Föhrenbergkreis Finanzwirtschaft

Unkonventionelle Lösungen für eine zukunftsfähige Gesellschaft

A summer reading list for Brussels’s bureaucrats

Posted by hkarner - 28. Juli 2017

Date: 27-07-2017
Source: The Economist

The future of Europe in one giant pile of beach reading

“HOW hard it is to escape from places,” Katherine Mansfield, an author from New Zealand, once wrote to a friend. She had a point, but long paid holidays and low-cost airlines do help. To judge by the tumbleweed blowing through the offices and halls of Brussels this week, the wallahs of the European Union have not found fleeing town too much of a wrench.

Recent summers have been marred by crises perfectly timed to ruin officials’ holiday plans. In despair at the turn Europe seemed to be taking, some turned to gloomy tomes by Joseph Roth or Stefan Zweig to explain the atavistic nationalism they feared was taking hold. This year’s vacationers leave town in brighter spirits. Relieved from concerns over the EU’s imminent collapse, many will indulge in chick lit or crime novels, to be devoured and discarded as swiftly as the latest Greek economic forecast. But for those looking to understand the current European moment, Charlemagne offers an alternative reading guide.Two years ago visitors to some Aegean islands found themselves sharing beaches with thousands of refugees streaming across from Turkey. This year they are less likely to bear witness to Europe’s immigration problem: there are fewer arrivals, and most are rescued at sea before being brought to Italy by coastguards or NGOs. That gives our readers time to hold their noses and dip into “Camp of the Saints”, a revoltingly racist French book from the 1970s (strapline: “A chilling novel about the end of the white world”) that describes a European surrender before third-world immigrants bearing names like Turd-Eater who descend upon Mediterranean shores in their hundreds of thousands. The novel is known only to nerdish nationalists; Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump’s consigliere, is a fan. Yet one hears echoes of its apocalypticism in the forecasts of some Europeans that Africa’s high birth rates and weak labour markets guarantee an endless stream of migrants heading Europe’s way. Migration experts say this is unlikely, so a cheap fantasy novel may be just the place for it.

The man most responsible for this year’s sunny European mood is Emmanuel Macron. Fans of France’s new president may have been spooked by his early wobbles on tax policy and a spat with the military top brass. If so, they might remind themselves of how lucky they are by revisiting Michel Houellebecq’s “Submission” (any serious follower of French politics will have gobbled it up on publication in 2015). Mr Houllebecq depicts France under sharia, after a supine political establishment backs a mild Islamist presidential candidate to keep out the xenophobic Marine Le Pen. Fortunately, Mr Macron beat her instead. Now the worst Europeans have to worry about is his tendency to pomposity. Those troubled by his promise of a “Jupiterian” presidency may want to peruse Robert Graves’s retellings of the Greek myths. (Though, of course, conflating Jupiter and Zeus risks incurring the wrath of the scholar-president.) A copy of Charles de Gaulle’s war memoirs might also come in handy, if best enjoyed on an e-reader: the collected edition weighs in at 1,056 pages.

Some Eurocrats will spend their holidays obsessing over the increasingly illiberal democracies of Poland and Hungary. Once they have consigned to memory the full wording of Article 7 of the EU treaty, they can turn to Tony Judt’s “Europe: The Grand Illusion”. This short, pessimistic take on the EU’s future was published in 1996, just as Western European leaders were drawing up plans for a common currency and enlargement to include the freshly liberated countries of the east. Today, with east-west fractures growing along several dimensions, some will see vindication in Judt’s warning that the EU could not hope both to maintain its values and to spread them eastwards.

Others will see that as an unfair slur on those eastern countries that have slotted smoothly into the European family. Better to concentrate on books that can help Europe navigate a world troubled by strongmen such as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and mercurial leaders such as Donald Trump. Here the classics offer fresh inspiration. Suetonius’s “The Twelve Caesars” warns of the dangers posed by greedy, nepotistic political elites to themselves and others, and will console those who value the rule of law. Failing that, there is always Shakespeare.

What about Brexit-watchers? One EU official cheekily suggests they pack a box set of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, set on an outpost at the edge of the civilised universe. For the long view, add the late Hugo Young’s “This Blessed Plot”, the best chronicle of Britain’s historical agonies over Europe. Another option might be Voltaire’s “Candide”: Theresa May’s government often seems to be influenced by Dr Pangloss, finding cause for cheer amid catastrophe. The qualities of some of Mrs May’s ministers, meanwhile, are captured well by Roger Hargreaves’s series of ultra-slim paperbacks, the Mr Men. Charlemagne recommends Mr Muddle, Mr Daydream and Little Miss Whoops. Readers can decide for themselves which cabinet members each resembles.

You have to want to change
Books can help with the business of Brussels, too. EU antitrust officials battling American tech giants can gird their loins with Dave Eggers’s “The Circle,” a glimpse into a dystopian future where the tentacles of social media extend into every facet of personal life. Colleagues preparing for the gathering scandal over possible collusion among German carmakers might try JG Ballard’s classic of psychotic autophilia, “Crash”.

One final suggestion for Europe’s bookworms. Mr Macron’s ascent has revived confidence that Europe can finally solve perennial problems like the euro’s half-built architecture, or the EU’s asylum system. “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change,” warns a Sicilian nobleman in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard,” a study of 19th-century aristocracy in decline. For Europeans jolted out of complacency by the shocks of the last few years, that familiar line finally resonates

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