Friday, October 31, 2014

Ten Reasons for Europe

PARIS – The euro, many now believe, will not survive a failed political class in Greece or escalating levels of unemployment in Spain: just wait another few months, they say, the European Union’s irresistible collapse has started.

Dark prophecies are often wrong, but they may also become self-fulfilling. Let’s be honest: playing Cassandra nowadays is not only tempting in a media world where “good news is no news”; it actually seems more justified than ever. For the EU, the situation has never appeared more serious.

It is precisely at this critical moment that it is essential to re-inject hope and, above all, common sense into the equation. So here are ten good reasons to believe in Europe – ten rational arguments to convince pessimistic analysts, and worried investors alike, that it is highly premature to bury the euro and the EU altogether.

The first reason for hope is that statesmanship is returning to Europe, even if in homeopathic doses. It is too early to predict the impact of François Hollande’s election as President of France. But, in Italy, one man, Mario Monti, is already making a difference.

Of course, no one elected Monti, and his position is fragile and already contested, but there is a positive near-consensus that has allowed him to launch long-overdue structural reforms. It is too early to say how long this consensus will last, and what changes it will bring. But Italy, a country that under Silvio’s Berlusconi’s cavalier rule was a source of despair, has turned into a source of real, if fragile, optimism.

A second reason to believe in Europe is that with statesmanship comes progress in governance. Monti and Hollande have both appointed women to key ministerial positions. Marginalized for so long, women bring an appetite for success that will benefit Europe.

Third, European public opinion has, at last, fully comprehended the gravity of the crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that Europe and Europeans, with the possible exception of the Greeks, are in denial. Without lucidity born of despair, Monti would never have come to power in Italy.

In France, too, citizens have no illusions. Their vote for Hollande was a vote against Sarkozy, not against austerity. They are convinced, according to recently published public-opinion polls, that their new president will not keep some of his “untenable promises,” and they seem to accept this as inevitable.

The fourth reason for hope is linked to Europe’s creativity. Europe is not condemned to be a museum of its own past. Tourism is important, of course, and from that standpoint Europe’s diversity is a unique source of attractiveness. But this diversity is also a source of inventiveness. From German cars to French luxury goods, European industrial competitiveness should not be underestimated.

The moment when Europe truly believes in itself, the way Germany does, and combines strategic long-term planning with well allocated R&D investments, will make all the difference. Indeed, in certain key fields, Europe possesses a globally recognized tradition of excellence linked to a very deep culture of quality.

The fifth source of optimism is slightly paradoxical. Nationalist excesses have tended to lead Europe to catastrophic wars. But the return of nationalist sentiment within Europe today creates a sense of emulation and competition, which proved instrumental in the rise of Asia yesterday. Koreans, Chinese, and Taiwanese wanted to do as well as Japan. In the same way, the moment will soon come when the French want to do as well as Germany.

The sixth reason is linked to the very nature of Europe’s political system. Churchill’s famous adage that democracy is the worst political system, with the exception of all the others, has been borne out across the continent. More than 80% of French citizens voted in the presidential election. Watching on their televisions the solemn, dignified, peaceful, and transparent transfer of power from the president they had defeated to the president they had elected, French citizens could only feel good about themselves and privileged to live in a democratic state. Europeans may be confused, inefficient, and slow to take decisions, but democracy still constitutes a wall of stability against economic and other uncertainties.

The seventh reason to believe in Europe is linked to the universalism of its message and languages. Few people dream of becoming Chinese, or of learning its various languages other than Mandarin. By contrast, English, Spanish, French, and, increasingly, German transcend national boundaries.

Beyond universalism comes the eighth factor supporting the EU’s survival: multiculturalism. It is a disputed model, but multiculturalism is more a source of strength than of weakness. The continent’s fusion of culture makes its people richer rather than poorer.

The ninth reason for hope stems from the EU’s new and upcoming members. Poland, a country that belongs to “New Europe,” is repaying the EU with a legitimacy that it had gained from Europe during its post-communist transition. And the entrance of Croatia, followed by Montenegro and a few other Balkan countries, could compensate for the departure of Greece (should it come to that for the Greeks).

Finally, and most important, Europe and the world have no better alternative. The Greek crisis may be forcing Europe to move towards greater integration, with or without Greece. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas speaks of a “transformational reality” – a complex word for a simple reality: divided we fall, whereas united, in our own complex manner, we may strive for “greatness” in the best sense.

Investors, of course, are hedging their bets. Having ventured successfully into emerging non-democratic countries whose frailty they are starting to fear, some, out of prudence, are starting to rediscover Europe. They may well be the wise ones.

Read more from our "The Euro at Bay" Focal Point.

Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (12)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedPascal Lieblich

    Mr. Moisi's article is unfortunately making me less, rather than more optimistic about the European enterprise ...

    With regard to the multiculturalism factor raised in the article, hasn't the political integration project, i.e. the creation of a European polity and identitity, faltered because of the emphasis on the need of a multicultural society and in particular the continuous efforts to add Turkey as a member state while it was clear that the citizens of few core states supported this move? (see, "Why not Turkey? Attitudes towards Turkish membership" ,

    Rather than allowing European integration time to deepen, haven't the leaders of the European Union try to shove their definition of a multicultural society down the throats of the Union's citizens? Europe has expanded too much, too quickly in every possible geographic direction. (Worse, the purpose of the expansion was nearly all economic reasons, but that on a side-note). The rapid expansion and emphasis on including Turkey as a member state has slowed down the process of political and fiscal integration, making it now much more difficult to devise appropriate solutions at the European federal level to current problems.

  2. CommentedPaul Ruckert

    Given recent developments, Professor Moisi is clearly fighting an uphill battle with this article. That said, if these are the 10 best reasons to be optimistic, then count me a pessimist.

  3. CommentedShan Jun Chang

    Hmm, let us examine the reasoning here. "Multiculturalism is a disputed model. But it is good. I'm not going to give you any reasons why, it just is, so there. Now, in my final sentence I'm simply going to restate the assertion with different adjectives".

  4. CommentedAndreas Psaras

    The approach of Zsolt Hermann, in his comment, is more to the point as well as to “What Needs to Be Done” taking the global view

  5. CommentedAndreas Psaras

    An interesting analysis by Dominique Moisi, irrespective of an inadequate understanding, in my view, of the Greek misfortune and the positive that can come out of it for the whole of Europe. When and if Europe matures to a level that allows effective solution to the “Greek problem” that is actually not only a Greek problem but also a European and systemic problem of the present economic system, then Europe will move forward.

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    As an outsider in Europe, I had been privy to the transformational process at the back of a severe crisis in the period 2007 to 2011. I had seen how Europe reacts, specially Germany and Switzerland, and how the others like Italy and Spain seem like fence sitters, while France is embroiled in its own historicity, for better or for worse. The bondage that came from instincts of trade did not move beyond the confines of the narrow objective. I am not sure what the future holds for this ensemble if it does not go beyond the instincts of trade; evolution of a polity that takes the good with the bad and blends is what humanity makes as a difference, where instincts of trade fails.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  7. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    There is only one truly compelling reason why the European Union needs to survive, improve and provide example for the rest of the world:
    Today we evolved into a global, integral and interdependent humans system where we are all connected by multiple ties. There is no individual or nations that could break away or sustain itself.
    In such a system only a supra national democratic alliance can provide a foundation for a sustainable future.
    In fact if we examine our lives honestly and in detail we already live in a supra national network but our selfish egoistic tendencies manifesting especially in the field of politics, finances, and the media exploit old, historic rejections, hatred for self gain and profit not allowing the natural integration to take part.
    Thus the reasons the article places hope on are mostly not valid.
    Instead of individual statesmanship we need a team of visionary, transparent and selfless, elected public representatives who fulfill the expression "serving" the public above nations and individual benefit for the sake of the whole.
    Instead of European creativity in the form of luxury goods that are excessive and unnecessary, even harmful, we need European creativity in creating a fully integrated multi-national Union above all the cultural characteristics and differences while keeping them and uniting above them.
    Instead of self serving national democracies (which have not been working as true democracies serving the public for a very long time) we need a supra national democracy keeping the well being of the whole Union as priority.
    With the last reason, necessity/no other alternative, I agree with, as the article says: "divided we fall, whereas united, in our own complex manner, we may strive for “greatness” in the best sense."
    But this can only be achieved through a full integration with mutual responsibility, truly becoming a single Union.

      CommentedShan Jun Chang

      I think this analysis is rather shallow; surely the reason we don't simply enter into further union isn't that individual politicians and the finance sector are preserving the status quo for self gain; it's that in order to do so we'd have to cede more of our national sovereignty than we're comfortable with. In general, we identify more strongly with our own nations and believe that our interests are more likely to be served if our own government can act autonomously, and I would think that our politicians have the same reasoning. Don't you think this is a better reason than simply asserting, as usual, that blame lies at the feet of the greedy media, political class and financial sector?

      CommentedJohn-Albert Eadie

      I could not have put things as well as M. Hermann. I would add, that after truly becoming a union, Europe must then lead the rest of us into global unity. Because the globe itself is in dire straits. This is poisonous thinking to much of America, nevertheless it is true, and the quicker we get to being led by virtue, in the people and in their government, the sooner we will avoid incineration. Europe has to be where it happens first. Some time ago thinkers in Canada thought that it was a place to demonstrate unity in multiculturalism but I thought at the time, no, plainly it is Europe. Look at Canada today - we have a mini-Hitler, so it is certainly not happening here for some time. Very sorry for straying from the topic, except in a deep sense, I think I have not.

      CommentedCaitlin Luview

      #2: "Monti and Hollande have both appointed women to key ministerial positions. Marginalized for so long, women bring an appetite for success that will benefit Europe."

      To be clear, I don't think "marginalized women" seeking success in an old system of overconsumption is a benefit to Europe or the world. Although women can provide a new view, it is too little, too late.

      I find it interesting what a commenter here, Zsolt Hermann says, "Instead of individual statesmanship we need a team of visionary, transparent and selfless, elected public representatives who fulfill the expression "serving" the public above nations and individual benefit for the sake of the whole."

      This sounds to me like a similar definition to what motherhood is. If a team of people with the characteristics Zsolt has described can be assembled to steward the true needs and best benefit of the world through care, concern, and compassion in our relationships with one another (as a mother does her vital best to provide for and bring up her child), the world can start repairing and coming out of crisis as we each work to change our relationships into positive care.

      We are one global, interdependent and integral human family. When will we forge policy and practice that leads our human family into conducting our daily lives, attitudes, decisions, and actions in ways that provide the ability for every single human being on the planet to flourish and contribute their vitalness? Europe, within a union, has the chance to model greatness in cooperation and mutual care and concern to the entire world, for the good of all humanity. I so hope for it to rise to this challenge and opportunity... and soon!

  8. CommentedAndrés Arellano Báez

    If this are the ten best reasons to believe in Europe, the true is that "the Eurpean Union's irresistible collapse has started".