Self-serving intellectualism ignores the EU's failures

Self-serving intellectualism ignores the EU's failures

by Tom Gallagher
article from Tuesday 5, February, 2019

ON 25 JANUARY one hundred European intellectuals released a manifesto, drawn up by the French writer Bernard-Henry Levy, which urges civic resistance against the advance of European populism.

This Briton is slightly bemused by ‘the doublespeak’ emanating from such eloquent voices within the European Union. On the one hand our island is bombarded by ‘love letters’ pleading for us to think again and reverse our decision to quit the EU. On the other hand, regular threats emanate from Brussels: the senior functionaries threaten that terrorism will return to British Ireland; we will no longer be given security information about Jihadis; vital medicines will be withheld; the import of German cars and French wines will cease; visas and money will be needed in order for us to voyage to Europe. 

At least this cry of alarm about rampant populism, written by literary and scholarly figures, does not dwell on the atmosphere in Britain although the trauma of Brexit was a likely pretext for it being composed at this time.

Strange to say, our island is not a breeding-ground for populism. The ‘disastrous’, ‘primitive’ and ‘mad’ advocates of Brexit mainly belong to the two main historic parties of left and right. There is no British Gillets Jaunes, Lega, AfD or Vox (since UKIP has withered away).  Those who wish to reverse Brexit in the corporate elites rant and rave and their writhings are faithfully reported in the continental media. But there is no unrest on the streets and, strangely, the economy still thrives. Unemployment is at its lowest since 1973, salaries are rising, investment in the past twelve months has exceeded that seen in France, Germany or Japan. 

It is curious that these first-class intellectual minds show so little imagination in their alarmist tract. They fail to acknowledge the possibility that the populist wave in Europe might turn out to be an exercise in creative destruction. Surely it is possible that a de Gaulle could emerge from the Gillets Jaunes (someone as obscure as the general was in 1940) but who has ‘a certain vision for Europe’, one that is completely absent among the ideological priesthood that reigns in the power centres of the EU.

The letter fastidiously refers to the  ‘lapses and occasional acts of cowardice’ at the top of the EU. But it fails to acknowledge that the current crisis is largely self-inflicted, emanating from a project that has hurtled towards megalomania, having been captured by an ideological priesthood. Bernard-Henri Levy writes with some chutzpah about the Anglo-Saxon countries that were once decisive in salvaging Europe from disaster having now abandoned the continent. 

Neither he nor some of the other sages bother to  ask about the retreat of the democratic state in the EU as it has been captured by managerial interests, corporate lobbies and left-wing pressure groups. The dud currency unleashed on an unsuspecting continent in 1999 and which has ravaged much of southern Europe, is silently passed over.  A failure of regulation now threatens the decimation of the German car industry. The green energy crusade meant to revive a benign and virtuous dimension to the European project has collapsed.  Germany now is kept warm and lit by dirty coal from polluting power stations.  

Instead, the eminent ones react with alarm at the rise of movements which most certainly have their unsavoury features but which enjoy momentum because they show a readiness to try and confront problems that are rotting Europe from the inside. These are problems that are destroying the bourgeoisie in Italy and Greece and dissuading the youth from starting families and planning for the future due to an economic order that is designed to protect the big economic interests.  At the moment the signs are that the populist parties don’t wish to dismantle the EU but to orientate it in a different direction that is responsive to workers, heavily-taxed citizens on the margins of a decent living, youth, and citizens tired of experimentation and endless disruption.

If the signatories of the letter were consistent they would admit that there is an elitepopulism as a well as a grassroots variety. Emmanuel Macron and Merkel, in wishing to build a European army when they spend so little on defence, or tinkering with the idea of a new Franco-German imperium are surely just as demagogic as Viktor Orban or Matteo Salvini whose ambitions are prosaic ones by comparison. 

The dangerous stirrings of the canaille are denounced but nothing is said about the return of some of the worst features of early 20th century European power politics. All sorts of threats are issued about mounting a physical blockade on Britain which recall the kind of intimidation Mussolini and, in our own time, Putin direct against smaller neighbours.  If Britain was planning to slap import duties on German cars it might be understandable but the departing EU member wishes to keep trade flowing (trade which overwhelmingly benefits the major EU states). 

What I find most astonishing, and which Levy and the others completely overlook, is the readiness with which the EU is ready to destroy its own reputation as a European peace project. The EU has revived a dormant Irish communal dispute and used it to try and impede Britain’s departure from the Union on reasonable terms.  It is a wretched move that stands comparison with how Hitler mobilised the Sudeten Germans in Bohemia in order to destroy Czechoslovakia. The aim is to prevent Britain exiting the customs union by insisting that Brussels must wield economic sovereignty over Northern Ireland if this happens.

The Irish government has foolishly offered itself up to the EU as an instrument of blackmail against Britain. Peace was brought to N. Ireland in 1998 by the Belfast agreement. The EU had zero role in it and the agreement made clear that Britain retains sovereignty over the territory.

On the eastern borderlands of the EU there are numerous territorial ‘hot zones’ similar to Northern Ireland where sovereignty is disputed or isn’t clear-cut. Did Brussels not think of the Pandora’s box it was opening by throwing oil on the embers of the conflict in Ireland? Did nobody in Tallinn, Vilnius or Riga, regularly travelling to Brussels, not see the need to tell the Eurocrats not to play with fire on the extremities of western Europe as it was their puny states who would likely be burnt in the inferno if the EU once again made irredentism fashionable in 21st century Europe. 

This lachrymose letter is meant to shield the miserable vanguard class of bureaucrats and predatory interests who have robbed Europe of its identity and trashed its prospects for economic recovery, from retribution in the elections for the Strasbourg parliament. Levy and his fellow intellectuals would have been far better advised to praise the moderation of most of the Europeans who have fallen out of love with the idea of ‘an ever closer union’. They trust in the ballot box in order to avoid seeing their identity being erased by the elite anarchists who have turned an originally hopeful example of functional cooperation into a European ideological nightmare.  

This article was originally published in the Romanian political journal Revista 22 on 5 February 2019. Tom Gallagher has written and lectured on European politics for many years. He is currently writing a biography of the Portuguese leader Dr Antonio Salazar that will appear next year on the 50th anniversary of his death. 

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