Magazine article The American Conservative

Europe Is a Riot: The Collapse of the Economy May Presage Violence across the Continent

Magazine article The American Conservative

Europe Is a Riot: The Collapse of the Economy May Presage Violence across the Continent

Article excerpt

SOME TIME AGO, I asked a man in a bar where he was from.

"I'm European," he replied.

"Yes," I said, "but where are you from?"

"I'm European," he insisted.

In fact, he was obviously German, and perhaps only a German would have answered in this fashion. There are certain Germans with an excessive sensitivity to their country's historical crimes for whom it might have seemed like the beginning of the slippery slope to world domination to have replied, "I'm German."

But only someone with a cloth ear could fail to detect the false note in my interlocutor's reply. While many people will admit that they are European, few--apart, perhaps, from the deracinated bureaucrats on the Brussels gravy train--will admit to feeling European or identifying viscerally with Europe as a political entity. While many people support membership in the European Union on the grounds that it is good for their country, very few do so on the grounds that it is good for Europe. Ask not what you can do for Europe; ask, rather, what Europe can do for you.

Still, the pretense continues that the EU is more than a marriage of convenience born of the pan-European wars of the 20th century and sustained by the continent's ongoing decline in importance. The "European project," as some writers who fall halfway between intellectual and apparatchik are inclined to call it, is sometimes presented to the public as if it were a grand utopian experiment to make all men brothers. Just as Jehovah's Witnesses hand out pamphlets portraying lions as very large, presumably vegetarian, domestic cats and grizzly bears as cuddly friends of children--once, of course, everyone has become a Jehovah's Witness--so Eurocrats and Europhiles are inclined to talk of common destinies, eternal friendships, and the like. The Portuguese lion will lie down with the Estonian lamb, and all will be well.

Alas, current economic circumstances seem to have interrupted this pleasing daydream and introduced unpleasant realities. When you're coasting along and financial growth seems to be the natural order of things, you can dream what you like. But the moment a contraction sets in, when it is a question of manning the economic lifeboats as it were, everyone wakes up quicker than you can say "Abandon ship!"

When French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced a large state loan to ailing French carmakers Renault and PSA-Citroen, everyone understood what it meant. Of course, Sarkozy said that it was a commercial loan at 6 percent interest. But the question naturally arises as to why the French banks--which are a lot less unprofitable than their American counterparts--did not then offer their assistance. In plain language, the loan was a temporary subsidy for companies that, in the normal course of business, would have gone bankrupt. While there is much to be said in favor of such a helping hand in difficult times, it cannot truthfully be presented as a purely commercial decision or transaction.

The real problem, however, was that Sarkozy also suggested that if the companies were to close factories anywhere, they should close them abroad and not in France. What, then, of the common European home? According to the ideology of Europe, it should be a matter of sublime political indifference to leaders where the jobs in commercial companies are located. Renault and Citroen-PSA should have their factories wherever it is in their commercial interest to have them and nowhere else. Almost by definition, many of them would not be in France. But Sarkozy is president of France, not of anywhere else, and his electors, with the lamentable national parochialism that is still prevalent everywhere, care more about what happens in France than what happens anywhere else. They wouldn't think much of a French president who lent taxpayers' money to preserve jobs in the Czech Republic.

Stresses and strains are appearing across Europe, resuscitating the prospects of political extremism. …

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