One decade ago Timothy Garten Ash wrote a short essay about Europe whose title was a question: "Catching the wrong bus?" Noting at the time that abstract Euro-thinking associated with thinkers in France and Germany was "in trouble". Ash proposed an antidote that may sound familiar: Europe "could perhaps use a little more British thinking at the moment – with 'British' here meant in the deeper sense of our particular intellectual tradition: sceptical, empirical and pragmatic." The task was "to 'think Europe' in English; to see Europe plain and to see it whole."
What Europe did Ash see in 1995? There was a European Union, "less than a federal superstate and more than an alliance: an unprecedented, unique and horribly complex combination of the supranational and the intergovernmental, of economic integration and political cooperation." There was a second Europe of states recently liberated from communism and aiming to join the EU and NATO. There was also a third Europe, made up of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, ambivalent about joining European institutions and on their margin of attention.
In 1995 the first Europe was engaged in the "grotesque, rapid-sleep-inducing, acronym-ridden, polit-bureaucratic detail" (Ash) of its own internal reform. The political leaders of the European Union were preoccupied by their own internal debates in the context of an open-ended Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) and the preparations for the common currency. Many feared, like Ash, that they would not have enough energy and attention left for those parts of the continent where their actions might make the difference between democracy and dictatorship, war and peace. Fears of war in Europe in 1995 were not abstract. The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was moving towards its most horrible climax (or rather nadir) in Srebrenica. This was followed by state collapse in Albania in 1997, fighting in Kosovo in 1998, NATO's war with Serbia in 1999, violence in South Serbia in 2000 and fighting in Macedonia in 2001.
Now fast forward to 2007. If we take another look at Europe "plain and whole", what do we see today? European leaders and institutions did not, as Ash feared they might in 1995, "catch the wrong bus". The "empirical-sceptical approach" proposed by Garton Ash did win out. In 1995 he had suggested
"a detailed project both for the enlargement of the present EU to include, over the next twenty years, the recently liberated second Europe, and simultaneously, for a more closely coordinated, and in some respects 'common' foreign, security and defence policy, to meet the challenges and dangers both within Europe itself and from the dangerous world around."
By 2007 this has – with the exception of the Western Balkans and Turkey – largely been achieved. And 'empirical-sceptical thinking' certainly played a role.
However, the EU enlargement story is not over. New thinking is still urgently required. Over the coming period we hope to present some of it here: thinkers, books and ideas. So that in the end Europe will once again catch the right bus.
Timothy Garton Ash, "Europe's true stories", in: Prospect Magazine, Issue 131, February 2007.
P. C. Ioakimidis, "The Europeanization of Greece: An Overall Assessment", in: Kevin Featherstone and George Kazamias (eds.), Europeanization and the Southern Periphery, Frank Cass, 2001, pp. 73-94.
Milada Anna Vachudova, Europe Undivided. Democracy, Leverage, and Integration After Communism, Oxford Univ. Press, 2005.
Heather Grabbe, The EU's Transformative Power. Europeanization through Conditionality in Central and Eastern Europe, Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Janos Kornai, "The Great Transformation of Central Eastern Europe: Success and Disappointment", Presidential Address, delivered at the 14th World Congress of the International Economic Association in Marrakech, Morocco, on 29 August 2005, revised in February 2006.
Janos Kornai writes about "success and disappointment" in the great recent transformation of Central Europe:
"I am convinced that what took place in Central Eastern Europe during the past decade and a half is an unparalleled success story in history. I believe this, in spite of the fact that I am fully aware of the grief and disappointment it was associated with … in spite of serious problems and anomalies – assessing the situation from the perspective of great historical changes – what took place in this part of the world, is a success story."
"the most significant explanation for the rapidity of the transformation can be found in the effects of the external world surrounding the Central Eastern European countries"
"Emotions of success and failure intermingle in everyone's life who either participated or as an emphatic observer of the transformation taking place in the Central Eastern European region. Far be it from me to engage in a cheap "success propaganda" campaign. We are not facing imaginary difficulties, nor are these problems encountered by a small proportion of the populace; we are up against some very real and serious negative phenomena"
Role of social science:
"without interdisciplinary approach, it is impossible to understand and to evaluate the great transformations"