The Montesquieu Institute in The Hague gave me an opportunity, last Friday October 25th, to draw attention in The Netherlands to the dreadful European subservience to the United States. In this perhaps most Atlanticist country of Europe, remarks of the kind I make in this context are normally labelled in Dutch as “swearing in church”. But as it happened, in fact in a real church packed with over 600 listeners, the reception was surprisingly welcoming.
Former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, who was the other speaker for the “Europe Lecture”, is an engaging person whose demonstrated great political courage is matched with a political intelligence of the kind that allows him quickly to diagnose the state of health of political institutions and their relationships. It was an honour to share the stage with him.
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What does the world think of Europe? It does not much dwell on it, I am afraid.
Our continent is not doing much that makes it an entity about which one should have an opinion at all, except for its undeniable significance as an enormous market. Diplomatically it is virtually invisible; it is not a powerbroker, and it does not offer ideas about good international living that reverberate in other continents.
When Japanese, Chinese, Americans, and I suppose people from Africa and South America think about it at all, they do so as an area they may want to visit because of its sublime concentration of tourist attractions; in that respect there is no place quite like it.
When serious observers of international affairs think of Europe they most likely regard it as a realm of unrealized promise.
In the earlier stages of European unification, the unifiers and their supporters conceived of their union as something that could and would become nothing less than a good example, something to look up to and for the rest of the world to emulate. There was talk of a “new European century”; of Europe as a paragon of international virtues. One of Europe’s foremost philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, wrote that after solving the problems of welfare systems and government beyond the nation-state, Europe was in a position to defend and promote a cosmopolitan order on the basis of international law.
This kind of optimism used to be fairly widespread, and some of the assumptions that went into it are still taken for granted, as I discovered at the University of Amsterdam. The claim to superior political virtue and other self-congratulation have, in fact, produced rather supercilious attitudes even now, which understandably irritate non-Europeans.
The thinking of outsiders contrasting reality with earlier expectations is not much different, then, to what a vast number of people inside the Union think. With Europeans themselves the reality comes across as consisting more sharply of broken promises with respect to everyday matters, when they see welfare provisions dwindle, job security eroded, and proliferating nonsensical rules coming out of Brussels. The central technocracy, moreover, has helped create a smoke-screen behind which national governments may hide, and escape accountability.
In the Southen nations and Ireland, things are of course much worse.
Which brings us right away to what the euro crisis demonstrates: a basic failure at the root of most of Europe’s other failures.