EU Council President Van Rompuy: The Time of the Nation-State is Over

By Yoram Hazony, November 14, 2010

A reader from India who read my last two letters about the ideas driving European Union (“Israel Through European Eyes,” July 14, 2010; and “More on Kuhn, Kant, and the Nation-State,” August 26, 2010) has drawn my attention to a speech last week by the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. If you thought my description of the worldview militating toward European Union was too philosophical to correspond to what actual European political leaders are saying and thinking, it’s worth taking a look at his remarks, which reflect the trends I described quite well.

Van Rompuy, who is Belgian, made his comments at an assembly of European leaders marking the 21st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9. The text of the speech is quite an achievement — a truly extraordinary display of ingratitude, which fails even once, even in passing, to mention that it was the American nation-state that brought down the Berlin Wall, making possible the present era of peace and prosperity in Europe. For van Rompuy, there is only one cause of peace in Europe, namely, what he calls “the European idea”:

The European idea has been the most successful and most generous project in the world since 1945. It has united the whole continent and brought us peace and prosperity.

Indeed, van Rompuy says he sees the ongoing project of absorbing more and more countries into the EU as the engine that is bringing about the end of the era of “barbarism and violence” in European history. He explicitly says the EU is the “guarantee of peace” in Europe:

[The] desire [of Balkan nations] to join our club follows a time of barbarism and violence…. This should encourage us even further to welcome them. Why? Because almost all who are now part of Europe have experienced great upheavals within living memory. It is true for Germany, France and the other founders after the destruction of the Second World War. It is true for Greece, Spain and Portugal after the end of their dictatorships. It is true for the former communist countries which joined us after the Wall came down. In every enlargement, the Union has absorbed the shocks. As an anchor of stability. As a haven of prosperity and freedom. As a guarantee of peace.

This is pretty surprising. Isn’t it American power that has been the “guarantee of peace” in Europe? Isn’t it the American nation-state that liberated Europe from imperial Nazi Germany, and then from the threat of the Soviet empire? Van Rompuy doesn’t remember any of this. In fact, in his 4,700 words marking the fall of the Berlin Wall, he doesn’t find space to mention the United States once.

For him, what’s been happening in Europe has nothing to do with America. What’s happening is this: “The idea of Europe” has created a “continent of values” — European values that are themselves the sole cause of the peace and prosperity of European peoples today.

That’s pretty surprising, too. But it does open up whole new vistas of ingratitude for us to contemplate: Isn’t it basically English and Scottish ideas, developed to govern and defend the British nation-state, that are today being borrowed to build the “continent of values” that van Rompuy heads? Isn’t it “the idea of Europe” that motivated Philip II, Napoleon, Hitler? For quite a few centuries, it seems as though it’s been the British nation-state (together with its admirers in France, America, Austria) that has been teaching the world what it means for peoples to live in freedom and decency, while “the idea of Europe” has spawned a succession of tyrannies. But van Rompuy doesn’t remember any of this either. What excites him about this “continent of values” is precisely that the era of the “nation-state is over“:

[W]e speak about Europe as the continent of values…. The time of the homogenous nation-state is over. Each European country has to be open for different cultures.

The time of the nation-state may be over, but van Rompuy says we have to be on our guard, because there are still bad guys around: These are the “Euro-sceptics,” who think that dismantling the nation-states of Europe may not be the greatest idea anyone has ever had. Van Rumpoy says these Euro-sceptics are spreading illusions and lies, and that their “nationalism” threatens to plunge Europe back into war:

We have together to fight the danger of a new Euro-scepticism…. In every Member State, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It is more than an illusion: it is a lie! … The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war. (“Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre” — F. Mitterrand).

Most of van Rompuy’s text is written as a message for Europeans. But he doesn’t pass up the chance to send a message to nations outside the EU’s borders. Van Rompuy says that the non-European nations had better wise up too: They can no longer rely on “their military muscle” to resolve their problems, as they did in the past. Because if they do, they will find themselves “isolated”:

[P]ower and influence in the world are more and more a matter of economy, and less of weapons. Recent regional conflicts like in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated the limits of military intervention. Emerging powers are also learning the lesson that they cannot rely on their growing military muscle without the risk of isolating themselves.

There you have it. The New Paradigmers’ worldview in a nutshell: Military power in the service of national interests just isn’t going to do it anymore. And if you think otherwise, we’ll find ways to “isolate” you and help you come to your senses.

As I say, van Rompuy doesn’t trouble himself to mention the United States. And he doesn’t mention Israel either. But he doesn’t have to. It’s obvious where all this is headed. For van Rompuy, there’s trouble on the horizon and the threat comes from the continued existence of nation-states, which inisist on using force to defend the lives and interests of their peoples. Disgust for America and downright hatred for Israel are the inevitable outcome of this line of thought.

If you want to take a look, you can get the complete text of van Rompuy’s address here.