European Intellectuals

by Maria on August 11, 2003

Helen Szamuely reacts in EU Observer to Jan-Werner Muller’s reaction in European Voice to the Habermas/Derrida manifesto on a European identity. (pause for intake of breath) Muller’s article can’t be got at unless you’re a subscriber to European Voice, which is a shame – he seemed to be saying that Habermas was calling for a kind of historicism that would have Benjamin spinning in his grave. I have a special hatred for articles that end with that hoary old chestnut ‘we need a debate’, but as Muller’s piece is unobtainable by the masses, Szamuely’s is worth checking out.

By the by, I can’t bring myself to fork out for a subscription to EV. It costs almost as much as the Economist but often reads like a provincial gossip sheet. EU Observer is only available online and seems to draw on a wider pool of commentators.



Bob 08.11.03 at 1:59 pm

Whatever else, Helen Szamuely is absoluely correct in this: “The cultural commonality, so dear to the heart of the European philosophers who pronounce on these matters, clarifies nothing and merely surrounds the reality of the new state that is being created with cloudy and vaporous imprecision.”

One foreseeable outcome of the imprecision is that more EU-wide political decisions will be challenged by national governments, if only on the basis of subsidiarity, resulting in more referrals to the European court and hence government by judicial activism to fill constitutional voids. With the EU’s unwieldy and complex political structure it will prove difficult, verging on impossible, to then amend the judicial decisions by legislative process, perhaps instigated by electoral pressures according to the familiar ways of parliamentary democracies. In short, we will be stuck with the decisions. Governing political parties in national legislatures will be able to shrug-off accountability to national electorates by blaming their policy failings or incompetence on European institutions.

As the newly drafted EU Constitution vests in EU institutions sweeping powers to coordinate the economic policies of national governments, the consequences appear well, if unwittingly, designed to achieve policy inertia, confusion and uncertainty, hardly conditions favourable to resolving the persisting rates of high unemployment and lagging economic performance in the major Eurozone economies. The escape route is for national governments to simply ignor EU decisions and agreements in the way that the major Eurozone economies are presently ignoring the fiscal deficit limits set in the Eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact – which hardly augurs well for the prospects of constitutional government in Europe.

Why do we need all this pain?


Guessedworker 08.11.03 at 4:06 pm


Some things do not change much, though our attitudes towards them mature considerably. This paragraph from the late Nick Ridley’s interview by Dominic Lawson, printed in the Spectator, 14th July 1990, is focussed on economics and the ERM. But the principle of unchallengable rule by remote bureaucracy was a sensitive one, and the unsensitive handling it received from Ridley was his political undoing.

“The strange thing about Mr Ridley’s hostility to the Bundesbank and all its works is that, if he had ever been Chancellor of the Exchequer – a job he admitted to me he once coveted, but no longer – then he would probably have matched the Germans in his remorseless aversion to inflation. But as he pointed out, “I don’t think that’s relevant. The point is that when it comes to “Shall we apply more squeeze to the economy or shall we let up a bit?” this is essentially about political accountability. The way I put it is this: can you imagine me going to Jarrow in 1930 and saying, “Look boys, there’s a general election coming up, I know half of you are unemployed and starving and the soup kitchen’s down the road. But we’re not going to talk about those things, because they’re for Herr Pohl and the Bundesbank. It’s his fault; he controls that; if you want to protest about that, you’d better get on to Herr Pohl”?


Bob 08.11.03 at 5:02 pm

Guessedworker – I’d forgotten that about Nicholas Ridley.

The curious thing is that from quotes I’ve seen posted on the web, Peter Hain, the present well-known cabinet minister, was saying something very much like that in rather less picturesque language in his book: Ayes To The Right, published in 1995. For reasons best known to himself, he seems to have undergone since a Damascene conversion to the causes of the Euro and European integration.

Curious too that despite Helen Szamuely’s fairly apt assessment of the draft new EU Constitution, Peter Hain is one of those quoted saying the new constitution is just a “tidying-up exercise”.

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