European elegy

My non-econ reading lately has been Timothy Garton Ash’s Homelands: A Personal History of Europe. I describe it as an elegy because of its melancholy narrative trajectory: from the 2nd world war and ‘never again’, through the ups and downs of the EU project, to today’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, “illiberal democracies” tearing up the hard-won freedoms, and the pressures of mass immigration – which will only get more intense as climate change leads to conflict and destruction.

Like the author, I mourn the way our European citizenship has been stripped from those of us in the UK, by a slender margin, by voters who were lied to by mendacious and greedy politicians and businessmen. And at the same time recognise the challenges the EU itself needs to address. No wonder the book ends by quoting Gramsci on pessimisim/optimism. But also Vaclav Havel: “Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. …. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

So, not a cheering read, at least for those likely to pick up a book about Europe. But a compelling read, by someone who had a ringside seat at many of the key meetings and ‘where were you when…’ events (above all the fall of the Berlin Wall) of the past 40 years.


PS For those who haven’t read it, Garton Ash’s The File: A Personal History is a must- read.