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November 1, 2014
Sunday, June 1, 2014

A dog-eat-dog world

In the grim globe that is looming on the horizon, the Europeans would be well-advised to stick together

By Argentine standards, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and the rest of them are not particularly nationalistic. Most would fit quite easily into the Peronist mosaic or feel at home after joining some allegedly leftwing grouping. But by the standards that are favoured by the European establishment that has lorded it over the Western bit of the continent since the end of the Second World War, they are disgusting rightwing extremists who presumably spend their days collecting Nazi memorabilia and their nights dreaming of jackboots smashing into their neighbours’ faces. In some cases, notably that of those irate Greeks who voted for the thugs of Golden Dawn, such suspicions may well be near the mark, but in most their objections to the current state of affairs seem reasonable enough.

There can certainly be no doubt that the euro, a monetary straightjacket that has proved to be far tighter than Domingo Cavallo’s currency board, was introduced somewhat prematurely by ideologues determined to force all Europeans to behave like hard-working Germans. Not surprisingly, many who live in countries whose economies that have never been run on Teutonic lines would dearly like to welcome back the franc, peseta, lira, escudo, drachma and other such relics. From their point of view, competitiveness, efficiency, productivity and the like may be desirable, but if putting them first means depriving millions of people of a decent living, they would rather stick to the lackadaisical old ways or, at most, go about things in a more leisurely fashion even if it made them lag further and further behind their many rivals.

As well as disliking “austerity”, taking it for granted that if only the technocrats in Brussels relented there would be plenty of money for everyone who needed more, Europeans are upset about large-scale immigration. In the UK and Germany, the rebels limited themselves to talking about the unfairness of letting Rumanians, Bulgarians and other people from poverty-stricken former Communist lands come in to take advantage of generous welfare systems funded by tax-payers. Elsewhere, especially in France, they were franker. Marine Le Pen and her many supporters fear that Europe is being overrun by Moslems who, instead of embracing the local culture, reject it with scorn and insist on their hosts making allowances for theirs. Proletarian reluctance to put up with exotically garbed newcomers who threaten to behead anyone who dare mock their prophet may be as deplorable as good progressives say it is, but it can hardly be described as unnatural. On the whole, people prefer to live among their own kind and do not like being berated by their betters for saying so.

In a world in which huge countries such as the US, China and India are jostling for position, technological progress is destroying jobs at an alarming rate and murderous fanatics are running amok, even Germany is too small to go it alone. As long as the US felt comfortable playing the role of globocop, as did the UK throughout the 19th century, countries like Norway or city states such as Singapore could thrive, but it would seem that the US has grown weary of being in charge and getting blamed for whatever goes wrong. A modest superpower content to lead from behind may be more lovable than the imperialist version Barack Obama decided to trade in, but in the belief that it is now safe for them to come out of hiding, more and more troublemakers are emerging from the shadows.

Vladimir Putin, who is busily trying to dismember Ukraine, is far from being the most dangerous individual who thinks the time has come for some geopolitical changes. In comparison with the utterly ruthless men who are determined to remove anyone and anything that stands in the way of a reborn “caliphate” destined to rule the planet, Russia’s ruler is a benign gentleman with a slightly old-fashioned approach to international affairs.

In the grim world that is looming over the horizon, the Europeans would be well-advised to stick together. Most seem to understand this: a recent opinion poll shows that even in the famously standoffish UK, a majority think that quitting the EU would be a big mistake. But they, like their more sensible neighbours across the Channel, refuse to accept that it must be a choice between all and nothing, between “more Europe”, that is, leaving everything in the hands of technocrats in Brussels, and no Europe at all, as enthusiasts for what they hope will eventually become a homogeneous superstate are prone to insinuate.

What the naysayers want is a looser confederation in which “states’ rights” are defended with a zeal once shown by southern racists in the US. Of course, among the rights sceptics demand are some that the multiculturalist progressives who dominate the European project and are reluctant to send “hate preachers” back to countries where they would be ill-treated would find distressing but, as last week’s election results make clear, their influence is waning fast. Sadly for them, the dream of a Europe whose power would stem not from guns or money but from its moral superiority has lost what attraction it may once have had for flesh-and-blood Europeans who, if democracy survives, will have the last word.

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