Three myths about Europe in one sentence: bravo, General Barak and Sir Max


When does a cliché become a myth? Answer: when it is spoken by a Very Important Person and repeated by another VIP in an official journal. There is a good example today Times (behind a paywall). Sir Max Hastings, visiting Israel, lovingly recounts a conversation with Ehud Barak. the
former prime minister
, who now defends Israeli tech startups, told the former editor and historian that “he sees Europe as ‘a dying paradise’ … all those Germans working harder and harder to keep Italy going working “.

Suppose Sir Max, who was once a reporter, more or less faithfully reproduced General Barak’s words. The first stumbling block is the main phrase “dying paradise”. No Israeli needs me to point this out, but for Jews, the continent where six million people were murdered in living memory has never been a paradise. Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise again and in some countries (notably France, Germany and, yes, Britain) have reached almost unprecedented levels. As for the Jewish state: Europe is doing ever more lucrative business with Israel, while treating it as an outcast. Indeed, one wonders when Barak last visited this country: there are many other former Israeli officers who would be reckless to do so if they do not wish to end up in court on false rights charges. humans.

Whether or not it is a paradise for everyone except bureaucrats and oligarchs, Europe is certainly not ‘dying’. It is true that the demographics are bleak and some economies are only supported by migration, which often involves stealing Peter to pay Paul. The Baltic states, for example, have between 15 and 20 percent of their population living abroad. Not only are we having fewer children, but we are also aging: out of the 20 countries in the world expected by a study of the Lancet last year to lose at least 10 percent of their population by 2050, 18 are in Europe. He estimates that by 2100 the EU’s population will have grown from 446 million to 308 million. Yet, as the pandemic has demonstrated, the continent has some of the best healthcare in the world and is wealthy enough to care for an elderly population. The UK population, incidentally, is not expected to drop at all from its current level of 67 million, but to peak at 75 million in 2063 and slowly decline to 71 million by 2100. So: not extinguishing yet . It is common for those who are no longer young – Barak and Hastings are both in their seventies – to see the world in twilight terms. But as Adam Smith said, there is a lot of ruin in a nation – and even more in a continent.

But what about Barak’s vivid image of “all these Germans working harder and harder to keep Italy”? Surely that’s true, isn’t it? Well, no, actually. First of all, Germans don’t work harder – and neither do most Europeans. Hours of work are at their lowest level in decades, in part only because of the pandemic. There has been a long-term average decline from about 70 hours per week to about half today. In Germany, the decline was larger: annual working hours fell between 1870 and 2017 by around 60%, compared to a drop of 40% in the United Kingdom. Germans are very productive, but they don’t work particularly hard.

As for Italy: the idea that it is simply “maintained” by the charity of its wealthier northern neighbors is the most pernicious myth of all. A recent study by the Freiburg Research Center – a German think tank, notes – found that Italians suffered more than any other EU country as a result of the introduction of the euro. Over nearly two decades, from 1999 to 2017, the single currency cost Italy a staggering £ 3.6 trillion, which equates to £ 64,000 per capita. Germany, on the other hand, won by far the most: £ 1.6 trillion, the equivalent of £ 19,000 for every German. Being denied the currency devaluation tool for Italy had devastating consequences for its economy.

One of the main architects of this cruel and unnatural punishment was Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank from 2011 to 2019. Now in his seventies, Draghi was unexpectedly recruited last spring at the height of the pandemic to to be Prime Minister of Italy. at the head of an emergency coalition. The irony of this outcome is not lost on the Italians, none of whom have yet had the opportunity to vote for their former grand inquisitor. The Italians have resigned themselves to a technocratic government: at least Draghi can keep the Germans gentle, they hope, so that a few crumbs of the EU’s stimulus package fall from the table of the rich. But they have no illusions: the Italians were much more prosperous before being stuck in the Iron Maiden of the Euro.

Thus General Barak and Sir Max are guilty of perpetuating a series of stereotypes: of Europe as a dying paradise, of hardworking Germans and lazy Italians. To paraphrase Voltaire on the Holy Roman Empire, which was “neither holy, nor Roman, nor empire”: Europe is neither dying, nor diligent, nor a paradise. Very important people are no wiser than anyone else; they’re just more open with their follies.

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