From Socialist Voice, September 2009

“After the third No”

Gwyn Prins and Johanna Möhring, Another Europe?: After the Third No, Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2008; ISBN 978-1-84351-150-2.

This book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the European Union and how it is developing. It takes the form of a dialogue between two friends, one of whom works in the European Parliament. It attempts to bring the scholarly findings of academic studies on the European Union into the public realm.
     It is a surprise and a shame that this book, published in 2008, somehow slipped under the radar, as it could have both informed and enlivened the debate on the Lisbon Treaty.
     The MacKinder Programme at the London School of Economics undertook this work, interviewing more than seventy “distinguished practitioners” whose opinions were to inform the work. A formal paper presenting matters arising from the interviews can be read at the web site
     Those interviewed come from all over the European continent, none, however, from Ireland. The only name recognisable to this reviewer is that of Susan George, chairperson of the Planning Board of the Transnational Institute and author of We, the Peoples of Europe, who visited these shores before the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
     The women agree on some of the European contributions to the development of politics and democracy, with particular regard to the Enlightenment. However, where they come into sharp disagreement is regarding the increasingly top-down political structure of the European Union.
     Some quotations will give an idea of the incisive dialogue.
     Concentration of central authority in a few hands, a ‘hold from above’, has a poor record in modern history. The crisis to which the institutions of Europe were a first response was the result of one thing above all—the dictatorial approach to politics.
     Seen in the long view of history, the Lisbon ceremony may well have set back European unification for generations.
     To save the Union, we will all have to recognise that the simple, one-dimensional model cannot work. The quasi-religious fervour for absolute integration has blocked objective evaluations of
[alternative models].
     Many Continental legal systems, rooted in European law, have built-in provisions for the protection of the individual vis-à-vis the state. These not only differ from those furnished by common law, they also differ significantly from each other. These differences are deeply embedded and, I believe, it is perilous to try to override them.
     The higher the project of integration aims in theory, the more certain a break-up in practice.
     We must return to the people of Europe the great gifts of self-government, citizenship and freedom under law.

     The ideas discussed in this book are stimulating and not the arguments of “right” and “left”; in fact what is articulated is the deeply seated reservations of those who have a high regard for what has been accomplished by years of European co-operation but yet have real fears for what the future holds if the European Union is to become a superstate.
     It is easy to imagine two friends having these kinds of conversation, if emotions could be set aside. As one of the characters puts it, “In normal circumstances, I would not have raised the subject of our deeper disagreement. Both of us are the offspring of mixed parentage, she German and French, I Scottish and Czech. Many cups of coffee stand witness to the extended conversations across the years that had revealed an ever-widening gap between us, to the point where silence became the protector of a friendship reaching back into our youth. But the shock of the unexpected turn of events reopened a discussion we both thought long exhausted.”
     A book like this can perhaps show us how to debate the tough issues with our opponents: with respect, and with due regard to where our opinions agree so that we can explore the realities that are before us now as we go to the polls for the second time on a treaty that will affect the lives of all who live in the twenty-seven member-countries of the European Union.

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