Vision wanted,
a rvw by JOHANN HARI [ID]
Mark Leonard

In its fifty-four-year history, the European Union has never needed a campaigning, populist manifesto more than it does today. Euroscepticism has now stretched across the EU from traditionally federalist Ireland to its newest members in the East. The victors in the most recent continent-wide elections for the European Parliament in 2004 were apathy and extreme anti-European parties like the United Kingdom Independence Party, the League of Polish Families and the Movement for France. Some opinion polls suggest that a majority of European citizens now oppose the continuing existence of the European Union in any form. The EU -- the most remarkable experiment in transnational governance in the world -- currently exists despite its citizens, not because of them. So it is encouraging to see the publishers, Fourth Estate, marketing Mark Leonard's book across the European Union as a short, crusading work aimed at a mass readership. Because so much of the news we hear about the European Union is negative -- the rise of acidic skepticism, the looming pensions crisis -- it is refreshing to read a lucid account of the EU's strengths. Leonard rightly describes contemporary Europe as "a continent with one of the most successful foreign policies in history .... In just fifty years, war between European powers has become unthinkable; European economies have caught up with America; and Europe has brought successive waves of countries out of dictatorship and into democracy".

But Leonard's optimism is not solely based on Europe's past. He argues that the European model is actually better suited to the challenges of the twenty-first century -- and more likely to survive them -- than tooled-up American hegemony. He explains:

For all the talk of American Empire, the last two years [since the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq] have above all been a demonstration of the limits of American power. America's economic lead over the rest of the world has disappeared (in 1950, its GDP was twice the size of Western Europe's and five times Japan's; today its GDP is the same size as the EU's and less than double that of Japan); American dominance is only clear-cut on two levels: the ability to fight and win intensive conventional wars, and the ubiquity of American popular culture [i.e., pop-arts (ID)].

Neither of these forms of dominance is well suited to the major challenges of this century: climate change, the rise of non-state terror groups, and the spread of diseases like AIDS. The best way to approach these problems, Leonard argues, is with the tools the European Union has developed. The United States is uniquely powerful at the moment only if power is measured according to twentieth-century indicators: raw military force and Hollywood. In fact,

to understand the shape of the twenty-first century, we need a revolution in the way we think about power. The overblown rhetoric directed at the "American Empire" misses the fact that US reach -- militarily and diplomatically -- is both shallow and narrow. The strength of the EU, conversely, is broad and deep: once sucked into its sphere of influence, countries are changed forever.

Contrast, for example, the US influence on Colombia -- with its "Plan Colombia" and lethal "War on Drugs" -- with the EU influence on its nearest neighbors, Turkey and the Ukraine. Here, change has been slower -- but it has also been less expensive, more consensual and much harder to reverse. The impact of these more subtle European tactics should not be underestimated:

[when] Russia signs up to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions in order to smooth relations with the European Union; when Poland reverses decades of practice to introduce constitutional protection for ethnic minorities to be allowed to join the EU; when an Islamist government in Turkey abandons its own party's proposals for a penal code that makes adultery a crime punishable by law so as not to attract the ire of Brussels .... then we need to question our definitions of power and weakness.

So what are these new methods of exerting power evolved by the EU? Try "passive aggression", Leonard's neat label for the way Europe deals with its neighbours. "Rather than relying on the threat of exercising its power to secure its interests, Europe relies on the threat of not using it -- of withdrawing the hand of friendship and the prospect of membership", the author explains. This slow dance with Turkey has been far more effective in transforming that society than the more costly (and far more bloody) US approach to Colombia or Mexico.

Indeed, Leonard says that -- through its pursuit of soft power -- the EU has evolved a new form of sovereignty that can "giv[e] governments control over policies that had become global". The old bounded nation state -- pioneered by Europe and jealously guarded (at least within its own borders) by the US -- now actually restricts meaningful democracy. Leonard offers this example:

In Norway there is the appearance of sovereignty because the Norwegian Parliament is technically the highest authority in the country; but the reality is that many of the areas that they discuss are beyond their control. The parliament is the political equivalent of Robinson Crusoe on his desert island, who, in the words of Geoffrey Howe, was "sovereign of everything and master of nothing". By contrast, Ireland has pooled some of its sovereignty and regained control of its destiny.

Leonard spends the first part of Why Europe Will Run the Twenty-First Century making this exhilarating case. The logical purpose for the second half of his book would be to answer the obvious follow-on questions: why are so few of Europe's citizens persuaded of these real, massive strengths? How can we solve the obvious problems besetting the Union? Instead, he embarks on a series of evasions, vacuities and even apologies for dictatorship that seriously undermine his earlier, valuable chapters.

For example, only in uncritical partnership with China can Europe hope to "run the twenty-first century", he says. Leonard is not honest (or informed) enough to say that this would be -- at best -- a strategic alliance with a government antithetical to all meaningful European values. Instead, he argues that the Chinese government is already a clean, ethically unobjectionable partner. "Certainly, the Chinese have gone to great lengths to communicate their desire for peace", he declares. This will be news to the people of Taiwan, who have just been threatened -- yet again -- with a violent invasion and the crushing of their democracy if they voted the "wrong" way. Leonard says in passing, "There is talk of the next big revolution [in China] being one of democracy, with elections being introduced at city and state level. However, this will be a long-term process". But the Chinese government is currently reversing democracy in Hong Kong and provoking mass protests on the island's streets. Even those moderate democratic movements that currently exist within China are being crushed.

Leonard's chapter on China raises a troubling question for any pro-European. If a prominent Europhile can laud China as "one of the most important agents of transformative power" and for "adapting Europe's recipe for success to its own region", what does Europeanism as it currently stands amount to? The only value represented by Europe that is in any sense shared by the Chinese Communist Party is multilateralism. At its core, this seems -- dismayingly -- to be the sole value shared by all pro-Europeans right now.

It is grim to see the European moral tradition boiled down to a technique of foreign policy negotiation. For some pro-Europeans like Mark Leonard, it doesn't seem to matter what you do multilaterally; multilateralism is an end in itself. The heinous Common Agricultural Policy that is starving Africa? The occupation of Tibet? The slaughter of Falun Gong adherents and Chinese trade unionists? So long as it is done in cooperation with other governments, it can be defended as "transformative" and "democratic".

At times, Leonard defends the EU as an empty vessel, saying: "The European vision has never aimed to establish a single model of human progress; it is about allowing diverse and competing cultures to live together in peace". He lauds Europe's founding fathers -particularly Jean Monnet [ID] -- precisely because they refused to have a positive agenda for Europe. "Monnet's contribution was a vision of how not to have a vision .... He let the fear of conflict drive European unity and left its goal vague, allowing everyone to feel Europe was going their way."

At other times, Leonard defends the EU as the upholder of a very specific political agenda: buttressing Europe's social democratic model [LOOP] against creeping neoliberalism and excessive corporate influence. Only in this latter argument does he approach a pro-Europeanism that might yet have popular support and lasting influence. But Leonard’s intellectual incoherence should not blind us to the populist possibilities he has stumbled on. He points out -- correctly -- that the European model proves there is no “crude trade-off between employment and equality”. He rejects the American idea “that the only route to high employment is one of bad jobs, high insecurity, poverty pay and extreme inequalities. On the contrary, it is the countries with the most generous welfare states -- Sweden, Denmark, Norway [ID], Ireland and the Netherlands -- that have the highest levels of total employment".

If the European Union is to become legitimate in the eyes of its citizens, it must adopt a defining, campaigning purpose -- and the defense of European social democracy is the most attractive cause in town. European citizens are acutely aware that their welfare states and the social protection these afford are being undermined -- and there is a strong argument to be made that only the EU can provide the collective strength to preserve them. Yet Leonard cannot decide: should Europe be built on this, or should it cling to a Monnet-style anti-vision and try to be all things to all citizens? Have we reached the limits of an ethically and politically blank EU? The "invisible European hand" Leonard praises -- and rightly traces back to Monnet -- may have been necessary for the Union to develop up to this point, but is it sustainable? There is a risk that continuing with the Monnet approach is only feeding the dangerous anti-European idea that the Union is a "conspiracy" or "plot" -- a gift to eurosceptic demagogues from Jean-Marie Le Pen [ID] to Robert Kilroy-Silk. Defending social democracy cannot be done invisibly.

Yet Leonard seems at best tepid about the merits of real democracy. While he loves the idea of spreading democracy in the abstract terms he uses to discuss Turkey and Ukraine, he seems to have little sense of how to foster a thriving European democracy. He is sanguine about the EU's current democratic deficit, saying breezily that "the reason that people do not turn out in their droves to vote for the European Parliament ... is [that] none of the issues in which the EU specializes appears anywhere on the list of issues voters care about".

Indeed, at times, he implies that the "genius" of Monnet somehow tricked Europe into a half-century of peace. He does not seem to understand that the popular desire of a majority of Europeans to avoid war was far more important than any top-down institutional innovation. Leonard never mentions democratic movements or how they could be encouraged; indeed, he discusses European populations as an inert mass who must be moulded and shaped from above.

The strange, empty nature of Leonard's invocations of democracy becomes clear when he writes -- with no irony -- "the problem is that Europe's democratic revolution has gone largely unnoticed by its citizens". Democracy is not a passive process, done to citizens by a technocratic elite. It is a process by which citizens shape the way they are governed. A democracy unnoticed by citizens is a nonsensical concept.

The hole where an intelligent, moral vision for the European Union has not been filled by Mark Leonard. The errors of the Heath-Giscard generation [ID]-[ID], who assumed European unification could be run as an elite project, are clear and should not be repeated. Europe cannot be entirely well when so many -- possibly most -- Europeans want to destroy the EU altogether. The pensions crisis cannot be waved away by simply saying "most demographic predictions turn out to be wrong". We need a reflective pro-Europeanism that both acknowledges the EU’s amazing, irreplaceable strengths and frankly admits the dizzying scale of its problems and need for reform. This is the only way to make the EU internally solid for the twenty-first century. We do not need a new wing of Europol [W] called Europollyanna.