Attending for a while to more immediate political concerns: Brexit. A story today suggested that Ireland should plan to leave the EU should Brexit be as hard and as cold as it promises to be. It struck me that it is in Britain’s interests to inflict significant damage on Ireland for several reasons. Primary amongst them is the rationale that Britain needs to divide Europe in order to find the best deal for itself. A divided and fractured Europe will make those who wish to defend the union more disposed to compromise. Therefore its strategies for dealing with the marginal nations – with Greece, with the Netherlands, and with Portugal – will be just as important as those strategies for dealing with France and Germany. Ireland is special, in that it shares a land border, and where there remains the possibility of terrorism – even if diminished – from a history all too recent.
With the Eurozone crisis in full swing, and ‘Grexit’ now seeming inevitable, the differences between France and Germany seem stark. In particular, the position of Germany appears to have veered significantly from the position it had taken at least in the aftermath of unification, and certainly at the time of the Maastricht Treaty. This is troublesome on many levels, not least the inevitable parallels that will be drawn between a belligerent and newly assertive Germany, and its inter-war counterpart.
The coalition negotiations in Germany appear to have stalled on the question of whether Chancellor Merkel will authorize further European capital (read: German capital) for Irish banks. Further more, the SDP is trying to force Ireland to raise its corporation tax rate, an incentive that has diverted investments away from the rest of Europe in key areas such as the Internet and Biotechnology. This is not the first time that Germany has taken on the appearance of a reluctant bully in Europe, forcing itself on the weaker nations who are not deserving of its largesse. It is of course symptom, not cause, and the true reason for the current difficulties – perpetuated now for five years or so – is the structural failure of the European project to manage economic diversity.
There is some great wealth in Europe, concentrated in pockets such as the Ruhr valley, Northern Italy, Southern England, and other places. Big industries such as auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals employ hundreds of thousands, while financial services help to facilitate the trade of those products all over the world. The wealth, however, is poorly distributed if we consider the wider context.
I’ve been reading Juergen Habermas slim volume The Crisis of the European Union: A Response, and I have to say that it is an exceptional read. Not only is it very accessible – important, if you’re trying to send a message to politicians – but it is equally concise. These are big thoughts, and grand ideas, and it is easy to get bogged down. Highly recommended to everyone reading this – if you’re interested in my blog, Habermas is a must. These are some of the notes I took on the Preface.
Ireland has had a well documented, rather turbulent recent economic history. Following on from the bursting of the property bubble and the attendant banking collapse, an extraordinarily myopic political decision to nationalise the exposure of the banks led to a sovereign debt crisis, and, ultimately, a bailout from the troika of the IMF, ECB and European Commission. Apart from the loss of money, there was plenty dramatic wailing about the loss of National Sovereignty, and references to the War of Independence and the heroes of 1916 and ‘is this what they died for?’ rhetoric. There was even a nuance to the sovereignty question, in that the country had lost her economic sovereignty, whatever that meant.
Now, politics has always had an uneasy alliance with the propriety of language, bending it to its will as any situation may have seen fit. The distinction between economic sovereignty, and other sovereignty, one supposes, is that while we’re not necessarily allowed to award pay rises to civil servants, we are still permitted to invade England. At least we have that, I guess. Of course, the extent to which we are – truly – permitted to invade England is limited in exactly the same way as our freedom to spend money has been limited. It is not a flat prohibition on action through coercive or other power that has limited what Ireland as a State can do; it is the threat of exclusion from international systems upon which we have become irrevocably dependent that limits our action.
Charles Moore’s article in the Telegraph yesterday caused something of a stir. Equality, he said, was not really a good thing at all. What’s that you say? He must be an elitist! How uncool is that! Well, essentially he was arguing that in the context of women in the army, and in particular on the front line of the army, that it was one step too far. Women just are not as strong as men, and therefore shouldn’t be there. His argument weakened when he extended it into civil partnership, defining marriage in terms of the legal structures for its dissolution, which appears to me to be something of a non sequitur. In essence, Moore misses the point that ‘unconventional’ couples are not seeking access to the institution, but rather to its attendant rights; indeed, they are seeking to fundamentally alter the institution, and make it more inclusive, rather than simply more equal.
I’m reading Fukuyama’s intriguing “The Origins of Political Order” at the moment, which is a little preachy and even excessively researched, but certainly worth the investment. Two things caught my attention this morning. First, in his discussion on legalism versus Confucian thought in China(p.119-120), he explains that Confucianism relied on family, kinship, and the patrimonial social order where the family was central. Legalism rejected tht approach, seeing mankind as homo economicus, binding citizens to the state on an economic, self-interested basis. It struck me that much of the socialist / capitalist, left-wing / right wing, US Democrat / US Republican, UK Labour / UK Conservative divide that we see today (and even Irish Labour / Irish Fine Gael, who are in coalition government together) mirrored that distinction from almost three thousand years ago. There are no new ideas, it would appear.
The second thing that piqued my interest was a reference to perfidious albion – in his assessment of why Europe did not develop in the same way as China, he cites geography (mountains, seas etc.) but also the presence of a large and (it would appear) disproportionately influential Britain, who “acted for much of European history as a deliberate balancer that tried to break up hegemonic coalition.” Plus ca change then. I started writing about this today in an attempt to explain current Euro zone goings on, but it descended rather rapidly into polemic, so I posted it on my political / opinion / rant blog over here.