Gareth Harding ("The
Myth of Europe," January/February 2012) bases his analysis of the European
Union on his impressive credentials as a native European. I would suggest,
however, that he has spent too long on the inside and cannot see the forest for
the trees. There is no question that the European Union today faces the biggest
crisis in its history, and it can indeed appear difficult to define what it
means to be European. What we see, however, depends on where we look, and to
suggest that the difficulties of the euro are not so much about economics as
about the absence of a clear European identity is misguided.
The real meaning
of a society cannot be found in its constitution, as Harding suggests, but in
the actions and beliefs of its people and its leaders. In this regard there is
a great deal that makes Europeans distinctive. In addition to the belief in
democracy and human rights that Europeans share with Americans, the modern
European experience can be defined by its secularism, welfarism and belief in
the collective society, multiculturalism (but not tolerance of Islam or racial
diversity), cosmopolitanism (the idea that humans belong to a community that
transcends state boundaries), and support for civilian and multilateral
responses to international problems.
In his EU critique, Harding focuses on examples of the lack
of solidarity within the union, ignoring the numerous achievements of the cumulative
European experiment: its role in
encouraging peace and prosperity, its promotion of democracy and free market
ideals, and its successes in a wide range of policy areas, from trade to
competition, the environment, regional development, and, of course, the single
market. Many mistakes were made with the euro, but they will be addressed. And
the EU will emerge from this experience both chastened and reinvigorated.
Jean Monnet Professor of
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Harding argues that the current European debt crisis encapsulates a "broader
breakdown of Europe's dreams of a united future" and is on the verge of tearing
the peoples of Europe apart. Only time will tell whether he is right, but there
can be little doubt that the euro's troubles do indeed pose an unprecedented
challenge to Europe's leaders. On the other hand, EU enthusiasts can point to an unprecedented stretch of
peace in Europe (admittedly with the bloody exception of the brutal breakup of
Yugoslavia in the early 1990s). It's now more than 70 years since one European
nation invaded another -- and that's something for which many Europeans are
prepared to give the European Union some credit.
as Harding suggests, historians will look back and conclude that the creation
of the euro was a step too far. They might ask why Greece, with its notoriously
rocky economy and unreliable finances, was accepted as a member of the eurozone
in 2000. If sheer political willpower was sufficient to get the euro up and
running, though, it is at least arguable that a similar degree of political
determination will keep it afloat as it rides out the current storm.
key question may be whether Europe's voters will blame the European Union and
the political leaders who were central to its development for the economic
crisis, which is costing so many millions of jobs and such painful cuts in
government spending. As defeated governments in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain
have already discovered, the ballot box can be a powerful tool in an argument.
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Gareth Harding replies:
from its concision, what I most admire about John McCormick's excellent
textbook Understanding the European Union is its analytical approach to the
European Union. Far from accepting the myth that Europeans are one people with
clearly defined characteristics, he admits: "The idea of Europe is so hard to
pin down. Its political and cultural identity is hard to define (beyond being
an accumulation of national identities), its geographical boundaries remain
uncertain, and there is little agreement on what 'Europe' represents."
So why is McCormick making
such a wildly optimistic -- and scarily deterministic -- prediction that the EU will
emerge from its current crisis "both chastened and reinvigorated"? If the
European Union does emerge from its self-inflicted mess with the single
currency intact, it will do so more divided than ever and without the support
of the very people on whom its legitimacy depends.