After speaking recently in Belgium, I declared, in response to an audience member’s suggestion that the European Union’s purpose was the preservation of peace, that “Europe”—in the peculiar, Soviet-style usage of the word now so common—does not mean peace, but conflict, if not outright war. We are building in Europe not a United States, I said, but a Yugoslavia. We shall be lucky to escape violence when it breaks apart.
I passed over the fact that Europe is, so far, the consequence of peace, and not its cause; that multilateral agreements between countries have always been possible without the erection of giant and corrupt bureaucratic apparatuses that weigh like a peine forte et dure on most Western European economies; that the maintenance of peace does not require or depend upon regulating the size of bananas sold in the marketplace; and that the notion that were it not for the European Union, there would be war, is inherently Germanophobic—because no one believes, for instance, that Estonia would otherwise attack Slovenia, or Portugal Slovakia.
It always seems strange to me that in Belgium, of all countries, people should be unable to see the European Union’s dangers. After all, the country is composed of only two main national communities—the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish—and the division between the two is now sharper than at any previous time, to such an extent that the country recently had no government for more than 500 days. (Honesty compels me to admit that Belgium seems to have come to no great harm during that period.) No one in Belgium explains, or even asks, why what has not proved possible for 189 years—full national integration of just two groups sharing so much historical experience and a tiny fragment of territory—should be achievable on a vastly larger scale with innumerable national groups, many of which have deeply ingrained and derogatory stereotypes of one another.
I also pointed out that “Europe” lacks almost all political legitimacy, which will make it impossible to resolve real and growing differences. The results of the subsequent Italian general election—wherein two anti-European demagogues collected between them more than half of the votes—would seem to confirm my prognostication. Anti-German feeling runs high in Italy, and not only there. Matters weren’t much improved by the insensitive remarks of the German minister of labor in a recent edition of Der Spiegel, to the effect that the ongoing economic crisis is lucky for Germany because, with high youth unemployment elsewhere on the continent—50 percent in Spain, for example—young people, especially the best-qualified, will increasingly seek jobs in Germany. “And that,” she said, “will rejuvenate the country, making it more creative and international.” In other words, the continent’s high unemployment is the solution to Germany’s demographic decline.
After I finished speaking, a man approached and told me that he was not particularly attached to democracy as a solution to our problems. He put his faith, instead, in technocracy, wherein lay our salvation. That he was clearly an intelligent, cultivated, and decent man made what he said more frightening, not less.