Europe’s Bradbury moment

by John Q on September 15, 2023

One of the iconic moments in Australian sport occurred in at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Australians are strong in most summer sports, but we don’t have much in the way of a winter, so it was considered quite an achievement for Steven Bradbury to make the finals of the speed skating event. He was given little chance of winning, and was trailing the pack until the final seconds, when all four skaters ahead of him crashed spectacularly. Bradbury cruised past them to claim the gold medal, one of only six in Australia’s winter olympics history.

It strikes me that this is a metaphor for the current position of the EU. It’s long been regarded as an also-ran in the global economy, and geopolitics, trailing behind the US, China and Russia. And (at least 52 per cent of) the UK decided it could do much better outside. The EU has plenty of problems with the climate catastrophe, sluggish economic growth, the rise of the far-right and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But compared to the crash of the others, it looks pretty good. It’s way ahead on decarbonization, has mostly recovered from the disaster of austerity, and has high living standards and (unlike the US) rising life expectancy. The far-right has had some wins, but nothing comparable to its takeover of the US Republican party. And Brexit has served as an awful warning to anyone contemplating leaving. The problem facing the EU now is how to deal with the queue of eager applicants.

Of course, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. The ECB could screw up again, and generate another long recession. The far-right could do better. On the other side of the coin, the Democrats could win convincingly enough in 2024 to put an end to the threat of Trumpism. But right now the EU seems to be dodging the worst of the global trainwreck.