Saturday, 7 May 2016

Book review: The European Identity, Stephen Green, 2015, Haus Curiosities

You'd expect a Tory peer to be Euroskeptic, but Stephen Green is also a former banker, and the finance industry is highly Europhile. Which is my roundabout way of saying: forget who Stephen Green is, unless you think it lends him authority.

The European Identity is a one- or two-sitting read that considers two things: how much Europeans have in common, and what that means for Britain. I suspect it isn't very original, but it is very well written and even more timely, given we British are 6 weeks away from voting on whether we want to remain in the EU.

Green is withering in his assessment of Britain's and even Europe's place in the world, setting out how the vast size of China and India will inevitably see Europe continue to decline. Some may find that unpatriotic; I found it refreshing.

He then provides a fascinating whirlwind summary of the philosophies that he thinks resulted in substantial differences in the characters of the people of the EU's big three: the UK, France and Germany. Brits are pragmatists, he says, the French are idealists, and the Germans are ... well, I didn't quite get that. Fantasists, maybe. But anyway, more importantly, he thinks we have more in common than we have in difference - namely:

"a commitment to rationalism, democracy, individual rights and responsibilities, the rule of law, social compassion..."

True of everyone, you might think, but social compassion and the US? Individual rights and Asia? The rule of law and Russia? Not so much.

If the book has a flaw, it's that it concludes with us exactly where we are today. With a loose alignment of European nations, cooperating where subsidiarity requires it and leaving well alone where national differences are cause for celebration or anyway too entrenched to quash. Which is all well and good, but a) people who aren't currently convinced are not going to read European Identity and b) even if they did, I don't think it would convince them. It's a great read, but it's more thought-provoking and informative than it is comprehensively or combatively convincing.

But then, it only professes to deal with identity: it leaves other books to deal with racism, job security, pressure on services, stifling bureaucracy ... And what it does it does very well.

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