Friday, May 25, 2012

JH and difficulties of governing the EU

part of Habermas and the EU

Only this week has JH’s The Crisis of the European Union become available in the U.S. Polity delightfully divides its publication dates into “U.S.” and “ROW” [Rest of World]. Why the ROW get Polity books before the U.S. is a curious thing. But the U.S. edition reverses the order of essays, apparently. (The book description refers to the human rights essay as first, but it’s not first in the U.S. edition).

The EU situation is changing so quickly that one might wonder about the topicality of JH’s essay on the EU over a year after it was written. Of course, it’s topical for long-term issues of EU governance. But needs for action are in a quickly-changing environment.

In any case, JH has provided his view more recently, mid-March, 2012: “Bringing the Integration of Citizens into line with the Integration of States.” But—ha!—Sarkozy was still President of France then. The Greek election had not yet wrecked new chaos. And now, growth-oriented policy is almost the consensus position (as Merkel looks increasingly isolated, both globally and domestically). How things change so quickly! [6/30/2012 note: That was an understatement, relative to the past month. I’ll get back to this topic eventually.]

I find JH’s March article to be an accurate assessment of what was going on, in March (though it’s understandly biased toward polemic that would be most relevant to a German audience, i.e., polemic against Merkel’s policies). But the accuracy I read might not be the accuracy that JH intends, for I see irony: The credibility of his critique of the lack of democratic efficacy by EU “technocrats” (causing a “legitimation crisis”) is undermined by his acknowledgement of complexities of EU democratization that he explicates later in his article, as if EU leadership, facing a near-term crisis, was supposed to have provided for resolution of long-term problems which JH finds intractible.

For example, his appreciation of national differences (against a homogenizing notion of European nationality, late in his article) undermines his earlier holding culpable EU leadership for not making more progress toward fiscal integration.

His blaming of EU leadership for not being more communicative is relative to information that is as widely available to anyone who reads the news as it’s available to JH because the EU leadership is so exposed to the press. It’s not that a public can’t know the reality of the fiscal problems (which I would enjoy detailing). It’s that an angry public is an inestimable mix of informed and ill-informed views, and angry citizens may favor vocal reactionism that’s ill-informed (ergo, reactionary populism), as well as constructive engagement.

No one is hiding the answer, because there is none. The EU is facing unprecedented times in its evolving. JH asserts that “each of us [should have] combined in his or her person the role of a national citizen with the role of a citizen of the European Union,” but not buy into a notion of European nationality. So, how? We may know good long-term answers (e.g., in terms of constitutional patriotism or cosmopolitan values), as readers of complex social theory (dealing theoretically with evolving identity formations), but the actual challenges of cultural-political-economic education in a fast-changing environment (e.g., unsustainability of welfare statist complacency in a tax-evasive global economy) call for appropriate appreciation of real near-term feasibilities—and constructive emphasis of the importance of giving attention to realistic interventions, beyond deconstructive polemic that any informed reader could endorse. Legarde puts it bluntly: “It’s payback time” in Greece.

Anyway, JH is certainly an exemplary polemical voice, and of course I’m a non-EU observer (but living in an economy that’s wedded to EU success, along with all other developed economies).

A highly complementary voice is Amartya Sen’s commentary this week for The New York Times, which more succinctly conveys the point that JH is generally making: “The Crisis of European Democracy.”