Monday, 29 April 2013

Romania still loves the European Union, for materialistic reasons

Euro coin map of Europe

An interesting article today in several European newspapers written by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a think tank, says euroscepticism is on the rise everywhere. No surprise there. 

Someone said that Northern Europe believes in the EU because they trust their governments and Southern Europe believes in the EU because they don't. Neither Northern Europe nor the Mediterranean countries trust the EU any more,  but Romania still does, seeing Europe as a source of money and an escape from self-rule. A survey by GfK showed Romanians as the third most optimistic country in Europe regarding economic recovery, a very long way behind Germany and Austria. The Romanian unemployment rate at 6.7% is one of the lowest rates in Europe. Living standards are a lot higher than they were in the 1990s.

The Spanish liberal Ortega y Gasset's remark,

"Spain is the problem and Europe is the solution"

no longer reflects what Spain thinks these days but replace 'Spain' with 'Romania' and it is what most intelligent Romanians under fifty think. By the way, I think Ortega was completely wrong about Spain, but Spain before the Civil War had an old, beautiful, very conservative, un-European tradition. Romania, on the other hand, is a new invention that has gone wrong.

Intellectuals in 19th century Romania genuinely and passionately believed in the ideals which France represented but Romanians these days do not  see the European Union in idealistic terms – for example as a means of keeping peace in Europe or of greater prosperity through greater trade. Europe is popular because it is means money and protection from the Romanian political class – in other words, a providential deus ex machina, the inheritance from an uncle that saves the day in a nineteenth century novel.

But this will change slowly and, in sharp contrast with their Russian contemporaries, who are very right-wing about sex and race and most other things, I foresee in Romania a generation of liberal or left of centre academics and political activists who will look to the EU as a source of politically correct ideals. Non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, feminism and secularism will be the arguments for changing socially conservative Romania. 

The EU is more powerful than any other institution in Romania and it has a lot of money. Academics are rarely able to resist the appeal of power, which is why many European intellectuals liked the USSR during the Cold War. And academics, who derive most of their salaries from taxes, are naturally disposed to sympathise with the public authorities, that feed them, and to dislike the businessmen who make more money than they do. The Marxists among them understand that economics determines culture. Economics in a high tax society determines justifications for high taxes and an active state.

The EU no longer represents prosperity to the countries of Mediterranean  Europe – quite the contrary – but it represents a great deal of prosperity to former Communist countries like Romania. Romanians do not fear another  European war or give much thought to the last one, but they are still living with its consequence, Soviet Russian imposed socialism.

Romania is not in the position of Cyprus, Greece or the other PIGS or PIIIGS. Austerity, as practised by Romanian governments since the crisis began was not ordered by the EU. Romanians who think austerity was a mistake, and there are many of them, blame the IMF or the Romanian governments. But I think sovereignty is less about tax and spending decisions  than decisions about caning in schools and smoking in bars - they and so many other decisions are now taken by the EU. Even Switzerland, which is not in the EU, may have to reverse its law banning minarets on instructions from the European Court of Human Rights. International law is truly the enemy of democracy.

I have never been in favour of capital punishment, but why shouldn't Romanians reintroduce it, if they so decide?

But that is to raise another question: why are so many things removed from discussion these days? In the word of the 1980s light bulb joke:
How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?  
That's not funny.
A lot more things than just feminism are no longer either funny or discussable and the list keeps growing longer. But what people in Romania care about is not the right to drive their horse and cart along the highway or slaughter their pig where they like. They ignore laws that tell them they cannot do these things. What they care about is economic development and foreign investment. They still hope the EU will help them get these things.

Europeans once cared passionately about national self-determination and personal freedom but the welfare state and prosperity seem to be what people talk about now. At least it is what most politicians mostly talk about and have done since 1945. Perhaps it is the legacy of Communism which played its part in reshaping post-war Europe. In a sense, welfare considerations have replaced politics and religion. In any case, I do not expect the East Europeans to fight within the EU for fewer regulations and less political correctness.

What has changed is that the idea of convergence has been postponed till after the crisis is over. But when a problem has no solution it ceases to be a problem and becomes a fact. Will the crisis end or has it become a fact, simply reality and will convergence be postponed till the Greek calends? If so, how will that reshape Romanian politics, the economy and attitudes to the EU?


  1. So changing social norms are the root of evil.

    I would be with you on some issues if your argument would be libertarian (if you were a social benefit maximizer with a particular function that drastically favors certain individual things over some other public ones).

    But your argument is conservative. You built some of these norms you found in the world into your identity, and you built your identity around them not changing. But if you take a step back from the timeline - you were born at an arbitrary moment in history. Also social norms have always continually changed. If we roll back the clock a few hundred years we had violent public executions and slavery. You were born after these became un-acceptable so you are not defending these but some other, such as caning and smoking in public places. The issues you pick are arbitrary and the argument is not about the issues.

    In any case Romania is changing fast like most of the rest of the world. I guess social norms change at different speeds in different places. Interesting question where in the world the speed is lowest. I would venture the tribal regions of Afghanistan/Pakistan and Nantucket.

  2. My argument is not in favour of caning or smoking - I want no-one to smoke anywhere - am not sure about caning - but in favour of countries deciding. Partly because only countries can mske democratic decisions. Therefore I want people to decide.