Europe: The State of the Union

August 21, 2008

From time to time, my students ask me whether I am for or against the European Union. In future, I may just point them in the direction of Anand Menon's new book.

Menon's mission is to persuade us to move beyond the simplistic and trite pro- and anti-EU arguments that pervade the media and popular discourse to allow for a more reasoned discussion of what the EU is and how it ought to develop.

Menon's argument is that the EU is not becoming a state in its own right but that it continues to remain dependent on its constituent member states. The fears and ambitions of both Eurosceptics and Euro-enthusiasts are misplaced, and excessive devotion and "hyper-criticism" are equally pernicious as they distract from the business of governing. Menon recommends that the EU should stop trying to be loved, which may come as a surprise to readers unaware that it had even been trying, but it does reflect the current interest in Brussels in the EU's legitimacy, provoking new policies on transparency and communication. Menon's point is that the EU should forget big ideas and grand projects, and should cast aside European symbols such as the flag and the anthem, as these detract from its many achievements.

The agenda here is both pragmatic and, paradoxically, very British, given the UK's reputation for Euroscepticism. It also reflects Menon's enthusiasm for turning conventional wisdoms on their heads (so that "Europe needs a big idea and should be more ambitious" becomes "Europe should avoid big ideas and be less ambitious"). The substantive chapters of the book seek to explain what the EU is, what it does and, perhaps most interestingly, how well it does it. The main chapters cover a broad spectrum of EU-related topics: why states integrate; the history of the European integration process; how the EU operates; the single market; other economic issues, including European competitiveness, agriculture and the single currency; and finally, justice and home affairs, and foreign and defence policy (the latter being one of Menon's primary areas of research expertise).

For those already knowledgeable about the EU, there is little surprise here. For the uninitiated, to whom the book is primarily addressed, Menon offers a solid introduction to the subject. The book is cleverly written, lively and informative, offering an excellent overview for the general reader. It also subtly engages with many of the debates currently pervading academic literature, which is where it differs from apparently similar tomes that readers may find at any high-street bookshop.

The press release accompanying the book calls it "pioneering". This is exaggerated PR hyperbole. But Menon's work is an informative and well-informed read for those interested in the backstory behind the latest (enthusiastic or sceptical) newspaper article on the European Union.

Europe: The State of the Union

By Anand Menon
Atlantic Books
304pp
£16.99.
ISBN 9781843544791
Published 3 April 2008

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