Europe’s two problems

Europe has two big problems. Doubtless one of them is political, or to put it more precisely, it’s in the space of national politics.

The post-national European project has  stalled. It has certainly taken us a long way, from warring nation-states to an open community where we feel free and entitled as citizens throughout the continent. We’ve largely lost our national identities, and it may come as a surprise to Americans that we don’t care about our flags. National cultures are cherished as heritage, but not something to be defensive or overly proud of – certainly not something to kill or die for. The nation state was born in Europe in the 1700s and it died in Europe in 1945. Generations of visionary leaders have taken the people of Europe from the aftermath of an existential war to a point where the state is little more than an old-fashioned cultural and administrative unit. It took a lot of paternalism and manipulation to get us here, but on the whole we are grateful. Even the insular British do not prefer to go back to a time of animosity where crossing the border to Germany or France had the significance that entering Israel or Iran has today.

The problem is that after the Maastricht treaty and the introduction of the Euro the post-nationalist transformation has stopped. The Euro obviously came too soon for Europe, but also obviously it was the first of a sequence of bold steps that the then heads of state could not take all at once. Having the Euro is like putting one foot on a moving streetcar, but not climbing on board, instead limping desperately after it with the other foot on the street. The onward steps were very much expected and obvious, but they didn’t come: an elected European presidency; real powers for the European Parliament or some reformed elected chamber; continent-wide taxation, social security, and pension systems; business reform to allow companies to operate across the zone without country subsidiaries; stronger education, development, and technology agencies. None of this happened. The Euro and the ECB were the last post-national institutions that Europe saw.

We haven’t stopped to ask why. Continue reading

What is a state?

The concept of a state that we’re carrying into the 21st century is out of date. We need to examine what a state is today and, to the extent that we need governance, what form a state should take in a globally connected world.

The state that we think we have, the nation state, has only had a short and brutish existence. European nation states took their present form in the 18th or 19th century. Before this there were other forms of governance — empires, city states, feudalism — with varying degrees of size, ethnic cohesion, strict or lax laws, open or closed borders, etc. The most striking difference though has been the relationship of people with government, ranging from equal partnership to open exploitation. The nation state brought three centuries of coercive policy making coupled with paternalistic welfare.

Today the nation state is in crisis, not so much because of open borders or because the clan wars that it caused threaten to tear the world apart, but because its social contract is in crisis. The modern state can neither enforce policy nor provide welfare with credibility, and we’re not collectively sure if it should. We need a clear model of the state and its role.

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