Dead Men Left

Monday, June 06, 2005

Jean Monnet is dead

Johann Hari, showing his occasional ability to write excellent articles/things I broadly agree with:

So, Mesdames and Messiurs, the victim of the events of the past week is not the EU itself, nor the social model of Western Europe. Mais non! I have gathered you here in the library today to reveal that the victim is… Jean Monnet.

You may not recall him. He was the man with the garlic who you saw first at the beginning of this story, mes amis. Monnet was one of the first exponents of the European ideal, and his Europe was built on protecting the peoples of Europe from themselves. He believed in a technocratic, top-down Europe that kept its functions deliberately vague and was (at best) equivocal about the will of the people.

The presentation of Monnet as a dry technocrat is a little unjust. Monnet, a dapper financier, whilst working in Milan fell in love with the newly-wed wife of one of his Italian employees. She had a child by him two years later; with divorce being impossible under Mussolini, and annulment refused by her husband, her father and the Vatican, Monnet took his mistress to Moscow (he via Shanghai, she via Switzerland), acquired Soviet citizenship for them both, and married under the banns of the USSR. Later, back in Shanghai, his wife fled her estranged ex-husband - there attempting to kidnap his four-year old daughter, who had accompanied the Monnets to China - by seeking shelter in the Russian embassy before emigrating to the US, where the Monnets turned over their Soviet passports in exchange for US citizenship. Monnet was a technocrat, but a technocrat with an interesting personal life, at least, and an excellent biography, Jean Monnet, the first statesman of interdependence by Francois Duchene.

The technocratic vision to which Jean Monnet assidiously crafted the foundations of the EU was always sullied by its necessary engagement with the dirty politics of liberal democracy. Alan Milward, in his The European Rescue of the Nation-State, demonstrated with some precision how the functionalist logic of those, like Monnet, who saw integration inevitably following modernisation, never actually functioned. Instead, Milward presents a European integration driven by the requirements of domestic politics, and - in particular - the need for profoundly discredited European elites to buy consent through expanding markets, economic security, and the welfare state.

Milward's logic of national integration has just reasserted itself on a grand scale. The Maastricht Treaty bought consent for a neoliberal monetary union on promises of economic recovery and rehabilitation. It has failed entirely to deliver; and thus further attempts to create a new managerial order in Europe, based squarely upon free and deregulated markets and the erosion of the state's economic functions, collapsed. The technocratic solution, ably presented here by Timothy Garton Ash, of ignoring plebiscites and maintaining business as usual, cannot work: if it was not through the formal procedures of successive referenda, then it would be through the informal procedures of strikes, protests and civil unrest that unhappy citizenry would revolt against a neoliberal EU. It is a grim choice for the technocrats and the European political class, but by forcing them to face it we open the space for alternative visions.