Book review: a fascinating take on recent European history

Cover of Alarums and Excursions by Luuk Van MiddelaarAlarums and Excursions

Improvising Politics on the European Stage
Luuk Van Middelaar, translated by Liz Waters
Agenda Publishing (£25)
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British politicians may feel they’ve spent the last few years in perpetual crisis mode, but those in Brussels have had bigger troubles, including the fallout from Brexit, the euro crisis, the situation in Ukraine, and the refugee crisis. This book, from a former speechwriter for the European Council president, looks at some of the key challenges that the EU has faced over the past decade.

The author attempts to be as objective as possible, but he clearly has little time for what he sees as selfish objections to granting greater powers to European institutions in areas such as fiscal policy and asylum and immigration. And when he looks at the fight between the functionalist (technocrats), federalist (integrationists) and confederationist (nationalists) visions of Europe’s future, his sympathies are clearly with the federalists, while understanding that most people in Europe don’t feel the same way.

He admits that when federalists talk about making Europe “more democratic” what they really mean is increasing the power of the EU at the expense of individual nation states. This disconnect between Europe’s elites and its citizenry is, in his view, the big force driving the current populist backlash. The book could do with some editing, but it is a fascinating take on events in recent European history.