Nation and State vs. Europe: When the Sum of the Parts Is Larger Than the Whole

On Monday, October 16, 2017, The Institute of European Studies, in cooperation with the Institute of Governmental Studies, welcomed Josef Joffe, the current Regents’ Lecturer at IGS, to give a lecture entitled, Nation and State vs. Europe: When the Sum of the Parts is Larger than the Whole. Joffe is the publisher and editor of the German newspaper, Die Zeit, and a regular contributor to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek. Joffe began his lecture for a packed audience of over 40 attendees by discussing a suitable definition for the European Union. He questioned the EU’s status as a nation state, comparing and contrasting the EU to Switzerland and the U.S. Unlike the U.S. and other nation states, he claims, it is not founded by a single act of will, and not nourished by a common sense of history. As the unity of Europeans is approaching its all-time low, Joffe finds it problematic that the focus of loyalty is not in Brussels, but in the state capitols. He points out that the political culture unfolds at home, not at the EU parliament, and that there is no EU-wide media, for example, rather, the Europeans follow their own national media. Joffe also points out that the EU has not successfully built its own identity; Europeans listen, watch, and even eat as Americans and the language of communication in Brussels is not French, Spanish or German, but English with an American accent. In addition to these observations, Joffe identifies some key issues in the attempt of building a stronger European Union. This attempt sometimes collides with member states’ domestic objectives, and thus the EU is not powerful enough to become a unified union. Brexit, the continuous crisis of the Eurozone, and the suspension of Schengen are some of the indicators of the EU’s identity crisis, Joffe argued. Even the Germans, who are known as strong supporters of “Europeanism” have selected a nationalist party in their parliament for the first time in 60 years. Joffe nevertheless predicts that Chancellor Merkel will try to slowly pursue French President Macron’s ideas of unifying the EU. He believes that the EU will continue its existence - but it will never become a national state. In his conclusion, Joffe compared the EU to a coral reef: it is an organism that obeys no design, it is built by microscopic parts of which some break, some are rebuilt, but unless it is influenced by outside forces, is remains indestructible. The Q& A proportion of the lecture was particularly lively. First, Joffe was asked what he predicts as the future of the monetary union, and what Germany’s role in it will be. Joffe answered that Germany cannot and should not impose dramatic monetary policies for the rest of the member states. He also argued that no one wants to leave the monetary union even though the Euro is not an optimal currency. The European Monetary Union will not break apart even if it no longer made fiscal sense, concluded Joffe. Next, Joffe was as asked if he believes that there is a necessity for the political elite in the EU to unite against the rising national right wings. Joffe answered that there will not be such trend or behavior by the political elite, because Macron’s strategy of unity will not work well with the Germans, Dutch, or even Scandinavians, since they have less state-centered cultures. When asked about the US, he added that he used to think that the U.S. two-party system was the most stable political system, but after the parties have been pushed farther to the left and right, the multi-party system in many European countries now seems more stable than the system in the US, as there is no cumulative effect of power.

You can watch Josef Joffe's lecture here.