Europe after Greece

In the Guardian Owen Jones rallies anti-EU sentiment and charts the disillusion among progressive Europeans after the crucifixion of Greece. Jürgen Habermas sticks to the European ideal but fears that Merkel has destroyed it; Wolfgang Streeck thinks the episode in Greece merely underlines the impossibility of  union among such diverse nations and the incompatibility, for the time being at any rate, of supra-national European institutions and democracy.

The argument for the European Union retains some of its original logic: the politics of democracy and co-operation to replace national competition and conflict, and the economics of a Europe-wide space in a global economy dominated by economic blocs and other giant players. It is true that ‘social Europe’ has been marginalised by neo-liberalism but the hysterical national narrow-mindedness of UKIP and the Tory right is even less attractive. The better socialist argument was always to fight one’s corner in Europe. Is this still true?

European expansion has stretched the idea of economic convergence to breaking point and this has fuelled the British obsession with immigration. Coupled with neo-liberal politics and economics it has rendered the Euro zone completely dysfunctional and the idea of ‘ever closer union’ a bad joke. Had Europe reacted to the economic crisis of 2008 with a display of solidarity and magnanimity things might have been different. Instead they chose to crucify those in the weaker economies of the south. Who now will make the argument for joining the Euro?

Europe cannot continue on the present tram lines as if nothing much has happened. The Tories want to re-invent the EU as the Common Market and that is more cloud cuckoo land stuff than ‘ever closer union’.  But they have a point about the Euro and Europe. ‘Ever closer union’ cannot accommodate a structural divide between those in and out of the Euro zone. Perhaps the EU should make a commitment to British membership of the Euro a condition of renegotiating Britain’s existing position within Europe?

A serious Conservative Party split on Europe is likely since Cameron simply cannot deliver a convincing re-negotiation but is likely to balk at Brexit. Labour only says it is pro Europe, makes populist noises about immigration, and demands unspecified reforms. Something has to [should] give.

Habermas’ commitment to Europe is still more credible that Streeck’s root-and-branch critique of the Union; the nation state has nowhere to go. But if European union is still a possibility it is only possible on the back of a development of a European politics, a debate about means and ends that involves the peoples of Europe rather than the elites.

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