Monday, November 13, 2006

Soros and priorities for Europe

At a public meeting yesterday in Oxford, George Soros and Timothy Garton-Ash both said quite a lot of sensible things; but on the point on which I questioned Soros, who was plugging his new book, he left me unconvinced.

The specific point concerned the future role of the European Union. Soros thinks the EU -- a far from perfect but actually existing example of an open society -- can play a key role in building a more just world order, but that it needs to define a mission. As Garton-Ash was probably correct to say, the EU cannot simply keep offering membership to an ever larger number of states (although, for Soros and I guess for Garton Ash, keeping the process of negotiation with Turkey alive is crucial). Europe, Soros said, needed something new to motivate people, to "get them out on the streets" in the way the cry for freedom had in so many central and eastern European countries.

I asked what, given the sheer number of very hard problems facing the world (some of them maybe unprecedentedly hard), should the Europeans choose as a priority, or priorities? Soros answered that one priority should be a common European energy policy in the face of a resurgent, bolder and nastier Russia.

I agree that Europe's energy future is vital, and share Soros's concern about the dangers of the present situation. But I am sceptical of the answer he gave. Is a common energy policy really something around which large numbers of people could mobilise? Perhaps if repackaged as part of an "employment/climate change/global justice and development" mission? Hmmm, let's keep talking.

To be fair, Soros did not hear my question or that from others very well (the venue was the echoing University Church) and he only had time for brief answers .

At first, I sympathised with another questioner who asked him "what if it's all too late?". She was refering to the growth of fundamentalist terrorism in the UK (on this, I don't think the UK authorities are exaggerating because I don't see a convincing argument that it is in their interest to do so). But then again -- in contrast to her fear -- here and now is where we have to learn to be more serious and tougher in the sense of not giving up hope and facing the problem sensitively and firmly, as George Soros has not done since at the age of 13 or 14 he joined the anti-Nazi resistance in Budapest in 1944.

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