Europe: nationalism is at odds with national interest

This jointly written piece from Ulrich Beck and Anthony Gidden (all round genius and progenitor of the Third Way) reads more like a power memo than an argument. In it they place generic nationalism at odds the cosmopolitan project of the EU:

Thye put the case for the EU as positive, liberalising agent in the post Cold War era:

It has influenced political change as far away as Ukraine and Turkey – not, as in the past, by military, but by peaceful means. Through its economic innovations, it has played a part in bringing prosperity to millions, even if its recent level of growth has been disappointing. It has helped one of the very poorest countries in Europe, Ireland, to become one of the richest. It has been instrumental in bringing democracy to Spain, Portugal and Greece, countries that had previously been dictatorships.

However by its size and the ‘felt’ remoteness from its centres of power, there has been an accompanying sense of alienation:

But even in the new member states people ask: “Where does all this stop?” Even for those who profit most, the EU can feel like an agent of globalisation rather than a means of adapting to and reshaping it.

These feelings tend to stimulate an emotional return to the apparent safe haven of the nation. Yet if the EU were abolished overnight people would feel less rather than more secure in their national and cultural identities. Let’s say, for example, that the Eurosceptics in Britain got their way and the United Kingdom quit the EU altogether. Would the British then have a clearer sense of identity? Would they have more sovereignty to run their own affairs?

They go on to argue that the key to understanding the success of the EU in the teeth of sustained scepticism, is understanding an important paradox:

The persistence of the nation is the condition of a cosmopolitan Europe; and today, for reasons just given, the reverse is true too. For a long time the process of European integration took place mainly by means of eliminating difference. But unity is not the same as uniformity. From a cosmopolitan point of view, diversity is not the problem; it is the solution.

They argue in favour of expansion particular of the accession of Turkey, but argue that this pushes another imperative on current member, the committment to further change:

Europe simply must gear up for change. But along with reform we must preserve, and indeed deepen, our concern with social justice. Tony Blair has recently called for a Europe-wide debate on this issue. We believe he is right to do so. Some countries have been remarkably successful in combining economic growth with high levels of social protection and equality – especially the Nordic countries. Let’s see what the rest of Europe can learn from them, as well as from other successful countries around the world.

We write as supporters of the constitution, lengthy and inelegant though it was. But its rejection does allow – let’s hope it forces – Europeans to face up to some basic realities and respond to them. The European Union can be a, if not the, major influence on the global scene in the current century. It is what pro-Europeans should want to happen. Let’s make it happen.

  • alex benjamin

    interesting article but it makes the classic pro-European mistake of assuming that people’s opposition to the EU is based on a fear of losing one’s identity.

    I disagree. People in Britain like Europe, we holiday there, eat loads of continental foods, drink wines and beers from Europe and enjoy breaks etc. We just don’t like the European Union Institutions. I have no fear of being any less British because we are in Europe.

    What i have a problem with is unelected Commissioners and second rate politicians (as most are in Brussels bar a few exceptions)making decisions that have little to do with co-operation on my behalf. Do we need a European Constitution? Do we need a raft of new directives on employment regulations? Do we need a one-size fits all fiscal policy determined not in Westminster but in Frankfurt? I don’t think we do.

    The founding principles of the EU laid down by Spinelli, Schuman etc were noble but they have metamorphosed into something else completely. It is clear now that the decision to adopt the Euro was made on political and not economic terms. The Commission and European Parliament produce vast quantities of laws every year on a miriad of policy areas. 95% of these are unecessary.

    But i digress. I was lucky enough to work in Brussels for 3 years in the european Parliament. I went as a Europhile and returned as an ardent eurosceptic. It wasn’t because i felt my culture or identity was being eroded, or that i was harking for nationalist pride, bulldogs, fish and chips, a pint of ale, the cotswolds, singing Jerusalem at the ashes etc…It was because the EU is a shocking waste of time. It delivers little for Britain, is run by some corrupt individuals (i broke the marta andreasen story to the FT), navel gazes, wastes money, has screwed up farming, fisheries and large swathes of business, tries to pretend that what Spain and Denmark need are common positions on whatever (be it social development or environmental law, and seeks to constantly try and justify it’s own existence by seeking to empire build and consolidate (European Defence Force anyone?)

    The Dutch and French are two of the most Europhile countries in the EU. both with distinct cultures and values. They both rejected the Constitution. The guardianites can ponder and pontificate all they like but the EU doesn’t work, is intrusive and most people don’t like it for those simple reasons.

    You can if you like do the old monty python thing and replace romans with eu and ask the question what has the EU ever done for us? in Britain, unlike ROI, you will be hard pressed to find a positive answer.

  • Mitch

    “And Britain – or England – would lose rather than gain sovereignty, if sovereignty means real power to influence the wider world.”

    Umm, no, it doesn’t. It means the power to manage ones own affairs without interference or permission from external centers of power. What a peculiar definition! It appears to have been built to suit the argument. Grant the premise that all wisdom, power, and righteousness proceed from Brussels, and the argument for the EU is pretty sound.

    That being said, Britain has more influence with its former colonies – including several very large ones – than does any other country. Diluting this influence with that of two dozen countries with more tenuous connections would hardly increase it. Even within the UN, a political union with one foreign minister will have a hard time convincing the rest of the world that it needs two seats on the Security Council and 25 in the General Assembly. Or is the UN prepared to give seats to Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas …? With 40 million people and a GDP of about $1.3 trillion, California deserves a seat. How about Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche …? Or Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam …? Many of these entities are more populous than EU member states and some have higher GDPs. Some were independent kingdoms or republics in the past. We can be absurd or sensible, but let’s be consistent.

    Even granting the distorted meaning in the premise, the conclusion does not follow.

  • D’Oracle

    Lots to digest here. One immediately troubling bit though -the neverending enlargement of the EU. Where will it end – the Kamchatka Peninsula?

    Europe, its governments and peoples need to decide between two visions ; is the EU about

    -The overdue coming together in peace of the peoples of Europe with a common purpose based on a shared history to build a better future (or some such..,)or is it

    -The early stages of a future Global Government gobbling up increasingly lower cost labour countries to its East and South one after the other to feed the ever-growing greed of its capitalists for ever cheaper workers.(Its only a short hop from Katchatka to Alaska anyway)

    Its beyond time we were told ; while voting is still possible and votes are counted properly, people would find this useful info.

    All the ould guff of the last few days about having to prove that the EU is not a christian club, that Turkey is on our doostep or thats its very strategic (isnt everywhere!) etc. aint making it!

    Politicians dont seem to want to deal with this or even try to understand why 70 %+ of voters across the EU are not enthused by the prospect of Turkish accession even if they try to say it wont happen (automatically) for another 25 years.

    Where and when is the next EU Constitutional is the next constitutional referendum anyway ?

  • J

    This article rewrites a lot of history:

    “The EU reunited Europe after the Berlin Wall”. – Umm, no. Europe has never been ‘united’ if by ‘united’ this means a common government or purpose. If this statement actually means the end of the Russian Empire in the Eastern Bloc then EU governments are the last people on earth to try and claim it as their victory, when they were lukewarm on confronting Russia.

    “…the United Kingdom quit the EU altogether…Would they have more sovereignty to run their own affairs? No…” – Sovereignty means the authority and power in the UK remains inside the nation-state of the UK. Giving supranational organisations like the EU, UN, IMF, World Bank, etc. diminishes, rather than enances, sovereignty. It’s not hard to grasp, except for, it seems, Guardian journalists.

    They also cannot comprehend the fact that political institutions which attempt to govern cannot appeal to loyalty where no one feels it. Parliamentary democracy only really works in a national state where the institutions are established traditions which people feel they can trust to govern over them.