by Jerome a Paris
Thu Mar 15th, 2007 at 05:12:03 AM EST
By Martin Wolf, no less, in the Financial Times: Why liberalism is the right future for a declining Europe
The great achievement of the EU is to establish the co-operative "service state" as the norm across the continent. Such a state sees its purpose as serving its citizens, not dominating them, and as co-operating with other states, not dictating to them. The genius of the founders was to realise that a law-governed market economy was the means to this end. It would do so by binding the discretionary interventions of each, thereby creating predictability and stability for all.
These were liberal ideas (in its traditional European sense, not its strange American one) that drew heavily on the ideas of postwar German thinkers and policymakers, such as Ludwig Erhard. The EU's great successes have been those of liberalism: the customs union; the competition policy; the single market; the abolition of exchange controls; and the creation of a single currency managed by an independent central bank.
While this is not completely off the mark, Martin Wolf fails to note the utter inconsistency of what he writes: "binding the discretionary interventions" of others is the exact opposite of what he exalts, i.e. weakened governments, because it requires an entity with the power to "dictate" terms - not just to citizens, but to member countries as well. Of course, acknowledging this would require abandoning the revisionist gloss that Europe is about less government and more market - and more generally that markets are themselves about less government. Both are utterly false, but as every body, starting by the high priests writing on a daily basis in the FT, pretends otherwise, it becomes the established truth.
But it's utterly fascinating to see such a history of the EU not even mentioning France, and not acknowledging the EU Commission's bureaucratic power, initially modelled on and by the French administration. As DoDo argued in an important diary to which I unfortunately could not take the time to participate to then (Are Neoliberals Eurosceptic?), the neoliberals have no qualms to use the tools of public policy provided by the progressive integrationists to further their "reformist" ends, and this is quite an extraordinary display of this.
From the diaries - afew
Liberalism was not the only possible basis for Europe's unification. But it was the only basis for voluntary unification. Unification through war, happily, failed. The intervention of the "Anglo-Saxons" in successive great European wars ensured that. These liberal powers finally defeated the continent's army of poisonous anti-liberal ideas: ultra-nationalism; fascism; Nazism and communism.
This history puts in context one of the most common false propositions about the EU: that it has ensured peace. Europe neither created the conditions for the postwar peace nor preserved it. US power did both. Yet the prosperity created by European integration, under the US umbrella, made the free and democratic west an irresistible magnet to the east.
Note that the moniker of "Anglo-Saxon", despite the quotation marks, is found by wolf to be sufficiently meaningful and understandable to be used - and to be claimed as a badge of honor. This is the traditional Thatcherite line (the problems of the world are coming form Continental Europe and the solutions from the English-speaking world), but it's yet anothet step to claim that the success of the EU, a Continental European venture if there ever was one, is really to be credited to the Anglos as well.
Expect this to become common wisdom soon, unless reality intrudes loudly enough soon enough...
But I do not understand why a constitution should be a priority. Nothing is going to turn the EU into a United States of Europe. In the end, the EU will remain a structure for co-operation and competition among states embedded in a shared institutional framework.
Further political integration is presented as absurd and unthinkable. Just like being a social democrat, being pro-European is insidiously associated with extremism, unless it takes the clothes of its exact ideological opposite. Just like Blair can promote deregulation, a good European promotes "competition among States", without asking how this is compatible with "binding the discretionary interventions of each." But of course, the binding interventions they like (lower taxes) are natural exercises in national sovereignty, while those they dislike (say, labor laws) are anti-competitive.
So what are the priorities for the EU and, far more, its member states over the next half century? Let me stress the economic ones. I do so not because economics is all that matters. But if Europe does not create widely shared prosperity, it will fail.
Economics is all that matters to these people. When he says the opposite, Wolf sounds like Le Pen saying that he is not racist.
First, create jobs. The European economy is now on an upswing. But many countries still suffer from high unemployment. This is particularly true for the young, the unskilled and ethnic minorities that are disproportionately young and unskilled. Liberalising jobs markets and making the welfare state employment-friendly is the priority.
Because someone that works 20 hours per week in the wee hours of the morning of the evening is not unemployed, is not in a position to bargain about wages, and is not about to unionise.
Because, of course, it's not the socialist policies of Jospin that actually created jobs in France in the past 10 years, and it's not the public spending binge that created jobs in the UK in the same period:
The rest is just boiler plate platitudes, with a few insults and big ifs delicately inserted.
Second, modernise welfare states.
Third, liberate enterprise.
Fourth, invest in the creation of ideas. (...) Continental Europe's show the disastrous effects of nationalisation [of universities].
Fifth, promote development.
Sixth, curb carbon emissions efficiently.
Finally, embrace the future. Nothing short of a catastrophe will stop China, India and the rest from developing.
Europe is great (thanks to Anglo-Saxon influence), it's declining (it's Europe, after all), but it's not so bad (provided that it keeps on liberalising).