A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, by Daniel Hannan (Notting Hill Editions)
There is nothing quite like self-interest for blinding people to the obvious, and it is the genius of the European Union to have placed an entire cadre of powerful but blind beneficiaries—unable and unwilling to see writing on the wall, even if inscribed in flashing blue neon lights—in strategic political and economic positions in every European country. And so the continent limps toward the abyss, its “ever closer union” resuscitating old national stereotypes and antagonisms and increasing the likelihood of real conflict.
Daniel Hannan is a British Member of the European Parliament who first came to wide notice with his brief but devastating (because entirely accurate) attack in that body on Britain’s then–prime minister, Gordon Brown, who responded to it with all the wit of a hanged sheep. Hannan has now written a short and brilliant book setting forth with inexorable logic and a fine command of the salient historical and economic facts the deficiencies of the so-called European Project, from its premises to its practices—all of which are not only wrong, but obviously wrong.
Like all people with bad habits, politicians and bureaucrats are infinitely inventive when it comes to rationalizing the European Project, though they’re inventive in nothing else. Without the Union, they say, there would be no peace; when it’s pointed out that the Union is the consequence of peace, not its cause, they say that no small country can survive on its own. When it is pointed out that Singapore, Switzerland, and Norway seem to have no difficulties in that regard, they say that pan-European regulations create economies of scale that promote productive efficiency. When it is pointed out that European productivity lags behind the rest of the world’s, they say that European social protections are more generous than anywhere else. If it is then noted that long-term unemployment rates in Europe are higher than elsewhere, another apology follows. The fact is that for European politicians and bureaucrats, the European Project is like God—good by definition, which means that they have subsequently to work out a theodicy to explain, or explain away, its manifest and manifold deficiencies.
Since, as Gibbon puts it, truth rarely finds a favorable reception in the world, it is worth inquiring why so lucid and cogent a book as Hannan’s will not have the effect that it should—an answer that the book itself supplies. Here we must descend to the ad hominem, but we are dealing with men, after all.
The personal interests of European politicians and bureaucrats, with their grossly inflated, tax-free salaries, are perfectly obvious. For politicians who have fallen out of favor at home, or grown bored with the political process, Brussels acts as a vast and luxurious retirement home, with the additional gratification of the retention of power. The name of a man such as European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, whose charisma makes Hillary Clinton look like Mata Hari, would, without the existence of the European Union, have reached most of the continent’s newspapers only if he had paid for a classified advertisement in them. Instead of which, he bestrides the European stage if not like a colossus exactly, at least like the spread of fungus on a damp wall.
Corporate interests, ever anxious to suppress competition, approve of European Union regulations because they render next to impossible the entry of competitors into any market in which they already enjoy a dominant position, while also allowing them to extend their domination into new markets. That is why the CAC40 of today (the index of the largest 40 companies on the French stock exchange) will have more or less the same names 100 years hence.
More interestingly, perhaps, Hannan explains the European Union’s corruption of so-called civil society. Suppose you have an association for the protection of hedgehogs because you love hedgehogs. The European Union then offers your association money to expand its activities, which of course it accepts. The Union then proposes a measure allegedly for the protection of hedgehogs, but actually intended to promote a large agrarian or industrial interest over a small one, first asking the association’s opinion about the proposed measure. Naturally, your association supports the Union because it has become dependent on the Union’s subsidy. The Union then claims that it enjoys the support of those who want to protect hedgehogs. The best description of this process is fascist corporatism, which so far (and it is of course a crucial difference) lacks the paramilitary and repressive paraphernalia of real fascism. But as the European economic crisis mounts, that distinction could vanish. One should not mistake the dullness of Eurocrats for lack of ambition, or the lack of flamboyance for the presence of scruple. History can repeat itself, even if only analogically rather than literally.
Hannan writes from a British perspective, which I share. Whenever I read the French press on the subject of the European crisis, for example, I’m struck by how little questions of freedom, political legitimacy, separation of powers, representative government, or the rule of law feature, even in articles by academic political philosophers. For them, the problem is mainly technical: that of finding a solution that will preserve the status quo (there is no such solution, but intelligent people searched for the philosopher’s stone for centuries).
Alas, the British political class is composed largely of careerists. The only thing that will move them to action is popular anger, which, though it exists, remains muted. One can only hope that it is not catastrophe that brings about change, but Hannan’s brilliant little book, which could hardly be bettered or, more importantly, refuted—not that anyone will try, since in the Eurocrats’ world, ignoring arguments is the highest form of refutation. A Doomed Marriage deserves the widest possible circulation. Perhaps its author could apply for a European subsidy.