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Recently I commented here on a New York Times piece in which Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford’s vaunted “Europe expert” and an indefatigable champion of European unity, made clear that, even in the face of the current euro disaster, his affection for the EU hasn’t diminished. Now, as if the Times piece weren’t enough, the current issue of Foreign Affairs turns out to contain a long celebration of the EU by Garton Ash. At the same time, by happy chance, Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament and eloquent Euroskeptic, has published a short book, A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, in which he makes a tidy case against the EU. Those still unsure of where they stand could do worse than to read Garton Ash and Hannan in tandem.
Let’s start with Garton Ash’s main argument for the EU – which is pretty much everybody’s main argument for the EU: that it’s kept European countries from going to war with one another. Garton Ash opens his Foreign Affairs essay by juxtaposing an account of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto on May 10, 1943, with what’s plainly meant to be a stirring vignette of ardent young EU supporters who – gathering in Warsaw on May 10, 2003, a month before the Polish vote on EU membership – fervently sang Friedrich Schiller’s words to the official EU anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Garton Ash quotes the words with manifest enthusiasm: “Be embraced, ye millions! This kiss to the entire world! Brothers, a loving father must live above that canopy of stars!” Yeesh. His point, of course, is to contrast Nazi horror with the delights of what he calls “a generous European welfare state” – and to suggest that this welfare state, which he views as a supremely civilized alternative to both American-style capitalism and Soviet-style Communism, is all that stands between Europe and a rerun of the Nazi nightmare.
Sound reasonable? OK, turn to Hannan, who reminds us that the Nazis made similar arguments for their own empire: it would bring Europeans together, give them a shared identity, and provide “a haven of civilization between two forms of barbarism: the Anglo-Saxon savagery of unregulated markets and crass commercialism, and the Soviet savagery of total communism.” As for the notion of the EU as a guarantor of peace, Hannan asks rhetorically: “Was the EU a cause of European peace, or was it a consequence of the peace brought about by the defeat of fascism, the spread of democracy and the Nato alliance? Is it a vaccine against Nazism, or simply the latest in a long line of presumptuous supra-national ideologies?” As for the “generous European welfare state,” Garton Ash seems in utter denial about the fact that it won’t be around much longer, thanks to declining birthrates and freeloading immigrants. In any event, as Hannan’s statistics show, the EU “hasn’t made its constituent nations wealthier” – much to the contrary, in fact.
It’s an article of faith among EU fans that nation-states are a bad thing, and that if Europeans want lasting peace they’ve got to transfer their loyalties to the superstate. Few have struggled more valiantly than Garton Ash to (as he puts it in Foreign Affairs) “generate…solidarity among [EU] citizens” and whip up “European compatriotism” while demonizing traditional patriotic flag-waving. Again, turn to Hannan, who reminds us that during World War II, “national citizenship was, for many European Jews and other victims, their only defence against the [Nazi] murderers”; that “[t]he worst massacres took place in those parts of Europe where there was nothing resembling a national government”; and that over time “national units have proved remarkably secure vessels of freedom” – bulwarks against the various isms “which purport to be bigger than the nation-state: fascism, Marxism, Islamic fundamentalism.” How would Britain have gotten through the Blitz without good old-fashioned patriotism?
Garton Ash acknowledges – he could hardly do otherwise – that “European integration has rightly been described as a project of the elites”; but in the next breath he insists that the EU has enjoyed the support of “a passive consensus among most of Europe’s national publics.” Balderdash. He himself admits that while most Germans “opposed giving up their treasured deutsch mark,” they weren’t asked their opinion about the matter. Similarly, he notes that the important EU decisions are made behind closed doors and that Europeans, realizing that their votes in EU elections are irrelevant, have participated in those farces in ever-shriveling numbers. Yet to Garton Ash, the fact that the EU has put a big dent in European democracy is a minor issue. Democratic or not, he knows the EU is good for Europe – and if most Europeans don’t agree, well, all the more reason to be glad that their opinions don’t count.
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