Wednesday, 20 January 2016

George Soros and the "EUSSR"

"EUSSR" is one of those leaden memes that crops up 'below the line', i.e. in the comments section of an online newspaper. You'll find it a lot in the Guardian, used by people who read the Guardian to enjoy getting annoyed about it (the Daily Mail has a similar readership). The idea is ... well, I think you've spotted the oh-so-clever comparison being made.

So I was surprised to see George Soros making the EU-USSR comparison, and in a much more interesting way.
This is from the transcript of an interview with him in the New York Review of Books:

Soros: ... A quarter of a century ago, when I first became involved in the region, you had a moribund Soviet Union and an emerging European Union. And interestingly, both were adventures in international governance. The Soviet Union tried to unite proletarians of the world, and the EU tried to develop a model of regional integration based on the principles of an open society.

Schmitz: How does that compare with today?

Soros: The Soviet Union has been replaced by a resurgent Russia and the European Union has come to be dominated by the forces of nationalism. The open society that both Merkel and I believe in because of our personal histories, and that the reformers of the new Ukraine want to join because of their personal histories, does not really exist.

"Adventures in International Governance": not exactly a Boy's Own adventure, but one sees what Soros is getting at. While the Soviet Union and the EU are really quite different things, they might both be regarded as attempts at the same thing, i.e. solving the 'problem' of nationalism, and it's not a thing that works out well. One can think of other Adventures in International Governance that have come and gone (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the British Empire, League of Nations Mandates), but the fashion seems to be against them: recent developments in Syria and Iraq, for example, involve an entity that it is explicitly a state (or at least trying to be one) rather than a supranational entity.

Soros says something else interesting about the EU. "Soros: The campaign for the Brexit has deliberately misled the public. Currently, Britain has the best of all possible deals with Europe. It has access to the common market where nearly half of UK exports go while it is not weighed down by the burden of having joined the eurozone."

I think the Brexiters would respond: hmm, is that deal better than Switzerland or Norway? But it seems to me that Soros' argument essentially concedes the central part of the Brexiters' case: what the UK has (or should have) is a "deal with Europe", not participation in an Adventure in International Governance. 

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