Opinion

John Lloyd

It is time to save the EU

John Lloyd
Apr 2, 2014 16:17 UTC

A surge of far-right parties is about to hit the European parliament. Last weekend’s success of the National Front in France was led by the party’s leader Marine Le Pen, who pledges to take France out of an agreement that is destroying jobs and flooding towns with immigrants. Similar advances by the right are appearing in differing degrees of intensity elsewhere in Europe.

The European elections next month will likely see 100 or more deputies from the Freedom Party of Austria, the British UK Independence Party, the Dutch Freedom Party, the Finnish True Finns, the Flemish (Belgian) Vlaams Blok, the German Alternative for Germany, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Italian Five Star Movement, the Swedish Democrats as well as the National Front enter parliament. They’ll be noisy, passionate, insulting, disruptive and in some cases well-primed to exploit every weakness and mistake in the European parliament.

The arrival of these deputies is the most recent bit of bad news for the Brussels politicians and officials whose job is to steer the European Union through its roughest patch in half a century. Together with two other hammer blows, this bad news could actually save the EU.

A no-holds-barred argument about the purpose of the EU would dynamize this somnolent assembly. Some would be forced to face the euroskeptic issues that are raised by far-right parties, including the difficulty of attracting interest to an organization in which the members are unknown.

For decades, these issues have been ducked. But in the next election they will be forced on to the agenda. Finding the words and the passion to defend and promote the EU in debates will mean that Europeans will perhaps begin to see the point of the organization.

France is the ‘sick man of Europe’

John Lloyd
Mar 26, 2014 15:49 UTC

It’s France’s turn to be the “sick man of Europe,” a competition that no country wants to win.

The phrase seems to have originated with Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who wrote it in reference to the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the mid-nineteenth century. The Tsar said Turkey was “sick” and journalists added the “man of Europe” a century later. It was bestowed on whichever laggard European state could be put into a headline.

In the seventies it was the UK, then seen as prey to militant unions. In the nineties it was Germany as it struggled with the costs of reunification. Italy, with no or low growth and huge debts, has had the title sporadically over the past four years. So has Greece, of course, as well as hard-pressed Portugal.

Even a billionaire cannot save the EU from itself

John Lloyd
Mar 14, 2014 15:02 UTC

The world’s richest hedge fund manager, George Soros, says Europe’s great project, the European Union, is at risk. Even if it survives it is doomed, he says, to a period of stagnation and fragility, rendering it powerless on a world scene dominated by powerful blocs.

At 83 and insisting that he has retired, Soros still commands attention. He appeared at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London on Wednesday (he is a main funder) where he offered an off-the-cuff judgment that a central bank in an independent Scotland would be a risky endeavor. He generated headlines in a country that is nervous of a breakup of the Union. He dominated the morning’s BBC Today program, required listening for all public figures. He addressed a packed lecture hall at his alma mater, the London School of Economics and attended a meeting at the House of Commons.

Soros’ fame is a mixture of fear, awe, admiration and prejudice. At the same time, his reputation, at least among liberals, is one of generosity and vision. In the past three decades he has invested $8 billion in promoting democracy in the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, including the former republics of the Soviet Union — and later further afield in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

The retreat of the Eastern partnership

John Lloyd
Mar 12, 2014 14:23 UTC

The Russian bear must be left with meat after its early spring hunt. The hard part is: how much?

The veteran strategist Edward Luttwak argues for a “re-engineering” of Ukraine that would hand Crimea and the Eastern regions to Russia, saving the Western rump for Europe. This would, writes Luttwak, “offer the promise of stability at last, with the major disadvantage of legitimizing Putin’s use of force.”

Unprincipled as it is, a capitulation to Russia may be what the hesitant European Union, rife with part-submerged splits, will settle for.

The EU’s soft power and the big carrot

John Lloyd
Dec 17, 2013 20:50 UTC

MOSCOW – There’s a joke in Europe, the making of which is credited to Lord Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University who in the 1980s was the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations. Adapting President Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick,” Patten said that the EU’s attitude to foreign affairs was to “speak softly but carry a big carrot.”

Collectively, Europe must exercise influence through “soft power.” The concept was invented by Joseph Nye, the Harvard political scientist, who, in his 2004 book “Soft Power,” defined it as the power to influence other countries without force or money. Instead, soft power draws people to it who, by “admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness — want to follow it.”

U.S. soft power has suffered in the past decade because the hard kind has been so prevalent. But it has not disappeared. It draws people to it still. The EU has had nothing but soft power. The “big carrot” is its ability to have others “aspire to its level,” economic or otherwise, accompanied by the promise of financial assistance. Yet Patten’s joke carries a rueful recognition that this may be a less-than-realistic approach to a hard world.

The inconvenient voters of Europe

John Lloyd
Nov 19, 2013 17:06 UTC

Sixty years ago, pondering the question of an unruly populace, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht mused, “Would it not be easier / In that case, for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?”

It was a rare piece of ironic criticism of East Germany’s communist regime for Brecht, since he usually supported it. But after the regime’s suppression of a workers’ revolt in 1953, he spoke out. It’s one of his most famed observations, trotted out whenever a populace is ungrateful enough to vote “against their own good.”

European Union politicians can sympathize. They’ve labored for six decades to fashion a union that was supposed to end wars and greatly expand economic markets, not to mention bring former communist states into freedom.

Goodbye to all that centrism

John Lloyd
Sep 30, 2013 20:17 UTC

How much longer will the political center hold in Europe? Its erosion, years in the making, is only picking up speed. In Italy, the latest political crisis presages the collapse of the centrist left-right coalition. In Austria, a recent election barely gave a similar coalition enough votes to continue governing. The European Union nations are hurtling toward elections next spring for the European parliament, which will bring real debate and divide to what has been a largely consensual assembly. Not far separated from the yolk of the financial crisis, nationalism is the politics of the times.

While Europe’s economy is making a slow, small improvement (with exceptions in the south), its politics are becoming much more fragile. Most economists say that the crisis can only be fully remedied by taking more powers into a powerful Euro-center, one that’s fiscal, financial, macro-economic, and thus political. Brussels believes it must be done: but no national government, even Germany’s, believes it could deliver popular approval for the move. The crisis is already forcing integration, yet causing citizens to recoil from the EU. That’s the central contradiction of Europe, stark and grim.

Voters now demand that their national governments protect them from the fallout of treaties that their political leaders signed. Citizens are concerned that immigration — especially from the two latest (and poorest) EU members, Romania and Bulgaria — is ruining their societies, and the growing recoil is forcing these politicians to retreat from their commitments. Manuel Valls, the French Interior Minister, said in an interview last week that many of the Roma (once known as gypsy) people who have come to France mainly from Romania and Bulgaria and live in squalid camps, should return. A European Commission spokesman responded the next day, saying such a move would break European law.

A peace prize for a continent that’s far from tranquillity

John Lloyd
Oct 12, 2012 20:46 UTC

If, upon hearing the news that the Nobel Peace Prize is going to the European Union, the first response is “You’ve got to be kidding”, the second must be… “they’ve got a point.” The third is: But how much of a point?

You’ve got to be kidding is easy enough. The demonstrations, the strikes, the protests. An unprecedented police presence in Athens to ensure the prime minister of friendly Germany, Angela Merkel, is safe from angry mobs. The military in Spain hinting they may intervene to stop the country breaking up. A stream of opinion pieces speculating on Greek exit, euro collapse…and/or German domination. A faltering of the belief, on the part of most European intellectuals, that the EU was a unique, enlightenment project that showed the world (and particularly the United States) what peaceful, consensual spread of civic virtues looked like.

And then, in the midst of this, with no guarantee that all will be well, the European Union gets the Nobel Peace Prize, joining past winners Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa and Andrei Sakharov, among others. One of these is not like the others.

Europe’s reckoning is delayed…but for how long?

John Lloyd
Jun 18, 2012 18:33 UTC

Everything in Europe has a ‘but’ attached to it these days. Spain got a bank bailout last week, but it hasn’t convinced the markets. Mario Monti is a great economist and wise man, but he’s losing support for his premiership of Italy. Angela Merkel is listening to the voices that try to persuade her that Germany should bankroll growth, but she hasn’t done anything yet.

The New Democracy party, a grouping that, broadly, wants Greece to stick with the euro and bear more austerity (though it will bargain hard for less) has won… but what its leader, Antonis Samaras, has just got for himself is the worst political job on the continent, and may not be able to deliver. If, in democracy’s cradle, he can forge a coalition, keep to the terms of the bailout his country has received, enact rapid and deep reforms, and preserve democratic rule, he will deserve a place in the pantheon – a Greek word, after all, meaning a temple for the gods.

And so far, he’s been no god. A fellow countryman, the Yale political scientist Stathis Kalyvas, wrote in Foreign Affairs in June that Samaras “is widely seen as representing the corrupt and ineffective Athens political establishment that led the country to ruin”. Yet it’s this man, with all of his history, faults and frailties, on whom the future of Greece – and by many measures, the future of the European Union – depends.

No Union, please, we’re English

John Lloyd
Dec 29, 2011 18:30 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

In France, it is les Anglais. In Germany, die Engländer. In Italy, gli Inglesi. In Russia, Anglichane.

The peoples of the United Kingdom, for most other peoples, are habitually “English.”

Not unnaturally. The English part of the UK accounts for close to 90 per cent of the country’s population; the language is English; the capital is London, long the English capital; the accents heard are overwhelmingly English; the long-held stereotype of the country is an upper-class English gent, snobbish, prudish and insular.

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