It is seldom that you come across a political book as clear and straightforward in its prognosis as Mark Leonard’s "Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century". The chapters flow with a clarity that is unusual for such a book, and it for sure really makes you think. But there is a serious problem with what he writes: he almost totally ignores the views of the people.

The argument that Leonard puts together startes with Jean Monnet’s characteristic approach to questions of European integration – start with the technical and practical matters, and all will flow from that. Eschew grand plans, and big constitutional schemes. Practical steps will bring dividends.

According to Leonard’s lucid analysis, that is precisely what the European Union has managed to achieve. Far from falling into telling a story of gloom about European integration as many commentators have done in recent years, Leonard is robust in his analysis of what Europe can and could achieve, both internally (he coins the term ‘the Stockholm consensus’) and escpecially externally – the countries that fall into the EU’s sphere of influence, and how the schemes of trade and other financial incentives have worked to stabilise many countries around the EU and beyond.

In short, describing what we have as a ‘Network Europe’, Leonard gives a profound and robust defence of what Europe has so far achieved and could achieve by continuing along (more or less) its present lines.

But there is one major flaw: throughout Leonard’s entire analysis, he seems to have ignored that Europe’s citizens might like a say in determining their own futures. While the appetite for voting in European Parliament elections, as Leonard underlines, has remained low, it is undoubtedly true that citizens are (rightly) growing more and more concerned about the European project over which they fear they have little or no control.

Take the accession of Turkey as an example. While Leonard just states that Turkey joining the EU will be a good thing geopolitically, will promote reforms in Turkey etc., he simply seems to neglect the matter that the majority of EU citizens do not want Turkey in the EU. As a big supporter of both eventual Turkish accession, and a major role for the citizens in shaping the EU, Leonard’s ideas of a Network Europe simply do not give us viable answers.

The same can be said for other matters. Take the threat of climate change for example. The EU’s present wrangles over environmental policy, and debates about how to better convince citizens that the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is viable, are matters of major concern to citizens. Network Europe cannot adequately meet these concerns.

Perhaps most major of all is the reaction of European citizens to the Iraq war. The huge show of popular will against the war was a major pan-European demonstration that the people wanted to be listened to on foreign policy questions. Adequate EU-level answers, requiring both input and output legitimacy, are badly needed.

I do not feel there need be an inherent contradiction between Leonard’s analysis, and a more accountable and responsive EU that better meets the needs of its citizens internally. It is simply that Leonard’s neglect of the citizens is a large hole in an interesting argument.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *