Can Europe Make It?

My interest in Europe is personal as well as academic

Marcus How
17 January 2014

My name is Marcus How and I live in Essex, just outside of London. I studied Philosophy at the University of Nottingham. At first, I didn’t think that this was the most practical of degrees, a suspicion compounded when I graduated in July 2010, and emerged into a job market that was at the nadir of its depression. However, this assumption was incorrect. The analytical import of the discipline – together with giving you a weird ability to pick up new concepts quickly – put me in good stead when I began working as an intern in the political risk sector.

After three months I was hired full-time, acting as the firm’s social media analyst, which involved developing methodologies by which to systematically mine risk-relevant information from social media platforms. This was particularly interesting, as it was at the time of the Arab uprisings and the Occupy protests in the US and Europe. I also worked as a research analyst for the North America desk.

After eighteen months in the job, I felt I’d hit a ceiling in terms of responsibility and decided to do a Masters. I chose International Political Economy – i.e. economics for people who can’t add up – which I studied at King’s College London. In the meantime, I continued working part-time as a research analyst for the Western Europe desk; a role that neatly complemented my academic area of focus. 

My interest in Europe is personal as well as academic. My mother’s side of the family are from Vienna, and I am bilingual in German. I am fascinated in Austrian history, especially the interwar years and the Habsburg Empire. The Viennese-Habsburg connection has also bred in me a strong interest in Central and Eastern Europe. I’ve travelled extensively across the region. Although I’ve been to many other countries, nowhere gets me going like Austria and the ‘new Europe’.

The three issues I feel should be discussed in any current debates about Europe are the following. First, the consolidation of the European banking sector. The focus of my Masters dissertation was on Austrian finance in CEE. This was a fascinating project because by analysing financial indicators, one is able to assess the depth and sustainability of economic development. The extent of economic convergence between countries becomes plainer to see. It becomes particularly important when one considers that in the Eurozone at the moment, structural asymmetries continue to exist between members. Without a robust, comprehensive and unequivocally supranational banking union, these asymmetries will likely prove to be very destructive in the coming years.

Second, populist politics is a fascinating area, one that is growing in importance. It is a symptom of the disconnect between the EU’s institutions and its citizens. Many citizens feel as though globalisation is not working for them, and rather than acting as a shield, the EU is merely perpetuating the ill effects of liberalisation. Populist parties are also particularly interesting for me because they tend to be movements rather than parties, and thereby transcend the left-right divide, highlighting how arbitrary a distinction it is. I feel that the populist politics of the interwar years were basically the same phenomenon, appealing to the same anxieties. Besides this, I think the rise of populist parties in recent years asks the question: does the EU have to be democratic in order to be effective? Can technocratic governance ever be enough? Do people only appeal to the democratic deficit when times are bad?

Finally, a neglected area of discussion is the nature of integration. On the left, it is often said that the EU should effectively be dismantled, and reconstructed along democratic lines. But is this vision realistic? Is it possible to create a United States of Europe overnight? Would states ever willingly cede sovereignty to the extent that real democratic decision-making could be taken at the supranational level? How could this happen? Could EU institutions accommodate for such a move? What other cases of integration can we learn from? As to the last question, I think the US is a massively neglected and potentially fascinating area of study in this regard. Taking a look at US integration from the War of Independence onwards, and comparing it to Europe, would be an unusual but relevant area of discussion. After all, in pursuing economic convergence and political integration, the US ended up having to fight a civil war! 

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