The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am


The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe
by David Marquand
Princeton University Press

The European Union promised business without borders, not a debt crisis. While many European taxpayers question the value of union membership, British academic David Marquand provides a timely template for their debate in The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe.

The union began as a peace ideal with the six-nation European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, says Marquand, a former Labour backbencher, European Commission official and now principal of Mansfield College, Oxford.

The concept thrived in the post-war boom and led to the formation of the EU at the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the launch of the Euro, nine years later. The EU now has a population of 500 million and a gross domestic product of US$16 trillion, but it has grown 'like a lanky schoolboy who has outgrown his strength' with 27 members, and is doomed to irrelevance unless it modifies its governance and global role, says Marquand.

He points to the intricacy of the EU bureaucracy with the authority of a Brussels insider, and, with the brevity of a former Guardian leader writer, describes the push-and-pull of power between the EU administration and member states. An estimated '80 per cent' of Irish national legislation in 2008 and 'about half' of Britain's laws affecting business, charities and voluntary sector 'stems from union bodies', he explains.

But the slump of 2007-10 exposed 'a design flaw in the Eurozone', he writes. Irish former EU commissioner Peter Sutherland says its system of governance is 'intellectually and politically schizophrenic', Marquand says.

Worse, 'there are signs of a fatal disconnect dividing the peoples of Europe from the European elites', he adds. Turnouts in European Parliament elections have declined from 'almost 65 per cent in 1979 to 43 per cent in 2009', the author says.

Marquand advises Europe to rethink itself, and cites Hong Kong tycoon Ronnie Chan Chi-chung's observation that the 'system that the West touted as superior has failed'. The continent's challenge, the author adds, 'is how to grow a European demos that can sustain a European federation, playing a worthy part' in a new world.

Whether Marquand's erudite recommendations lead to a group Euro hug is unclear, but this book's title, The End of the West, seems sensationalist, even as the Greeks riot.

The EU and the West are down but far from ended.

Readers might wonder if Marquand has crafted a forum for the very think-tank waffle that could have bogged the simplicity of union founder Jean Monnet's ideal: 'We're not joining states together, we're uniting people.'

European taxpayers might look to the success of Hong Kong, and wish the EU simply stuck to building business without borders.