Courtesy Reuters

Debating Europe

By Stephen R. Graubard

To the Editor:

Andrew Moravcsik, reviewing Democracy in Europe by Larry Siedentop ("Despotism in Brussels?," May/June 2001), states that the European Union "is the most ambitious and most successful example of peaceful international cooperation in world history." Would any serious historian accept that cosmic judgment? Or what would political scientists say of an observation that seems to denigrate the less ambitious and less successful United Nations? Moravcsik's dismissal of Siedentop's book as "a whiff of Oxford 'high-table history'" scarcely explains why Europeans who live outside the sceptered isle find the Siedentop book compelling. These men and women, presumably uninfected by the English maladies -- described by Moravcsik as "ideological and partisan polemics," the product of the "combined pressure of a powerful foreign-owned tabloid press and a vocal minority among Tories" -- are not likely to have been impressed by what the reviewer calls Siedentop's "penchant for pure philosophy in lieu of empirical evidence."

Moravcsik claims that the only issue worth discussing is "how best to manage economic interdependence." If so, how is one to account for the recent Irish anti-enlargement vote, the continuing commentary on the inadequacy of the Nice accords, the worries expressed about an unstable and depreciated euro? Are these the opinions only of Euroskeptics? If many Europeans, like Siedentop, know that there are three principal actors in the EU -- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- it is reasonable that he should seek to estimate the influence of each. If he exaggerates French influence in Brussels when many in Paris are concerned with what they perceive to be the growing German predominance in the EU since unification, that error ought certainly to be corrected. Moravcsik cannot possibly do this, given what he believes the EU and European politics to be. Gordon Brown, the ambitious chancellor of the exchequer, although scarcely a hero either in the United Kingdom or the EU, is not simply a politician in bondage to an uninformed and provincial British public opinion shaped by foreign media moguls and ignorant Tories. Europeans on the continent, much as the benighted English, sense that the confident days of Helmut Kohl and Franois Mitterrand are over -- and not because one, the other, or both are today politically eclipsed.

In asking Europeans to discuss their future seriously, Siedentop's arguments are not invalidated by the inaccurate suggestion that he lacks knowledge of what Europe's leading intellectuals, journalists, and politicians are saying about the EU. Oxford may be a cloister, but it is not a prison closed to European opinion.

Stephen R. Graubard

Professor of History Emeritus, Brown University

Andrew Moravcsik responds:

Stephen Graubard believes I have been unfair to Larry Siedentop. But it is hard to grasp just why, since he does not engage the central elements of my critique.

Siedentop's portrayal of the EU as a despotic superstate, I argued, caricatures an international organization that is in fact small and politically constrained. Siedentop's claim that he is the first to offer meaningful philosophical analysis of European democracy overlooks a decade of extensive continental discussion. And Siedentop's eighteenth-century scheme to legitimize European integration by appealing to a purported consensus on the Christian religion, the English language, and local legal cultures is more than an anachronism; it is just plain cranky.

Graubard is silent on these fundamental issues. Instead he nets red herrings. Yes, some continentals find Siedentop's argument compelling (though the reaction has been far cooler there than in the United Kingdom). And yes, European public opinion has recently become more critical of the EU's enlargement, monetary policy, and institutional form. But this does not prove Siedentop correct; to the contrary, it demonstrates that without his analysis or proposed reforms, Europeans have been quite able both to debate about the future of Europe and to impose meaningful democratic constraints on its institutions. This is one reason why European integration has slowed greatly in recent years and further cause to dismiss Siedentop's warnings about the continent's incipient tyranny.

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.