on 25 December 2009
I can understand the claim that this book is a biased positive perspective on Europe's outlook, though which book does not have a biased perspective? This was a highly enjoyable read, and although you may not agree will all points of view, they are well worth listening to. The picture of Europe's influence is one of constructive seduction of countries to behave in an orderly and democratic manner.
on 18 April 2006
I purchased this book as reading material to help me with a pro-EU essay and I have to admit that it was reasonably useful for that purpose. Its basic premise is interesting, that the EU's way of doing things is ultimately the best one, but it really doesn't progress much beyond repeating this basic argument, with occasional other positive comments on the EU thrown in for good measure. If you want to massage pro EU feelings that you already hold, or to gain an insight on a different point of view to your own, then this book may hold some interest. But if you are contemplating a choice of books on the EU my advice is that there are plenty of better books out there.
on 27 May 2005
"...we will see the emergence of a 'New European Century'," claims the final paragraph of the book. "Not because Europe will run the world as an empire, but because the European way of doing things will have become the world's." This ending sums up Mark Leonard's attitude pretty well, if the unambiguous title didn't do that already. Unfortunately, the book is not much more than pro-EU propaganda, and this is being said by someone who is generally more in favour of the European Union than against.
The last paragraph is what annoys me the most. The book may not support old-fashioned imperialism, but Leonard's attitude is little more than a modern rehash of it, in which the economically prosperous countries of Western Europe once again have little to learn from the rest of the world, but must, through example and coercion, teach its ideology to everyone else. At one point near the end, Leonard mentions the rise of China, now often (rightly or wrongly) touted as the world's next superpower, and with the characteristic and laughable smugness that runs through the entire book suggests that a more powerful China, enlightened by European philosophies, could be used as a tool for spreading the EU's methods and ideals further.
Quite a few of the ideas in the book are not wrong. Europe's ideals regarding foreign policy, shaped by the devastation of wars on its own soil, are generally wiser than the attitudes of George W Bush and the politicians in the United States who have little regard for the lives of people in other countries that are not of much economic benefit to them. There is indeed a lot that the rest of the world can learn from Europe's present and past when building a better international future. However, there are serious problems with Europe's current system that make it untenable in the long run, and this is barely acknowledged by Leonard at all.
What of the fact that Britain outsources a lot of its work to India, where educated workers are paid less and can sometimes have better English language skills than the people at home? Or the fact that Europe and the rest of the world increasingly rely on China to provide cheap labour so that clothes, televisions, and any number of other things remain affordable? How is the world going to cope if these countries are fully Westernised and the population demands to have the EU's liberal lifestyle, where it is easy for many people to take more from society than they give back? What will the EU do to replace its reliance on cheap workers found elsewhere in the world? I don't claim to have the answers, but Leonard doesn't even consider the questions worth asking.
In fact, almost all of the book is devoted to rebuffing criticisms of the EU, pointing out why those criticisms are flawed and how great the European Union really is. Leonard may not mean everything he says; there is a sense that sometimes he is merely trying to provoke his opponents, but the sad thing is that this book could have been so much more: a balanced and thoughtful look at the problems facing the EU, its great achievements, and how it and the rest of the world can learn from each other. Instead, the whole book is shamelessly one-sided and simplistic, and embarrassing to read in places.
There are too many problems with this book to list them all, and the points in favour of it are generally few and far between. It's a good read for Europeans feeling insecure about their continent's future, who want a rose-tinted view of the next century where values familiar to them will still be prominent in the world. Or buy it for the amusing picture of Leonard on the inside cover. Otherwise, the book is well worth a miss.
on 30 October 2007
Reading the weighty list of acknowledgements at the back of this book (politicians, academics, think-tanks and an army of researchers) you could be forgiven for thinking the preceding pages contained a substantive and well-balanced critique of the European Union, backed up with a considerable body of evidence. You would be mistaken though. Leonard would have better entitled this book "Why the United States will not run the 21st century". It is a largely speculative and anecdotal commentary along the lines of writing by populist authors such as Will Hutton (who incidentally endorses the book). What it fails to do is make any note-worthy comment on the European Union, and seems instead to get side-tracked with a considerable bout of Bush-bashing, and a lengthy discussion on the so-called `Eurosphere' - wildly suggesting that the EU should and will expand to 50 or more states, encompassing Africa and the Middle East. In this book I had hoped to find some pro-European comment to help balance the mass of Euroskeptic material available, but was sorely disappointed. His attempts to address issues such as the loss of sovereignty amount to saying "well it was going to happen eventually", and with regards to the democratic deficit in the EU institutions he simply refers to a mysterious `democratic revolution' without actually bothering to say what this means. To his credit he makes some broad-reaching and interesting comments on the future of regionalism, but it lacks clout and evidence to support it, and ends up being nothing more than baseless speculation. My search for a substantive pro-European argument continues.
on 11 April 2006
I was suspicious of this book. Usually a good read doesn't need a trendy cover and a catchy title to sell itself and it was no surprise to read that Mark Leonard is a public diplomacy expert. But if only the inside was as good as the outside! It's not a bad book by any means, just one that feels like it was written in a hurry and with only one fundmanetal point to make. Yes, you guessed it, Europe will run the 21st century.
Firstly, this came as a surprise to me. Leonard overlooks the fact, but in a way the EU has an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the US and spends a lot of its time comparing itself to it and trying to be more like it. Witness the Lisbon Agenda or the Constitutional Convention or the ESDP. What's more, while Leonard is right to assert that the EU can successfully promote itself as an institutional model, this would be far less likely were it to attempt to do so economically or politically speaking. Leonard seems to overlook our stalling economies, high unemployment, unsustainable pension and healthcare systems, as well as the fact that "soft power Europe" is proving just as inept at dealing with current international "problems" such as Iran's nuclear ambitions or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as is "hard power" USA. Quote Foucault and Valery all you want, but I reckon the EU is about as likely to "run the 21st century" as Britney Spears is to run for President.
So, I disagree with the thesis. The people whose work Leonard is building on, such as Robert Cooper and Joseph Nye, make less bold claims of the EU and are all the better for it. I'm sure they also sell far less books. And that's the problem here for me. Leonard clearly knows what he's talking about, but in essence everything he says someone else has said before. And said it better. Thus this is a classic example of European politics "lite" or journalism touting as something more academic. That's not to be nasty - there's something very refreshing and satisfying to read a Brit make the case for Europe and explain away the nonsense and myths that surrounds so much of what the EU does. But this really is a book for those who want simplicity at the expense of rigour and nuance. An author with greater confidence (or more time) would have done a better job of picking his opposition apart. After all, if the EU's Kantian-peace is really going to rule the world, then why is China busy building up an army of unprecedented size and scale (and Kantian Europeans are queuing up to sell them everything they need, if only someone would lift that darn arms embargo!) and why does democratic India need nuclear weapons and frequently spar with its neighbour? If the EU is so attractive, why are voters in Ukraine rejecting the pro-European politics of Yushenko? It's because national politics matter most, and because speaking softly is no good unless you're carrying a big stick. Yes the EU (and "soft power") matters. But not nearly as much as the EU - or Mark Leonard - think it does.
I'm sure this book will sell by the truckload. And if you have more than a passing curiosity in the EU and how it affects citizens of both Europe and the wider world you could do worse than to pick it up. That said, the EU isn't all roses and Leonard is wrong to be so optimistic about the direction the EU is going. Last time I looked French and Dutch voters were rejecting the EU's constitution, Blair was backing out of a referendum on joining the single currency, etc... Thus the smug and confident assertion that the EU is the model that will take over the world rather neglects the ever increasing unpopularity of that model and the more fundamental normative question of what should be done about it.
As a person who used to work in a European Union institution but nevertheless held a very sceptic view of the EU's claims about itself and its own power and importance, I was especially interested in this book. Leonard's central claim is that the EU is going to run the 21st Century for three reasons: firstly, because the combined weight of all European countries will give the EU significant clout on the world stage. Secondly, because of the ring of former European colonies in Europe's near abroad that are financially dependent upon Europe and which can therefore be "moulded" to fit Europe's requirements. Thirdly and finally, because all of this will make other countries see the EU model and its success and copy it, and thus all the world will be Europe. In other words, the EU is going to gain power because of its model, and it will lead the world by example.
Leonard's argument falls down in three important areas. Firstly, he seems to take for granted that all Europeans want the EU to assume state-like status, when they don't. He also seems to think that the EU should become a strident political actor on the world stage, despite its failed attempts to do so in the past (like the shameful failures of the EU to do anything when Yugoslavia imploded). Finally, he overlooks the fact that many other countries in the world hold the EU's claims about itself not as morally overpowering stances they must emulate, but as the moralistic and hollow boasts of a weak, fragile institution that cannot put bark in its bite. Russia and Iran are especially good examples of this, and far from seeing the EU model as something they must admire and emulate, see it as a fragile structure they can easily ignore and divide amongst itself. Leonard does not explain how the EU could or should over come this.
All in all, the book is a short and cheerful read. It is very accessible and is not overly "heavy" and academic, and is rather light reading, even for those with no particular interest in politics. Nevertheless, the claims made by the book are hard to believe. The fact Leonard works for an EU funded think tank also affects the credibility of his conclusions, and may explain his reluctance to point out the weaknesses of the EU. The EU no doubt has a role in the 21st century, but as global trend setter? Perhaps not.
on 24 February 2005
This book was published early this year and its striking cover caught my eye.
It is however, very much written with the opinion in mind that the title suggests.
I read the 1st ten pages of the introduction and felt so ill that I went straight to the back of the book to find the author's e-mail address so that I could write to him telling him what a biased, seemingly blind and one sided book he had written.
However, after reading the final page of the intro, things were starting to look up, as he briefly commented on some of the reasons why "they may be of the opinion that Europe will not run the 21st century because..."
The book was very up to date and the chapters which followed were well written, highly informative and threw up some very interesting concepts and comparisons between the EU and the USA, such as America's pursuit of bringing democracy to the world through a rapid and intensive use of military force and Europe's lack of military capability/willingness to use force which has led to it seeking other cheaper, more effective and longer lasting alternatives such as using the carrot of EU membership to successfully change countries like Turkey over time.
The author makes effective use of several parables and Greek legends to explain some of the more interesting/challenging concepts.
Having been head of the European foreign policy unit, the writer presents a clear insight into current and future European thinking.
By the last page, even I had to accept that his presumptuous title could be right.
on 11 May 2005
This book is pro-EU and so am I, but that is all we have in common. I favour rigorous journalism, whereas this book does not. As such it is shamefully under-researched and badly written and could lead those who are undecided and want true quality journalism to become anti-EU instead. So, where are the problems?
1) Lets start with the title. It should be EU, not Europe (this is demeaning to non-EU European countries, such as Switzerland and Norway).
2) Unsubstantiated, porrly worded blanket statements. As an example, on p1 Leonard states that "most Americans ... see Europe's belief in international institutions and the rule of international law as weak and unworldly". First point, it is US citizens, not Americans. I have many Latin American friends and a large majority resent the US appropriation of the term American to refer solely to the USA. Second point: I have lived in the USA and did not find Mr Leonard's assertion to be true. Plus he does not back it up with any statistics. At all.
3) Awful fact checking. In 1997 MCI and Worldcom merged, in what was the largest merger in US history at the time, yet on p54 of his book, Leonard claims the merger did not happen. Perhaps he also missed the news of the merged company's bankruptcy filing in 2002, which is the largest bankruptcy filing in US history. On the same page he states that the US adopted EU food labelling standards because US beef could not otherwise be sold in the EU. He claims this was because of GM, but in fact it was because of hormone injections. These sort of errors occur throughout this book.
This is all very unfortunate because Leonard's central argument of why the network model being developed through the EU is transformative is a strong, if hardly original, one. It is such a shame that a decent journalist didn't get the opportunity to write this book.
Finally, my own opinion on the EU's major flaw, one which doesn't seem to bother Mr Leonard. Basically, it is not yet democratic. As Mr Leonard points out on p24, the Committeeof Permanent Representatives agress 90% of EU law. This puts law making 1 step further removed from ordinary citizens than is the case in the UK today. And that is undemocratic. From 2005-2009 it means that the laws agreed by UK representatives will be those subscribed to by only 1/3 of the UK population in May 2005.
on 22 April 2005
At a time when there is so much indifference of not antagonism towards the EU amongst ordinary Europeans, it is great to see such a cracking advocation of the EU project. This is an admirable little book and Mr Leonard puts forward a pro-EU case with confidence, knowledge and authority - and deserves attention.
He deals with relationships between the EU and its citizens, arguing the point that people are largely indifferent to the EU because it is at heart a trading confederation - without powers to affect issues such as taxation, schools, health provision and crime and law and order - which the electorate typically votes on. It is hardly surprising that the citizen feels remote from the EU on this basis!
Rather, softly, softly the EU has developed and evolved into a powerful trading bloc which is the envy of the rest of the world and is making other major individual powers such as the USA, China and Japan look again at their own views and roles.
Even though they may disagree with him, Eurosceptics will find Mr Leonard's comments stimulating and provocative, based on realism and great insight. He might even talk them round ...
on 9 June 2009
At last someone who makes the case for the Union of Europe. We, collectively are the last, great hope for the planet, so get with the programme folks! Short, well written and powerful, now I know that there is light at the end of a long dark, American tunnel. If the varied people of Europe can stay united and lead the world...by setting a good example, through the strength of our economy, our decent instituations, our openness and fairness then perhaps we can redeem what the word wars were for?