A widely acclaimed book on the EU is ten years out of dateby Charles Grant / October 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
i cannot recall a serious book about the EU winning such acclaim as Larry Siedentop’s Democracy in Europe. It has been showered with praise not only by Eurosceptics, but also by pro-Europeans. The Times serialised the book and its author appeared on Radio 4’s Start the Week.
But reading the book was a disappointment. Less than half of it is about the EU. Most of it is a discursive-and stimulating-essay on political liberalism. When Siedentop does deal with the EU, he asserts that the Europeans are trying to imitate the Americans in building a federal state. He argues that this would be a desirable venture, but says that the Europeans are not ready for it. And he accuses the French of hijacking the EU with their statist, bureaucratic, political culture, which will provoke a popular backlash against Europe.
The problem with this thesis is that it describes the EU of ten years ago. The idea that Europe’s governments are hell-bent on building a federal state had some truth in the era of Delors, Kohl and Mitterrand. Even then, the EU was a compromise between supranational institutions such as the commission, and inter-governmental bodies such as the council of ministers. The interesting change of the past decade, unremarked by Siedentop, is that the balance of power in the EU has shifted to governments. It is they who are running the new areas of integration such as foreign and defence policy, or justice and home affairs. Chirac, Blair and Schröder are not federalists. It is the European Council (the summit meetings of EU leaders), not Romano Prodi’s commission, which sets the EU’s agenda.
Most EU governments are pragmatic, supporting integration only when circumstances force them to. For example, Siedentop is wrong to say that economic and monetary union is the result of France’s desire to exert control over a unified Germany. Chancellor Kohl decided to go for EMU early in 1988, before anyone thought the Berlin Wall would fall, because Delors persuaded him that the exchange rate mechanism-an essential building block of the single market-could not survive the liberalisation of exchange controls. Similarly, the EU’s recent efforts to strengthen its foreign and defence policies are in large part a reaction to the turmoil in the Balkans during the 1990s, rather than the product of federalist ideology (and it is the British, rather than, as Siedentop claims, the French, who have been…