Many believe that the Anglo-American way of life holds the key to western civilisation and is the envy of the world. The belief is that popular culture espouses personal freedom, open economies make societies prosper whilst their strong and involved militaries hold the ring in an anarchic world order.
Whilst this is to a large extent true and that any significant redrawing of world order is a long way off, the conduct of the European Union and its member states in dealing with globalisation should be increasingly admired.
The post-war liberalised free trade system, economic and financial order stemmed from Roosevelt-Churchill dealings. In truth, the open economy has brought more prosperity to those who have adopted it more than any other economic system: contrast the fortunes of East Germany with West Germany.
On the face of it, both Britain and the US have very well-performing economies today. Yet the political upheaval being experienced in both countries currently is (in part, at least) to do with the lack of proper jobs created, and real wages stagnation. Have the glorious free markets of Anglo-Americaland become too destructive?
Britain and the US are certainly much more exposed to the whim of predatory capitalism than other European countries. The public sector represents around 35% of GDP in Britain and the US, compared to well above 40% in most European countries.
The US has no social safety net to talk of, Britain’s public services are under unprecedented strain. Both countries have service-heavy economies which favour those with a University education. Both have de-industrialised rustbelts and have failed to invest in the skills of those who jobs have fled those same regions. Both countries have had their political systems shaken up as a result.
This is contrasted to, for example, European economies such as Germany and the Netherlands whose centres of education enjoy very close links to the private sector. Schools, for example, are prepared to adopt syllabus and curricula to meet the skills that businesses lack – they can see these skills gaps through these close links with the private sector.
A topic of our time is alternative facts, false information, fake news etc. It is European governments that have taken the lead in the fight against this. Mrs Merkel took a morning out last autumn to make her country aware of the online echo chambers that technology giants foster. The Czech Republic have set up think tanks to counter fake news with its Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats.
Contrasted to this, Britain’s media is an insult to its democracy. A handful of powerful media barons own several right-wing, xenophobic newspapers which dictate the views of the millions who read them. In relation to the US, all that’s worth saying is that Fox News has to be seen to be believed.
Many have predicted the demise of the European project. This has been for two principle reasons, the break-up of the Euro and the Schengen area. Both of these entities at one point looked as though they could break apart, around the same time, in 2015.
In July 2015, the German finance ministry seriously proposed that Greece leave the single currency as the country received its third bailout from other Eurozone partners in seven years. After much drawn-out discussion, a solution was reached. Grexit did not happen.
So, the Euro did not split apart. About to elect a certain-right government committed to making Greece a more competitive economy this year, Greeks appear to understand that the road ahead will be difficult. But they also appear to understand that solutions do not lie in soundbites (as they seem to in Britain and the US). Rather, solutions lie in tough choices such as creating more flexible labour markets, slashing wages and investing in skills. Such “internal devaluation” is largely the route Spain has taken, for example.
Columns were being drafted for the Eurozone’s split for two Greek bailouts before the third, as well as bailouts to Ireland and Portugal. The Eurozone is actually now growing faster than the British economy. Predicted growth has been upgraded to 1.9% this year.
In short, many have underestimated the resolve of European leaders in difficult circumstances. Further, the Euro crisis has only forced European leaders to take further steps to complete the monetary union.
A similar series of events unfolded in relation to the Schengen crisis, just two months after third Greek debt crisis. In the autumn of 2015, masses of refugees from the Middle East and Asia landed on the shores of Greece.
The crisis called into question the validity of Europe’s border-free Schengen zone as once refugees reached Hungary, they could walk to Sweden unchecked. Many outsiders (mostly Britons) predicted the Schengen would collapse as border checks were temporarily reintroduced between Schengen member states to stem the flow.
Not only is it within the accords of the Schengen to allow this, but the flow of refugees was largely stopped through an EU-Turkey deal. So, the Schengen did not fall apart as many predicted. Further, the crisis made Europeans bulk up the security of the Schengen’s external borders, with increased funding and support for FRONTEX, the European border agency.
The increased cooperation following the Euro and Schengen crises evidences the view that the European project only grows in times of crisis. Mrs Merkel decided that there would be a home in Europe for those fleeing war and devastation in their own countries and agreed to settle around 1 million refugees in Germany in that year. For her efforts, Mrs Merkel was awarded Time person of the year 2015.
One thing for sure is that ideas endure. The confident images projected by the Anglosphere will last as will the positive notions from other countries towards it.
In relation to the US, many say it was the appeal of Marilyn Monroe and similar figures that won the cold war. Even at the time of the Iraq war, studies consistently found that countries world over still found ways of finding positive attitudes of the US.
Figures throughout history, from Kipling to Churchill and Thatcher have believed that thought the Anglosphere to a divine duty to police the world. English-speaking military alliances have often pursued noble causes, yet they have also been overstretched and reckless. Europeans are criticised for the lack of a role on the global stage, yet they have achieved results through softer-power means. No better an example of this is the example is the coalition of sanctions spearheaded by Mrs Merkel that brought Mr Putin to the negotiating table over the Ukraine.
Although Britain and the US are admired across the world, so too is the European Union and what it has built (and Europeans appear to be rather humble about their achievements). A regional unit of countries which works together, at peace with the modern world, is something many regions across the world could only dream of. Many Arabs stand in awe of the European Union and wish that countries of their region may one day work together and not against each other.
In this article, I have outlined the EU’s more recent achievements in economic growth, politics and diplomacy and what lessons these can offer outsiders. Europe’s leaders should now have the confidence to begin carving out a role on the world stage, gradually weaning off Anglo-American dependence.
A few weeks ago, Mrs Merkel stated that “We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands”. Europe is now beginning to increase defence co-operation; deep Eurozone integration is now on the agenda. This looks like the beginning of statehood. The European project is young. That is a story for another day.