There is such a raging debate going on about the future of Europe that I thought I might as well join in from here, the southern tip of Africa – the long-forgotten wastelands of European rivalry. Down here affinity to Europe have more or less faded to almost nothing in the case of the average white person, to academic in the case of the few intellectuals, to a lingering nostalgia for their roots in the case of a smattering of older people. I guess I fall into the latter two categories with my interest in international politics and a certain appreciation for the European weltanschauung – the perspective they take on life. I always get the impression that it has been so annealed in the fire of their long and tumultuous history that it has acquired a kind of mellow ripeness. Of course, not all my impressions of Europe and Europeans are positive; some of the things they did during the colonial era, for example, were downright atrocious.
And then there are their union experiment plans to form a union – ultimately monetary and political, no less. The forces that energised those plans from the perspective of the main players at the time – France, oh yes, and Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War are clear, but even back in the days when the first moves were being made, a younger and relatively uninformed and naïve me, wondering around Europe, found it difficult to get my head around the idea of a Frenchman, an Italian, a German and a Dutchman agreeing to abandon what made them French, Italian, German and Dutch and subjecting themselves to the dictates of some vaguely representative body in Brussels.
This might lie at the core of it, but reading about and observing the way they went about devising and implementing the plans to get to their goal in practice, from the poorly thought-through implementation of the Euro, to the hugely costly and painfully frantic Brussels bureaucracy trying to regulate everything from the thickness of toilet paper to the number a breaths allowed by pigs before breakfast, to their bungling treatment of NATO, to their almost frantic admittance of new members, to their reaction to the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, to their handling of the refugee crisis makes one wonder whether they ever consider the longer term impact of their decisions, despite the army of bureaucrats they have accumulated for their convenience. I get the feeling that even if the idea of a Union was ever practically viable in principle it may now have been so soured that fixing it will require the calibre of statesmen and –women that are simply in too short supply. In the meantime their society seems to slowly degenerate into indecisive chaos and brooding discontent with sharp sparks of strident rhetoric (like the latest after the Paris atrocities) at yet another fruitless summit.
No wonder that several anti-EU political parties have begun to emerge and gain support despite their often somewhat wayward policies; and that David Cameron, under pressure from his own electorate, agitates for economic cooperation based on agreements without political integration and central regulation – and he apparently has some support from Nordic countries.
One has to be careful of lightly remarking about the end of the EU, given the enormous ramifications for Europeans and international community that would follow, but let me admit that I have long muttered privately to my partner that if the Union was to survive at all, it would be in a very different form – nations grouped together more logically, or a different relationship between members.
It was, then, a kind of vindication to read a piece by STRATFOR (https://www.stratfor.com/) this morning discussing a report published in a Dutch newspaper about a debate in the Dutch parliament on the possibility of a smaller version of the Schengen area involving only Germany, the Low Countries and Austria.
Most importantly, the suggested group of countries have quite a lot in common historically, culturally and economically. I’m nowhere near brave enough to put forward an opinion on the viability of some sort of union between them (one has to be especially cautious after some apparently great minds have managed to convince themselves of the viability of a concoction like the EU), but I will say that it would make a lot more sense than between, say, Holland and Italy. So, could this perhaps be the timid start to leaders considering a different-looking Union? In fact, different kinds of alliances such as the Visigrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) have already started emerging from under the umbrella of the EU – not least because of the incompetence and inability of the Brussels bureaucracy to face up to realities.
As the STRATFOR analyst noted, notably (maybe quite understandably) absent from the mooted Dutch grouping was France – probably the key mover for European union from the start. But again, if unions are to be the order of the day, wouldn’t some sort of southern European or Mediterranean grouping be more sensible for France and its southern neighbours than what we have now? Of course such an arrangement of nations (a Northern and a Southern European block) would present a totally different chess board, with enormous economic and political implications for Europe and the world. It would be fascinating to work through the possible scenarios. I hope the LEADERS will, when they consider changes.
What I find interesting in all of this though is how the fall of events in many ways seem to be favouring Russia at this point in its bid to again rise to a dominant global power. The EU has never been a highly effective political entity and it seems to be heading towards an even looser association or possibly more than one grouping, and that moves the balance of power more in Russia’s favour and is likely to present it with better economic and political options to exploit. Of course, the Russians have their challenges, some daunting, but I have to admit that I admire how cleverly Mr Putin is playing the few cards he has – just imagine for a moment if he had in his hand all the cards the US is holding. Where would Russia have stood then?
Of course, the US is holding those cards today because of what they had done politically and economically in the past, and the bits of good and bad luck they have had along the way, so some credit due there. One also has to grant that the strategic motives of the two countries are different (although I sometimes wonder if the US has any clear strategic motives) but the point is, what is happening in Europe is likely to cause a significant shift in the global power balance away from the US, and they seem to be doing a lot of punching into fresh air, or at the wrong opponent and often for the wrong reasons and they are squandering their strength and may be losing their opportunities in the world…