Thursday 20 February 2020

'The EU is in trouble and Ursula Von Der Leyen is the wrong person to rescue it'

"In act five of Europe’s self-destruction, the US and the Soviet Union strode on to the stage like Fortinbras at the end of Hamlet. Yet, Europe was at least still the central stage of world politics throughout the cold war that followed. Europeans made history once again for a brief shining moment in 1989, but then Hegel’s Weltgeist, the “world spirit”, moved rapidly on from Berlin to Beijing." Timothy Garton Ash

Ashoka Mody, the Indian-born author of EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts, has written an interesting article in the Spectator about European decline. I quote him.
"Europe is a continent rapidly declining in economic and political clout, as Jean-Claude Juncker underlined. Famous for occasionally imbibing an extra drink, the truth-telling Juncker brutally noted that Europe’s share of global value added will fall from 25 per cent now to about 15 per cent in the next generation; by then, no European country is likely to be a member of the elite G7 group of countries. And as Europe’s shrinking populations also become older, it will be ever harder to stem the downward slide.

"...Political fragmentation creates a trap. Nation-states struggle to articulate their priorities. At the European level, compromises to achieve forward-looking policies become harder. Unilateral actions and gridlock become the norm on sensitive issues impinging on core national sovereignty. Economic decline persists. European evolution stops. The obsession with process and ceremony becomes the norm."
After defeating invasions by Muslim forces, Europe dominated the world from the early 18th century until the Second World War. When Communist Russia and the USA defeated the Axis powers in 1945, European countries, despite their colonial empires, suddenly found themselves as powerless as the Indian princely states in 18th century India. The Americans in the late 1940s were in a position comparable with the East India Company, forced to rule an empire when all they wanted to do was business.

Still, Europe remained the most important place in the world because it was the fulcrum of the Cold War, between two non-European superpowers, until 1989. 

In that year Gorbachev chose to organise the change to democracy in Russia's satellites because it marked a neat 200 years from the French revolution. It marked the end of a long history of European power, though Europe was richer than ever before and continues to become richer.  Looking around Europe today the famous lines of Oliver Goldsmith spring irresistibly to mind.
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey 
Where wealth accumulates and men decay.”
More important than the future structure of the EU or the problem of the euro is the continued relative political and economic decline of Europe. This does not mean the decline of the West, because the USA still remains the one superpower and economic hegemon.

Meanwhile, like a Roman Emperor in the fourth century, Ursula Von Der Leyen plans to reverse the decline. In addition she intends to regulate the internet and tackle climate change. She is a Christian Democrat but in no recognisable way a conservative or a democrat. Whether her policy is recognisably Christian either is debatable, but that is another and complicated discussion. At any rate, she is presiding over a Europe that becomes slowly but steadily less Christian and more Islamic.


  1. While the details differ from country by country and year to year, it adds up to a banking sector so moribund, so overexposed to unrecoverable risk that EU’s sector-wide assessments of banking health suggest that if the top 300ish EU banks were located in the United States, that the FDIC would have closed down all of them.

    At its core, many of Europe’s chronic problems come down to competitiveness. For all their vaunted educational systems, Europeans have a devil of a time translating high learning into high skills that generate economic activity. In part it is a legal system that strongly favors the old or employed over the young or unemployed. In part it’s an overly-burdened, overly-generous pension system that is a (the?) leading source of the political system’s legitimacy for the middle class. In part it is a tangled thicket of multi-level regulatory burdens. In part it is statism. In part it is protectionism. In part it is a rigormortized labor market. In part it’s an economic system that discriminates against new economic sectors in favor of state support for the largest players of old industries.

    Birth rates started dropping in some of Europe’s more advanced economies as long as five generations ago, and in most cases slipped below replacement levels in the 1970s. Fewer children then, meant fewer young workers and consumers by the 2000s, means fewer mature workers and taxpayers in the 2020s, with mass retirements – and national economic collapse – coming within the single digits of years.

    It is worse than it sounds. Europe’s current debt, currency and state spending crises are occurring before the mass retirements generate far larger debt, currency and spending crises. Soon most of Europe will simply be unable to support its ever-aging population while also carrying out other tasks necessary for the existence of modern, functional states whether that issue is education or infrastructure or health care or defense.

    The award for most-blind, most-arrogant and most-stupid clearly goes to Germany, who has lectured the US both publicly and privately on how it should deploy its forces in the Middle East despite having a broadly non-functional military that Berlin is squeamish about stationing outside of Bavaria.

    Of course, this isn’t entirely fair. Germany is squeamish about security issues for good, solid, historical reasons. But honestly that is now besides the point. Newer historical trends are about to wash away everything that makes modern Germany modern Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely the last meaningful leader of a unified, peaceable, wealthy, democratic Germany. The question for the next decade is, in what order with those adjectives break?

    Copyright © 2020 Zeihan on Geopolitics

    1. Toma, thank you for leading me to Peter Zeihan and his site. He is very interesting and I'd like to read his books.

    2. I agree with a lot of what he says but what he calls the threat to democracy from the far right is a better thought of as a democratic threat to Western Europe's lack of democracy. Governments in Western Europe choose to ignore what voters think about key issues like immigration, European integration, etc. The far right party in Greece sounds very unpleasant and dodgy - on the other hand, Mr Salvini sounds civilised and reasonable. Interesting that the anti-clerical Italian nationalist Garibaldi is David Cameron's biggest hero but he does not like Catholic Italian nationalists of our day.
      I disagree with Zeihan that Russia and Turkey are threats to Europe and do not see any danger of invasion of the EU by Russia, though that would certainly shake up the kaleidoscope.

      I agree with this:

      "In most ways that matter, Germany is the poster child for what’s gone so hideously wrong.

      "Absolutely catastrophic demographic structure? Check. A geography woefully in appropriate to greentech? Utter dependence upon energy imports? Check. Almost comical dependence upon global markets for its exports? Check. Reliance upon Russian and Turkish cooperation for its economic and physical security? Check."

    3. "France is the only European state not only boasting birth rates above replacement levels, but strongly so; it is the only EU state that can look forward to a meaningful consumer market both in terms of size and growth for decades to come." Yes because of immigration from the Maghreb since the 1960s. This causes its own big problems. Every country in Europe faces huge existential problems, in the cases of EU member states exacerbated by being in the EU. If it were not for the EU, for example, the refugee crisis would be a crisis in Italy, Greece and to a lesser extent Spain, not in the whole of Europe.

  2. A British friend who lives partly in France commented: 'The EU is a self-inflicted, self-tightening strait jacket on continental Europe's greatest countries.'

  3. Bachelors like me are much to blame. I didn't see this until a few years ago. But married people want to have more children but feel they cannot afford them. A Guardian survey in 2014 found a third of British couples would have more children were they not so expensive and if British women had all the babies they wanted, the birth rate would be above replacement level. In the US it's the same story. 40% of women do not have all the children they wish. Obviously Viktor Orban is right to give incentives for having children. He is a true conservative. George Osborne, a pseudo-conservative, gave tax incentives for young mothers to return to work and leave their children with strangers. This is the sort of conservatism I despise, which confuses GDP with well being.

    A lot of the blame for over-regulation and authoritarian employment provisions lies with Catholic social doctrine but Bismarck who warred against the Catholic Church invented the first national health service.

    Europe is dying, by which I mean that European nations are dying literally and her great colonies, the USA, Australia and Canada, are ceasing to be European.

    1. Agreed on all points in this comment of yours - although Bismark did not set up the first National Health Service, the hospitals remained independent (the government just paid for the poor via the so called "National Insurance" that Bismark introduced). Even Beverage did not actually want the hospitals in Britain to be part of the government bureaucracy. Of course the hospitals in Germany are now becoming more under state control and this has been developing for a long time - "he who pays the piper calls the tune".

    2. Thank you for the clarification. I meant only that Bismarck introduced a state health system, what the Americans, who would be better off with such a system, call "socialised medicine".

    3. They know what socialized medicine, in the sense of government administered care, looks like: The Veterans Health Administration and the Indian Health Service.

    4. A Guardian survey in 2014 found a third of British couples would have more children were they not so expensive and if British women had all the babies they wanted, the birth rate would be above replacement level. In the US it's the same story. 40% of women do not have all the children they wish.

      I think surveys about the number of children people would like to have are pure fantasy. People in advanced industrialised countries don't have children because they don't really want children. Their claims that they'd love to have more kids if only they could afford it are just rationalisations. They're just providing justifications for their own selfishness.

      For people living in the midst of material prosperity unprecedented in all of human history to claim they can't afford children is nonsense.

      And birth rates started to crash in the West long before our current economic problems kicked in. Birth rates were plummeting in France n the late 19h century.

      If you have capitalism, urbanisation, materialism, consumerism and everything that goes along with liberalism and modernism then you're going to have very very low birth rates. No amount of financial incentives will change that to any significant degree. It's not just Europe. Countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea are heading rapidly to extinction.

      I don't blame people like Orban for trying but Hungary signed its own death warrant when it joined the EU. They wanted to be rich. They're going to get prosperity, followed quickly by extinction. They made a devil's bargain. Financial incentives for having children are not going to save them.

      George Osborne, a pseudo-conservative, gave tax incentives for young mothers to return to work and leave their children with strangers. This is the sort of conservatism I despise, which confuses GDP with well being.

      I totally agree with you on that point.

  4. I agree that Leyen is the wrong person, although that implies that there is a right person, which I doubt. But you say almost nothing about her personal qualities, which arguably show that she is not just the wrong person but also the worst possible choice. Only the EU could select such an utterly failed and useless politician for its highest office.

    On another matter, I don’t agree that the princely states in 18th century India were powerless, far from it. Even in the 20th century, most were weak, but a few of the larger ones (such as Hyderabad, Jammu & Kashmir, Mysore) we’re still rich and powerful within their own boundaries, until wiped out in the late 1940s and early 1950s. India would not have gone to the trouble of invading and conquering Hyderabad if it was powerless.

    1. Hyderabad planned to open an embassy in Paris in 1946. The Indian princes naturally expected to become again rulers of sovereign states. The princely states were not powerless in 18th century India and nor were England and France in the 1950s or 1960s.


  5. There were 435,000 births in Italy last year, the lowest number ever recorded, and 647,000 deaths. “This is a problem that concerns the very existence of our country,” said President Sergio Mattarella, who is 78. “The fabric of our country is weakening, and everything must be done to counter this phenomenon.”

    1. Far from reversing the "Progressive" polices pushed from the 1960s, the policies that have caused the demographic collapse that is threatening to wipe out Western societies, the international elite are "doubling down" on these Progressive policies - and hoping that mass immigration will make up for the lack of babies.

      The madness of the international establishment elite can not be overstated.

    2. It is (too) easy to blame feminism but in Iran the birth rate fell from 6.1 per woman in 1975, under the much lamented Shah, to 1.8 births per woman in 2008, which caused much jubilation in Israel, though it has now gone up to 2.1. Contraception is part of the reason. I thought Islam disapproved of contraception but I was very mistaken. Birth control, including the provision of condoms, pills and sterilisation, is provided free by the Iranian state. Iran is the only country in the world that requires both men and women to take a class on modern contraception before receiving a marriage license. Iran is certainly not a Muslim version of Franco's Spain. (It is Calvinist and like all Calvinist societies hypocritical, seedy and corrupt.)

  6. Most history books (and television programmes) declare that the Emperor Diocletian and his associates "ended the crises in the Roman Empire" - that the Empire had actually been reunited some years before Diocletian came to power is glossed over, his wonderful increases in taxes, government spending, and REGULATIONS (tying peasants to the soil and tying sons to the professions of their fathers - as well as setting prices at "fair" levels for all goods and services) supposedly saved the Roman world.

    The lady UDVL has been taught, as all the Euro elite (indeed the world elite) have been taught, that the answer to a crises is to INTENSIFY government power, just as the Emperor Diocletian "the man who ended the crises of Roman civilisation" did.

    For those of us who see the Emperor Diocletian rather differently, and nether admire him or those later people (such as the "Sun King" Louis XIV of France) whose policies resemble the policies of Diocletian, the future of the European Union looks bleak.

    The European Union will collapse into tyranny (as such things as "Article 13" - the crushing of political and cultural dissent, under the mask of commercial copyright protection - show) - and from tyranny it will collapse into anarchy - and breakdown.

    The massive intensification of government power is not the "health of the state" - it is, in the end, the destruction of the state.

    As Edmund Burke put it - what begins in despotism (in the state being "all in all") ends in imbecile impotence.

    1. Very interesting comparison between the EU and Diocletian. You are a great loss to the Tory party, who did not deserve you.

  7. An excellent post but I don't agree with this bit:

    The Americans in the late 1940s were in a position comparable with the East India Company, forced to rule an empire when all they wanted to do was business.

    I think the United States was always going to be an imperialist power. It was baked into the cake. It was an inevitable result of all that Manifest Destiny nonsense, and probably also an inevitable result of that peculiar American strand of Protestantism. Puritans make natural imperialists.

    The US was desperately anxious to become involved in the Second World War. Lend-Lease was a clear sign that the US wanted war.

    Don't get me wrong. The Nazis were an abomination and deserved to be crushed and needed to be crushed. But the Americans were not drawn reluctantly into war. They wanted war so much they could taste it.

    And there was nothing reluctant about American imperialism post-1945. Nobody since the Romans has ever been so keen on imperialism.

    1. There is an element of political Calvinism in their make up which made them imperialists. Lincoln was an imperialist fighting genuine republicans. After 1941 they became imperialists fighting against imperialism, first the Axis then the Communist empire, while helping to dismantle the British Empire at the same time. There is also a strain of genuine republicanism with a small r, exemplified by the Republicans after Teddy Roosevelt until Pearl Harbor, and nowadays by Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan. Donald Trump hovers between the two strains but is closer to the latter tradition.

    2. The USA went to war with Hitler because he declared war on them - no-one knows why - Japan attacked the USA. Had he not it is hard to see how the Americans could have gone to war with Germany. Britain and France went to war to protect their interests, and finished the war shattered and in hock to America.

    3. 'he declared war on them - no-one knows why'

      Freud proposed that humans have a life instinct and a death instinct. His theory was based on these drives (sex and aggression) dominating our lives. The drive for aggression is an external representation of the death drive. The death drive seeks destruction, life's return to an inorganic state. In some cases, this aggressive drive is directed inward, resulting in suicide.

    4. I was interested in the last lines.

      'For many, understanding there is an innate voice that wishes for death and destruction can help to separate, and thereby distance, one from these thoughts.
      'Distance from the thoughts helps one disown them and take away their power. You are not your thoughts. Once these thoughts are recognized, they can be challenged, minimized, and disregarded. Healthier thoughts can be put in their place.
      'Additionally, if one realizes ultimately selfish acts contribute to unhappiness, they can challenge the desire to act selfishly and be more caring toward others. Reciprocation may follow, and more caring, supportive relationships can emerge. We already challenge, or positively channel, our other drives. Once we recognize the unconscious power of our death drive, we can do the same with it.'

      All sorts of strange things surround the life of Hitler - He had very good reason to believe that providence was helping him and coming to his rescue. Destructive cosmic forces or is that too fanciful?

    5. Hitler’s parkinsonism

      Of the multitude of medical and psychiatric conditions ascribed to Hitler both in his lifetime and since his suicide in April 1945, few are more substantiated than parkinsonism. While the timeline of the development of this condition, as well as its etiology, are debated, there is clear evidence for classic manifestations of the disease, most prominently a resting tremor but also stooped posture, bradykinesia, micrographia, and masked facial expressions, with progression steadily seen over his final years. Though ultimately speculation, some have suggested that Hitler suffered from progressive cognitive and mood disturbances, possibly due to parkinsonism, that affected the course of events in the war. Here, the authors discuss Hitler’s parkinsonism in the context of the Third Reich and its eventual destruction, maintaining that ultimately his disease had little effect on the end result.

  8. 'is that too fanciful?'

    It is. I'd rather go for this:

    Did Adolf Hitler have syphilis?

    The evidence that Adolf Hitler might have suffered from incapacitating syphilis is reviewed. Rumors that he acquired syphilis from a prostitute at the age of 20 years, with possible re-infection during World War I, can no longer be verified. Evidence is that he was sexually rather inactive throughout his life. Suggestions that Hitler's cardiac lesion and complaints such as transitory blindness, tremor of his left arm and leg, recurring abdominal pain and a skin lesion of the leg were of syphilitic aetiology cannot be supported. Hitler's progressive mental and physical deterioration after 1942, his growing paranoia, fits of rage, grandiosity and symptoms of possible dementia would fit in neurosyphilis. There are, however, also other explanations for his terminal syndrome, and evidence that repeated clinical examinations did not show the characteristic signs of dementia paralytica or tabes dorsalis, swings the balance of probability away from tertiary syphilis.

  9. One sick puppy

    It is well established that throughout his life, Hitler was preoccupied with his own mortality. After his 50th birthday (in 1939), Hitler remarked that the milestone reminded him of how old he truly was, and what little time remained to fulfill his ambitions, acknowledging, “In a few years I will be physically, perhaps mentally, too, no longer up to it.”

    During his time as Führer, Hitler experienced frequent constipation and intestinal spasms that suggest the modern diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. He had coronary artery disease and/or hypertensive heart disease and may have suffered a small myocardial infarction in July 1941. He was afflicted by photosensitivity, tinnitus, headaches, and insomnia. Regarding the latter, he tended to have some degree of sleep inversion as well, falling asleep well after midnight and sleeping until mid- to late morning. In late September 1944 he became quite ill with cholestasis.

    Although Morell only acknowledged the diagnosis several weeks before Hitler’s death, there is a good deal of evidence that Hitler had been suffering for years from parkinsonism.

    Numerous attempts have been made to attribute various aspects of Hitler’s mindset and medical problems to pharmaceutical agents, notably 1) methamphetamine in the form of Pervitin, which may or may not have been present in Vitamultin, one of his physician’s (Theodor Morell) proprietary drugs containing vitamins and other compounds; 2) narcotics (oxycodone) in the form of Eukodal, injected for intestinal spasms; 3) cocaine, topically applied to the nasal mucosa for sinusitis; and 4) strychnine, found in the antigas pills which Hitler took copiously. These were among the dozens of drugs used to treat Hitler at some point in his final years, the bulk of which were prescribed by Morell.

    After a series of military defeats including the Battle of the Bulge on the Western Front and a steady advance by the Soviets on the Eastern Front, Hitler met with regional Nazi Party leaders in February 1945. In the 6 months of isolation up to this time, Hitler appeared to have aged several decades, bearing little resemblance to his former self. In preparation for the meeting, Goebbels had warned the officials ahead of time not to comment on Hitler’s appearance.

    In his final months, it may be that Hitler saw his own decline mirroring that of the Third Reich, given his increasing neurological symptoms and fatigability. And indeed, for a man with such megalomania, losing his health was tantamount to military defeat. As he lost control of the war, and it became evident that his political and social aims would be unrealized, he simultaneously seemed to lose control over his disease. It is possible that this was a factor in his suicide.

    It is challenging to formulate an objective explanation of the relationship between Hitler’s medical condition and his actions during World War II. While his parkinsonism is undisputed, it is imprudent to superimpose Hitler’s symptoms on numerous complex events, political interests, and an enormous cast of characters.