Book in brief: Europe's Last Chance by Guy Verhofstadt

Whisper it, but this book might have much to delight critics of the European Union
February 13, 2017
Europe's Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union, by Guy Verhofstadt (Basic, £18.99)

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You might not expect many “Leave” voters to buy a book that carries its federalist heart so unabashedly on its sleeve. Least of all if its author is running to be president of the European parliament and is a Brexit negotiator, whose appointment Nigel Farage called a “declaration of war.” But, whisper it, Guy Verhofstadt’s book might have much to delight critics of the European Union. The former Belgian prime minister mercilessly dissects what he calls “an undemocratic, inefficient, and wasteful European Union.” He rounds on the EU’s inadequate response to a catalogue of challenges: the refugee crisis, Russian antagonism, the turn to illiberalism in Eastern Europe, the eurozone crisis and its crippling effect on Greece, its incapacity to “shape the future” in digital, energy and capital markets. It is a candid, if at times broad-brush, analysis.

Yet this is where a Leaver’s sympathy will likely end. With customary gusto, and no shortage of personal anecdotes, Verhofstadt lays the blame for the EU’s failings squarely at the door of ever-reticent member states—and the “delusional spirit of nationalism [that] still haunts the continent.” He pleads for a new constitutional moment, a sweeping institutional rebirth.

Verhofstadt may well be right that the status quo is unsustainable; and a potential disintegration would be disastrous. But at a time when public disillusionment with politics—particularly of the liberal, supranational kind—is at an all-time high, his remedy will be a hard sell. Which ultimately makes this political battle cry a disheartening read.