by Mark Leonard
review by E.B.Klassen
Mark Leonard has written a decent little primer on the foundation and structure of the European Union, from the Amerikan efforts post—WW2 up to the present day. Next to the occasional Dick and Mary Francis mystery, this is certainly the lightest book I’ve read this year. Leonard writes as a man in love with an idea—in this case the idea of a better way of living with one’s neighbours than the doctrine of perpetual warfare.
Among the European facts that confounds popular belief is the acquis communitaire, the ‘acquired fortune’ or ‘accepted fact’ that regulates every facet of domestic policy in the EU—from human rights to consumer protection. This is 80,000 pages of regulation, regulations that are the bane of global capitalism. Laissez-faire capitalism is predicated on the destruction of the nation-state and the removal of barriers and restrictions on the movement and use of capital. Those who own the world’s economies have no interest in restrictions being placed on them. But it is these regulations and restrictions that actually allow international capital to flourish. When the Soviet Union was assaulted by the free-market neo-liberals after the collapse of the Stalinist state, everything should have been coming up roses for the Russian economy. After all, they did everything they were supposed to; privatized all state-owned assets, removed restrictions on wealth accumulation, let loose the dogs of market warfare. And yet the economy and the country fell into anarchy and gangsterism—not, as at least one person has suggested, because having been warned that capitalists are gangsters, Russians became gangsters when they became capitalists, but rather because there was no longer any legal structure under which a market economy could flourish. When a contract is worth less than the paper it is printed on, and can be negated by nothing more than a match, a market economy is reduced to its essence—a place where the strong-armed succeed and the rest are fleeced. Healthy markets require a strong legal system and extensive regulation in order to flourish, as it levels the playing field and reins in the psychopathic.
Europe has, according to Leonard’s book, recognized that a strong economy demands a strong state, and that the state needs to be involved in the market both as a regulator and as a player. But, Leonard argues, Europe took the unusual step of leading a race upwards. The consultations that lead to the creation of the acquis communitaire set high standards for members of the EU—but at the same time established that there would be direct and measurable economic advantages for anyone who chose to play in the same stadium; access to production capacity and markets inside a tariff-free zone.
But the central intellectual force behind the creation of the EU, Jean Monnet, started by constructing the stadium: first by starting negotiations to unite French and German steel and coal producers. He felt that by forging links between major producers, Europe could sidestep the potential for a return to armed conflict. After all, all wars are resource wars, but if the major producers were already on the same team, wars would become an "own goal", a goal that harms oneself instead of the other.
Once the stadium was built, it turned out that a lot of other teams wanted in to play. But in order to gain access to the stadium, the European Common Market, teams had to agree to play by the same set of rules; the acquis communitaire. And because the rules were quite stringent—neo-liberal markets inside the EU, coupled with progressive social policies—countries looking to get in have to bring themselves up to the minimum standards (as opposed to developed countries destroying their social and business environments to compete with more backward, anti-progressive countries).
Turkey is probably on of the biggest success stories of the European Union. At first, EU membership seemed completely out of the question. To quote Leonard:
"Turkey first applied to join the European Union in 1963, and for four decades it has had the prospect of membership dangled in front of it but then removed because of the failings of the Turkish government. Turkish human rights abuses, restrictions on press freedom, the persecution of minorities, and the backwardness of the Turkish economy have all provided European governments with reasons to withdraw the nectar of membership. However, in Turkey today the prospect of joining the European club has become a unifying national dream—uniting secularists and Islamists with Anatolians, Kurds, and Armenians—behind a project that promises all a better future.
"Over the last few years, the Turkish Parliament has passed six packages of constitutional amendments designed to bring Turkey in line with European standards. When the Prime Minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, talks to his colleagues in Brussels, he boasts of abolishing the death penalty, the army-dominated security courts, and curbs on free speech. He can talk of how he has brought military budgets under civilian control for the first time ever, and of his ‘zero tolerance for torture’ in Turkish prisons. He has secured the release of Kurdish activists from prison, and allowed Turkish State Television, TRT, to begin broadcasting programmes in Kurdish and other minority languages such as Bosnian and Arabic. He has abandoned thirty years of intransigence on the Cyprus question, and erased centuries of mutual suspicion between Greece and Turkey with skilful diplomacy—so much so that Turkey’s fiercest rival in the past has been transformed into one of the leading supporters of Turkish membership in the EU. This revolution has come about for one reason alone: the Turkish desire to join the European Union." (page 50)
This soft-power approach does have its limits; Leonard suggests that the EU faced its greatest test in Srebrenica, where the Bosnian Serbs re-introduced genocide to Europe as they rounded up around seven thousand Muslims and butchered them. Since then, Europe has begun building a European army, in order to be able to add the threat of force to the continuum of responses they employ to achieve their goals. But the lessons of centuries of conflict are not lost on Europe; the Rapid Reaction force is intended to stay small, only able to respond to situations, not to conquer nations. The final word should go to Leonard:
"If ever there was a cause to listen to Monnet’s injunction to ‘enlarge the context by changing the basic facts’ it is in Europe’s new neighbourhood....For example, in Iran, American strategies of isolation and coercion are actually encouraging the suppression of democracy and the development of nuclear weapons. The lesson the Iranians drew from the Iraq war is that the only way to be safe from American invasion is to have a nuclear deterrent—and the challenge is to develop it quickly while American troops are still bogged down in Iraq. Equally, as Iran has already become a ‘pariah state’, it has nothing to lose by suppressing democracy. This is why a European policy, which starts with a recognition of Iran’s motivations and tries to change the calculus of risk for the government, could be more effective. By taking their security concerns seriously, and offering major economic benefits, it is trying to regain leverage over the Iranian regime that the American strategy of isolation has lost. But without American involvement the EU cannot succeed as it cannot offer the Iranians the security guarantees they need." (pp. 108-109)