What Europe Really Needs
The Continent has turned its back on both the past and the future.
BY PAUL JOHNSON
Friday, June 17, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
That Europe as an entity is sick and the European Union as an institution
is in disorder cannot be denied. But no remedies currently being
discussed can possibly remedy matters. What ought to depress partisans of
European unity in the aftermath of the rejection of its proposed
constitution by France and the Netherlands is not so much the foundering
of this ridiculous document as the response of the leadership to the
crisis, especially in France and Germany.
Jacques Chirac reacted by appointing as prime minister Dominque de
Villepin, a frivolous playboy who has never been elected to anything and
is best known for his view that Napoleon should have won the Battle of
Waterloo and continued to rule Europe. Gerhard Schröder of Germany simply
stepped up his anti-American rhetoric. What is notoriously evident among
the EU elite is not just a lack of intellectual power but an obstinacy
and blindness bordering on imbecility. As the great pan-European poet
Schiller put it: "There is a kind of stupidity with which even the Gods
struggle in vain."
The fundamental weaknesses of the EU that must be remedied if it is to
survive are threefold. First, it has tried to do too much, too quickly
and in too much detail. Jean Monnet, architect of the Coal-Steel Pool,
the original blueprint for the EU, always said: "Avoid bureaucracy.
Guide, do not dictate. Minimal rules." He had been brought up in, and
learned to loathe, the Europe of totalitarianism, in which communism,
fascism and Nazism competed to impose regulations on every aspect of
human existence. He recognized that the totalitarian instinct lies deep
in European philosophy and mentality--in Rousseau and Hegel as well as
Marx and Nietzsche--and must be fought against with all the strength of
liberalism, which he felt was rooted in Anglo-Saxon individualism.
In fact, for an entire generation, the EU has gone in the opposite
direction and created a totalitarian monster of its own, spewing out
regulations literally by the million and invading every corner of
economic and social life. The results have been dire: An immense
bureaucracy in Brussels, each department of which is cloned in all the
member capitals. A huge budget, masking unprecedented corruption, so that
it has never yet been passed by auditors, and which is now a source of
venom among taxpayers from the countries which pay more than they
receive. Above all, règlementation of national economies on a
The EU's economic philosophy, insofar as it has one, is epitomized by one
word: "convergence." The aim is to make all national economies identical
with the perfect model. This, as it turns out, is actually the perfect
formula for stagnation. What makes the capitalist system work, what keeps
economies dynamic, is precisely nonconformity, the new, the unusual, the
eccentric, the egregious, the innovative, springing from the
inexhaustible inventiveness of human nature. Capitalism thrives on the
absence of rules or the ability to circumvent them.
Hence it is not surprising that Europe, which grew rapidly in the 1960s
and 1970s, before the EU got going, has slowly lost pace since Brussels
took over its direction and imposed convergence. It is now stagnant.
Growth rates of over 2% are rare, except in Britain, which was
Thatcherized in the 1980s and has since followed the American model of
free markets. Slow or nil growth, aggravated by the power of the unions,
fits well with the Brussels system and imposes further restraints on
economic dynamism: Short working hours and huge social security costs
that have produced high unemployment, over 10% in France and higher in
Germany than at any time since the Great Depression which brought Hitler
It is natural that high and chronic unemployment generates a depressive
anger which finds many expressions. One, in Europe today, is anti-
Semitism and anti-Americanism. Another is exceptionally low birthrates,
lower in Europe than anywhere else in the world except Japan. If present
trends continue, the population of Europe (excluding the British Isles)
will be less than the United States by midcentury--under 400 million,
with the over-65s constituting one-third of that.
The rise of anti-Americanism, a form of irrationalism deliberately
whipped up by Messrs. Schröder and Chirac, who believe it wins votes, is
particularly tragic, for the early stages of the EU had their roots in
admiration of the American way of doing things and gratitude for the
manner in which the U.S. had saved Europe first from Nazism, then (under
President Harry Truman) from the Soviet Empire--by the Marshall Plan in
1947 and the creation of NATO in 1949.
Europe's founding fathers--Monnet himself, Robert Schumann in France,
Alcide de Gasperi in Italy and Konrad Adenauer in Germany--were all
fervently pro-American and anxious to make it possible for European
populations to enjoy U.S.-style living standards. Adenauer in particular,
assisted by his brilliant economics minister Ludwig Erhardt, rebuilt
Germany's industry and services, following the freest possible model.
This was the origin of the German "economic miracle," in which U.S. ideas
played a determining part. The German people flourished as never before
in their history, and unemployment was at record low levels. The decline
of German growth and the present stagnation date from the point at which
her leaders turned away from America and followed the French "social
There is another still more fundamental factor in the EU malaise. Europe
has turned its back not only on the U.S. and the future of capitalism,
but also on its own historic past. Europe was essentially a creation of
the marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Brussels has,
in effect, repudiated both. There was no mention of Europe's Christian
origins in the ill-fated Constitution, and Europe's Strasbourg Parliament
has insisted that a practicing Catholic cannot hold office as the EU
Equally, what strikes the observer about the actual workings of Brussels
is the stifling, insufferable materialism of their outlook. The last
Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of
European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the
Fatherlands (L'Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I
recall him referring to "L'Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de
Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He
agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!"
No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU
has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it,
even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the
Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and
Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding
fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More,
Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building
Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such
thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.
In short, the EU is not a living body, with a mind and spirit and
animating soul. And unless it finds such nonmaterial but essential
dimensions, it will soon be a dead body, the symbolic corpse of a dying
Mr. Johnson, a historian, is the author, among others, of "Modern Times"
(Perennial, 2001). His most recent book is "Washington," due this month
On 17 Jun 2005 09:53:23 GMT, ARIEL BOLUDOVSKY <[email protected]>
This is really pissing me off.
>No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU
>has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it,
>even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the
>Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and
>Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding
>fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More,
>Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building
>Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such
>thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.
"The French always place a school of thought, a formula, convention, a
priori arguments, abstraction, and artificiality above reality; they
prefer clarity to truth, words to things, rhetoric to science. ...
They emerge from description only to hurl themselves into precipitate
generalizations. They imagine they understand man in his entirety,
whereas they cannot break the hard shell of their personalities,
and they do not understand a single nation apart from themselves."
- H. F. Amiel
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