroskeptics it is much too much and for many europhiles it is much too little. In my opinion it is just one more patient step toward European unity. All the phases of European Union dating back to the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951, have been such small, patient steps. Lets look at what has been done up till now:
The EU has developed a single market through a standardized system of laws which apply in all member states, ensuring the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. It maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro, constituting the Eurozone. Wikipedia
The modern state is a European invention and the creation of the entities that became the states of Europe was far from instantaneous. The pooling of sovereignty, where powerful princes, wealthy cities and idiosyncratic regions, with all their traditional laws and privileges, submitted to be ruled by a single king didn't happen over night, or if it did it was usually accompanied by much blood; and even today there are quite a few regions in European states that feel restless. In  states such as Spain, France and the United Kingdom, the powerful centrifugal forces that were amply demonstrated in the disintegration of Yugoslavia are often active under the surface. So European unity is a work in progress... and always will be.

The Roman empire, created European unity and maintained it firmly under their sandals at sword point: until it finally fell apart. More recently both Napoleon and Hitler attempted to unify Europe at the point of a gun and both of them failed in rivers of blood. Today's unity is first and foremost about peace. Peace itself is the greatest conquest of all.

Europe has never before been such a peaceful place as it is today.

Europe has been the scene of the world's most horrific wars, both religious and mercantile and any euro-chauvinist would do well to remember what Mahatma Gandhi answered when asked his opinion of European civilization: "It would be a good idea", Churchill's "naked fakir" replied.

Today's European Union came into being in order to solve a specific problem: how to end the "Great European Civil War (1914-1945)" which had destroyed much of Europe, caused it to lose its foreign possessions and killed, mutilated and displaced countless millions of human beings. In 1945 Europe was what the Spanish call a "broken toy". That was the defining problem of Europe and it has been solved with enormous success. Until that problem had been solved, nothing else of importance could be done.

Although the combination of the words, "peace" and "process" have been devalued like a Wiemar Deutsch Mark in the Middle East, the European Union is, in fact, the result of a successful and ongoing, "peace process".  Those who are eager for the European Union to begin to act in the fashion of a classic nation state, super power or empire don't really understand this process, where it has come from and where it is headed.

The European Union is above all a stewardship, a husbanding of human resouces, of infrastructure, of culture, of wealth, health and perhaps above all an idea of the quality of human life... of what it means to live well in every sense: prosperity with social justice. That is a combination absent from every other part of the world... certainly absent from the "G-2", China and the USA.

There are many commentators that fear that Europe is going to become irrelevant as the USA and China divide up the world between them. Their fear of Europe's demise is premature. In fact, the EU may find itself "the last man standing".

China and America are entwined and tangled in an economic embrace that could damage both of them, if not beyond repair, enough to make them hardly recognizable for quite some time.
The Chimerican era is drawing to a close. Given the bursting of the debt and housing bubbles, Americans will have to kick their addiction to cheap money and easy credit. The Chinese authorities understand that heavily indebted American consumers cannot be relied on to return as buyers of Chinese goods on the scale of the period up to 2007. And they dislike their exposure to the American currency in the form of dollar-denominated reserve assets of close to $2 trillion. The Chinese authorities are “long” the dollar like no foreign power in history, and that makes them very nervous. Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick - NYT
So much for the intensely "relevant" USA and China.

It should not be forgotten that none of the great superpowers, not the USA, not China, nor Russia, is capable of building a decent automobile, something that Europe does splendidly, while simultaneously providing the workers who build the cars with a decent social net. Europe with its internal market of 450,000,000 people is still able to manufacture goods of a quality unmatchable anywhere except Japan and even Japan still cannot approach Europe in making high profit margin luxury goods: a Lexus, although a wonderful car, is not a Ferrari Testarossa.

The Americans now drown in debt, with deteriorating educational and transport systems, seemingly limited to what they apparently do best: killing people and blowing things up. The Chinese on the other hand, work day and night making cheap junk, without unions or health care and live like refugees from a Jacob Riis photograph.

All the while Europeans make top quality goods and protect their workers, maintain their infrastructure and health and education systems... and while the dollar and yuan race each other to the bottom, the Euro is a solid measure of value.

There is something of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper in all of this.

At the same time European regulations have become the world standard. The handiest example of this is the cell-phone, but this ability of the "faceless bureaucrats" of Brussels to define things like "butter" and "kilo" , or "plastic", or "bag", so that the entire world knows exactly what a kilo of butter or a cell phone or a plastic bag that can be sold to 450 million people consists of  is an achievement only rivaled by the law makers of ancient Rome. There is nothing irrelevant about this and certainly greater relevance is not gained by acting as the "tool kit" of an America struggling in the endless wars of its Götterdämmerung.

So Europe will continue its eternal round of boring committees, its purgatory of brain melting meetings that run into meetings and perhaps, someday, some dawn, the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels will stumble yawning out of another inconclusive meeting into the fresh air of a Belgian morning and suddenly realize that they have created the utopia that mankind has dreamt of since we trucked out of Eden. DS


Anonymous said...

Fine piece but you may want to reconsider the "live like rats" phrasing...

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

I didn't say that they were rats, I said they live like rats, which is not the same thing. At various occasions in my life, I too have lived like a rat and so I know of what I speak.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

However on thought, you may be right... I shall change the word.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Thanks for the suggestion Anon, I changed "rats" for "refugees from a Jacob Riis photograph" and I think its even more effective besides being more pc

bailey said...

Great post. I'd agree, EU = No War, but for most Europeans, the EU is about the euro and schengen. That's partially why London has little influence no matter how much they stamp their feet and wish to impart influence in Brussels.

Germany and France are the engine that drives it, dictates it, many I talk with have little issue with the pace but we'd all like to see membership stagnate.