Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, December 17, 2004

THE IRONIES OF EUROPEAN TRIUMPHALISM

Timothy Garten Ash's op-edvein in the NYT this morning brims over with the ironies of EU triumphalism. Ash has an admirable vision, yet he is disturbingly blind to a lot of things. He presents EU expansion almost as an answer to the war in Iraq:

[C]ountries that wish to join the European Union are prepared to make profound changes to their economic, social, legal and political systems in order to qualify. Indeed, in the run-up to accession, the union has intervened extensively in the affairs of candidate states, but it has done so with the consent of their democratically elected governments. This is regime change, European-style.

The history of the European Union can be told as a story of the expansion of freedom: from the original six postwar democracies in western Europe; to 12 member states, including three former dictatorships in southern Europe; to 25, including many of the former Communist states of central and eastern Europe; and now on to the Balkans, Turkey and, one day, Ukraine.


Yes, EU expansion is admirable in its way. Indeed, it is the only moral justification for the EU's existence. Without expansion, the EU would be nothing but the most egregious example of rich-country clubbishness. There is a certain racism inherent in the concept of the European Union, as if the white peoples of Europe, having lost their empires and dwindling in numbers, wanted to consolidate their strength against the rising black, brown and yellow races elsewhere. The most egregious EU policy (and it consumes, I think, almost half the EU budget) is the Common Agricultural Policy. Worse even than US farm subsidies, the CAP channels heaps of money to European farmers, boosting agricultural prices at home and shutting out goods from the rest of the world. If there were no EU, Britain, the Netherlands and other countries with small farm sectors would probably buy a lot of agricultural imports from developing countries, which would be a great opportunity for growth. Instead, they are forced to buy from the French. The EU is protectionist in other ways. Internally, the EU is notorious for its democratic deficit. Economic growth is chronically sluggish. The EU is inherently divisive of the broader West, being by definition distinct from America. All these critiques would coalesce into a damning indictment of the EU, were it not for expansion.

But expansion, offering formerly oppressed nations a chance to join "Europe whole and free" is a cause idealistic enough to compensate for the EU's other sins.

But expansion as a foreign policy tool comes at a price. As Victor Davis Hanson notes:

Turkey's proposed entry into the EU has become some weird sort of Swiftian satire on the crazy relationship between Europe and Islam. Ponder the contradictions of it all. Privately most Europeans realize that opening its borders without restraint to Turkey's millions will alter the nature of the EU, both by welcoming in a radically different citizenry, largely outside the borders of Europe, whose population will make it the largest and poorest country in the Union — and the most antithetical to Western liberalism. Yet Europe is also trapped in its own utopian race/class/gender rhetoric. It cannot openly question the wisdom of making the "other" coequal to itself, since one does not by any abstract standard judge, much less censure, customs, religions, or values...

[W]ith a Germany and France reeling from unassimilated Muslim populations, a rising Islamic-inspired and globally embarrassing anti-Semitism, and economic stagnation, it is foolhardy to create 70 million Turkish Europeans by fiat. Welcoming in Turkey will make the EU so diverse, large, and unwieldy as to make it — to paraphrase Voltaire — neither European nor a Union...

Europe preached a postmodern gospel of multiculturalism and the end of oppressive Western values, and now it is time to put its money (and security) where its mouth is — or suffer the usual hypocrisy that all limousine liberals face.


Since Turkey's entry would probably not be approved by referenda in all of the EU's countries, Turkish entry into the EU will probably be another case of democratic deficit, a problem Europeans complain about but which is an inherent part of their project. Both in Europe as a whole and in most European member-states, the kind of electoral legitimation that Bush and the GOP just received-- by which, in the face of a hostile press and a super-mobilized opposition, a governing party wins a clear popular majority-- is unheard-of in Europe. Ash inadvertently exposes the odd nature of European freedom with this observation:

It is also significant that the European Union's offer has been made to a Turkish government headed by a devout Muslim, Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who was jailed just five years ago for publicly reciting a poem containing the lines, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful are our warriors." Mr. Erdogan is now doing everything in his power to meet what Turks call "European standards."


Significant, to be sure. First, how can a person be jailed for reciting a poem? To Americans, this is outlandish. It would be unconstitutional beyond any doubt, and the fact that it would is why Americans consider themselves free. We can say whatever we want. Europe does not have freedom of speech in the same sense that America does. But second (and this is part of why we value freedom of speech in the first place): if people get jailed for expressing certain views, they will naturally stop expressing them, but they will probably still hold the same belief. People begin to say what they really mean behind closed doors. In public, they are ironic. On the surface, the system seems to enjoy people's confidence; underneath, it is being eaten away: that's what's happened in Ukraine!

Deepening the irony still further, Ash remarks that:

Robert Kagan describes the difference between America and Europe as the difference between power and weakness - American power, that is, and European weakness. This description is sustainable only if power is measured in terms of military strength. In the way that some American conservatives talk about the European Union, I hear an echo of Stalin's famous question about the Vatican's power: how many divisions does the pope have? But the pope defeated Stalin in the end.


So the EU is the pope? That speaks volumes about Europe's moral pretensions, but it is strange, considering that the pope's esteemed biographer, Rocco Buttiglione, was recently driven off the European Commission by the European parliament because he was a devout Catholic who believed that women should obey their husbands and that homosexuality was a sin. He believed this privately, and had no intention of applying it to the public sphere.

If this precedent holds, it means that orthodox Catholics are not allowed to hold high office in the European Union. Presumably that applies a fortiori to Muslims, who hold the same views but generally more strongly. Seeing that, it is hardly surprising that Europeans are unable to assimilate their own Muslim immigrants. And given post-Christian Europe's low birthrates, and Muslims' high birthrates, Europe will become increasingly Muslim in the future.

Something's gotta give. What a strange figure Ash is, blinded by his own idealism to the tensions that render his dreams problematic.

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