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Little Europeans

Posted by Richard Thursday, July 29, 2004

Although it is some little time since we did our last "myth of the week", normal service will resume in due course and, as soon as we have completed twelve of them – the same number as the stars that grace (if that is the right word) the EU national flag – we intend to publish them in a pamphlet.

In our endeavours, however, we find we have been given some help from an unexpected source, none other than the Guardian. In today’s edition, Martin Jacques - a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics Asia Research Centre – has written a piece headed "Face it: no one cares", with the strap, "Europe is no longer the world's top dog, but our hubris blinds us to our insignificance".

Shorn of some of the polemics, and a comment about the French role in attempting to block US intervention in Iraq – with which we could hardly agree – the piece would serve remarkably well as a "myth" entitled: "The nation state is dead".

That beguilingly simple statement is, after all, at the heart of the integrationalist doga of the European Union, one espoused by Monnet after his experience in the League of Nations during the 20s, and the driving force behind the whole federalist movement. Nation states, so the mantra goes, are a nineteenth-century (failed) construct, the ultimate causes of war and the reason why Europe has failed to prosper.

What Jacques does in his piece is point out that, for centuries, Europe was the world's most outward-going and expansionist continent – which incidentally coincided with the heyday of the nationalist ethos in Europe. Now, after fifty years of the integrationalist experiment, Europe has become inward-looking and self-absorbed. "From being the place to view and understand the dynamics of the world", Jacques writes, it no longer provides such a vantage point".

As anyone with the glimmerings of an internationalist perspective would readily agree, Jaques points out that "the engines of change have moved elsewhere" – not that the "Europeans" - including the British - recognise this. "They still think that Europe, the US apart, is the centre of the world". In fact, what Jacques is identifying is a phenomenon on which we ourselves have remarked. While the Europhiles so easily brand Eurosceptics as "little Englanders", they themselves are the "little Europeans".

Thus does Jacques write, "Europeans are still largely unaware of this slippage in their global importance is itself powerful confirmation of the growing provincialism of our continent". He continues:

The integration project, which has dominated the life of Europe for almost half a century, has served to reinforce and accentuate this sense of introversion, even at times acted as the author of it. This is not surprising. It has been a huge, difficult and novel undertaking. It has commanded the energy, brains and focus of the continent, directing them towards the nature, boundaries and arrangements of Europe rather than the wider world. The result has been self-absorption…
The decline, Jacques diagnoses, is "in reality" the decline of the European nation state, which is a regional rather than global phenomenon.  On the other hand:

For the majority of nation states, products of colonial liberation and for whom an independent nation state is an entirely novel experience, the opposite is the case. For them, the building of a strong nation state has been the central objective. The results have inevitably been varied, but if we take the instance of east Asia, home to a third of the world's population, then the project has been hugely successful: the vast majority of nation states have seen a steady accretion of power - the opposite to the European experience.
"The era we have now entered", he adds, "would be more appropriately described as the moment of the nation state". After living in east Asia and witnessing the extraordinary historical transformation over there, Jacques has been "taken aback by the sheer ignorance of what was happening - how Europeans had not understood its significance - not least for themselves - and by their provincialism (in which the elite is no exception)".

And he is not optimistic about the future. "European self-absorption will surely continue", he concludes. "Europe will remain preoccupied and troubled by the integration process for a long time to come, not least because the project is bureaucratically driven - as it must be - in a continent which is historically the home to democracy and popular sovereignty, a contradiction that lies at the heart of the project and always will".

There we have it. Those who think that "Europe" is the way forward, the vision of the future, should look outside their own narrow parochialism and see what is happening in the rest of the world, where the nation state is alive and thriving. It is Europe that is dying, the Europe of integration, bureaucracy and the suppression of democracy. Thank you Martin Jacques – and the Guardian – for pointing that out.