Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The view from over here - 2

And so to the European Union. Russian aggression would not be so bad, would not even happen if President Putin "not a particularly wise man but not stupid, either" had not sensed a basic weakness in the West and, in particular, in the European Union.

The problem, in my opinion, is one that the good Professor does not want to acknowledge as he cleaves to the US foreign policy establishment's views: weakness is inherent in the European Union because of the way it is structured and because its basic lack of real purpose in the real world. That would never be acknowledged by somebody who thinks it was the American foreign policy's greatest achievement.

Professor Mead's list of specific problems that face the EU was interesting though not every item was exactly new to some of us.

The biggest of all problems has been the shift to information economy, which, together with globalization, put great pressure on wage rates and employment. This has continued through the last few decades and has been affecting ever more parts of employment. Is this actually a problem or an opportunity? That depends on how you identify yourself.

European self-identity, particularly since the Second World War (though that event was not mentioned by Professor Mead) has been what might be termed the blue social model: a stable society, a fair amount of government control of the economy and the existence of national champions, all of which may have looked particularly inviting in the late forties and fifties but has long turned stability into stagnation. (Then again, that is precisely the model that UKIP is promoting in its policies, if one can use that word.)

This model or assumption did not allow and still does not allow for the changes that flow out of technological and informational upheavals; instead people's certainties have been destroyed and the institutions that were supposed to provide them have lost their legitimacy. Well, well, so the European project was predicated on an assumption that did not take into account inevitable changes? How many blogs did I write on that subject? How many articles in such publications as the European Journal? I have long lost count.

The second problem is the demographic transition that will require some rethinking on the subject of the welfare state and care for the old. As a matter of fact, what this does require is some rethinking, particularly in Britain about the employability of older people. While people live longer, are healthier and keep their marbles longer (assuming they had them in the first place and I do not mean the Elgin ones) employers, NGOs that call themselves charities and unions continue to exist in a world of about sixty years ago when anyone who lived for three score years, never mind the extra ten, was to be treated as one who could no longer do anything but doze in the sun.

The third problem is the poor functioning and perceived illegitimacy of the European institutions. They are far too bureaucratic, function poorly and are not well regarded by an ever growing section of Europe's population. (I need not say that this came as a complete shock and surprise to me.) At a time, added Professor Mead when no European country can cope on its own (as when could they?) it is not helpful to have European institutions that actually make that coping far more difficult.

The obvious answer is to start thinking how European countries could create links and alliances with some institutions that would strengthen them and not destroy their economy but this is not an idea that comes easily to someone who really does think that the European project was going to be one that lived by liberal ideas of law, justice and liberty. (I kid you not. That is what some American supporters of the EU quite genuinely think they had helped to bring about. Now they are, understandably, upset.)

Problem number four was that the various shifts in political and, especially, economic structures affect different countries differently. Thus Britain, German and the Nordic countries have done reasonably well while France and the Mediterranean ones have not. These tensions would have emerged even without ....

Problem number five: the euro.

Well, all I can say is d'uh! I mean, no, nobody, absolutely nobody said any of this ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And what did we get in response from the likes of Professor Mead: oh don't worry, it will be fine, European integration is a grand idea, it will be the envy or the world. (NO, do NOT get me on to that subject.)

So, President Putin looked at this seriously dysfunctional structure with political institutions that are not considered to be legitimate and huge economic tensions and thought "hey, I could be President of that easily". No, sorry, he thought, "hey, I can invade anything I like and they will do nothing". And so he did. Well, up to a point. He invaded Crimea and semi-invaded Luhansk and Donetsk. The West did nothing and the EU, in particular, cannot decide what it should do and how to go about doing anything.

Could this have been avoided? Well, possibly, but that would have required an understanding of President Putin's mentality and of Russia's essential weakness. On the other hand, I do not agree with Professor Mead that Putin has inflicted one propaganda defeat on the Europeans and the Americans after another. In what way has he won the propaganda war? In that, apparently, he has continuing support in Russia, no matter what he does? That was to be expected. In that some people, so engrossed in their own little problems that they cannot understand what has been going on in Russia and see Mr Putin as the leader of the anti-Western world thus to be supported? Slightly more surprising but, again, not a huge achievement. But Russia is not exactly a popular country and all suggestions of her allying herself with China and Iran, creating a huge bloc of anti-Western powers fall down, as Professor Mead said, on the fact that China is not particularly interested. An alliance with Iran and what remains of Assad's Syria has considerably less cachet.

Here we should have come to the point of what is to be done with the fact that history has returned and we cannot get away from it. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my first blog, there was no real answer. Apparently, it would be a good idea if the US and the UK would stop criticizing everything those nasty Europeans do and engage in some sort of dialogue to sort things out.

Well, to start with, we are in different positions. When the US throws up its collective hands up in horror, they do so as outsiders who feel that the wonderful structure they helped to create did not turn out all that well and they are going to have to come back to sort everyone out. When the UK .... ahem ... throws up its collective hands up in horror it is with the knowledge that we are part of this whole shambolic structure, that we have wilfully abandoned the idea of our own foreign policy in order to help create a common one, that we are among the most obedient member states.

The problem from the point of view of Professor Mead and the foreign policy establishment in the US is that for some bizarre reason of their own they saw "Europe" or the European project as something they could point to as an example to all and sundry. That makes me wonder whether they actually understand the concept of history at all. It is the history of Europe that makes the European Union an impossible proposition unless, as its founders knew full well, it is imposed rapidly and ruthlessly on the populations; but it is also the history of such areas as the Middle East or South-East Asia or Africa that makes any imitation of what Europe does unlikely. That, dear readers, is what the return of history really means.

Meanwhile, what is to be done (to quote that terrible novel and equally terrible political tract)? Well, it seems that the Yanks will have to come back.

And we won't come back till it's over, over there. 

1 comment:

  1. Add in eleven (yes ELEVEN) days of a stomach virus on top of all of that, and it becomes a week we'd all rather forget. over here