Vol. 43 No. 4 · 18 February 2021

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Goodbye to Europe

Perry Anderson refers to the EU’s migration deal with Turkey in March 2016 (LRB, 17 December 2020). As the Turkish ambassador to the EU between 2011 and 2017, I took part in the negotiations. The EU, Anderson says, ‘brib[ed] Erdoğan with six billion euros to block fugitives from getting to Europe by penning them within Turkey’. I can categorically say that the ‘deal’ was not about money. When the Syrian civil war began in 2011 and refugees crossed over to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the bulk of international assistance went to the latter two countries, since the conditions for refugees were better in Turkey. Turkey set up camps near the Syrian border to house up to 250,000 Syrians; soon the number of Syrians in Turkey swelled to 2.5 million. Although it is difficult to calculate the exact amount Turkey spent on the Syrians and other refugees – free healthcare was provided, among other welfare benefits – at the time the sum was estimated at €20 billion.

In October 2015, Erdoğan made a state visit to Belgium and had a working dinner with the presidents of the EU Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. Bear in mind that at this point, the relationship between Turkey and the EU had stalled and the accession negotiations were blocked. At the gathering, in exchange for Turkey stopping the refugees, the EU proposed opening negotiating chapters, speeding up visa liberalisation, upgrading the customs union and providing financial assistance, the amount to be specified at a later date. The initial amount was €3 billion. The negotiations resulted in the first agreement of 29 November.

Although there was a drop in the number of migrants crossing over, it wasn’t sufficient and the EU called on Turkey to bring in further measures, such as reintroducing visas for Syrians, providing work opportunities for them and increasing border controls. However, the numbers reaching Greece and beyond remained high. The EU then suggested that Turkey agree to take back all those who had crossed over illegally, whether Syrian or any other nationality. This was tough, as Turkey was now hosting close to three million refugees. Turkey accepted, but asked for further inducements: bringing visa liberalisation forward from October to June 2016, opening more negotiating chapters and an additional €3 billion for the Syrians, among other things.

I can understand the perception that Turkey was ‘holding the refugees for money’. The flow of migrants stopped, but Erdoğan insisted that the EU was not fulfilling its promises with regard to the customs union, the new negotiating chapters, the acceptance of Syrian refugees legally residing in Turkey, and the handover of payments. Every time he criticised the EU, it was the point about the money that stuck. It should be noted that the assistance was never added to Turkey’s budget but was targeted to meet the needs of the Syrians legally residing in Turkey through the European Commission’s carefully monitored projects. The payments were finally completed only in November last year; in the meantime, Turkey’s own contributions have mushroomed.

The ethics and legality of the agreement can be debated, but the motive at least was clear. The EU wanted to stop the flow of irregular migration, while Turkey saw an opportunity to put its relationship with the EU back on track. We failed, but not because of the deal.

Selim Yenel

Perry Anderson provides an interesting insight into the unpleasant antecedents of some of the leading figures in the formation of the European Court of Justice (LRB, 7 January). However, some of his statements about the court need qualification.

Anderson maintains that the modus operandi of the ECJ is the antithesis of that of the Supreme Court of the United States. To some extent that is true, since the ECJ, unlike its US counterpart, does not have the luxury of choosing its cases but must deal with all cases deemed admissible. Thus, by the end of 2019, the ECJ had dealt with 847 cases by way of judgment or reasoned order. The corresponding number of cases dealt with by the US Supreme Court during the 2018 term was 69 in 66 written opinions. The statistics are not completely comparable – every year the Supreme Court summarily dismisses thousands of so-called petitions for certiorari, the vast majority of them without merit – but perhaps give an indication of the relative workloads.

Anderson also maintains that the rulings of the ECJ cannot be abrogated because it is impossible to change EU treaties. It is a fact that treaty change has become increasingly difficult in line with the expansion of the EU. This is a matter of concern as it points to a democratic deficit. But the situation is very similar in the US, where constitutional amendments to modify Supreme Court rulings are probably even more difficult to secure in the present political climate.

However, not all judgments of the ECJ are set in granite, as Anderson suggests, but to some extent ‘follow the election returns’, as the American adage goes. The rules on the posting of workers from one member state to another member state to provide services on a temporary basis are a case in point. In the Laval case, the ECJ found that the Swedish interpretation of the treaty rules and the directive on posting workers discriminated against service providers from other member states by not allowing them to compete by paying lower wages to their posted workers compared with the wage levels for Swedish workers. In the following years, the issue of wage competition from the new and poorer member states in Eastern Europe became increasingly sensitive and pressure mounted for a revision of the posting rules in order to restrain such competition. After lengthy negotiations between the Council, Parliament and Commission, a revised directive was adopted in June 2018 which in effect allowed member states to impose their own wage levels on posted workers. Hungary and Poland then sued the Council and Parliament, alleging inter alia that the revised directive infringed the freedom to provide services guaranteed by the treaties. In its judgment of 8 December 2020 the ECJ found that the revised directive did not contravene treaty rules and dismissed the actions.

As in most countries’ highest courts, the members of the ECJ are not elected and deliberate in secret. But, unlike many national supreme courts, the jurisprudence of the ECJ from its inception is available in full on the court’s website.

Anderson describes the acquis communautaire as the ‘rulebook’ that the EU ‘wields as an instrument of power’. In fact, the acquis is nothing more sinister than the sum total of EU regulations, directives, decisions and ECJ case law which make up EU law. The comparison with the US tax code is misleading; the comparison surely should be with the body of US statutes passed by Congress, the Code of Federal Regulations and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court.

Johan Enegren

In the last of his three essays about the EU, Perry Anderson notes the distinction between states and governments which has been made in different ways by the two Brexit-supporting Hobbes scholars Noel Malcolm and Richard Tuck (LRB, 21 January). Governments come and go because there are elections, but states are here to stay. Both states and their governments can, however, change because both, ultimately, are subject to the power of a sovereign which, in Europe at least, is firmly and uniformly democratic. In this view, which Anderson seems to endorse, there is a strong reason to keep sovereignty, because keeping control of sovereign power makes it possible to avoid the risks of a superstate, an unaccountable government, or worse. The fact that one way of keeping control of sovereign power (Tuck’s) pointed to Corbyn, while the other way (Malcolm’s) pointed to Johnson, isn’t particularly significant. That, after all, is what politics is supposed to be about. Better that, Anderson seems to suggest, than having to make a choice between Westminster, ‘a pre-modern construction that has survived long past its due date’, and the EU, ‘a post-modern fabrication that is determined to outlive every alternative to it’.

With choices like that, who needs choices? The problem is the binary framework underpinning the whole argument. A better approach is to think instead about the EU and the UK (and for that matter the US) as different species of the same genus, namely the modern state, and try to find out how they work. Tuck has made a grand claim about an abiding distinction between sovereignty and government in both political life and political thought. In fact, the substantive distinction was made by Rousseau to go alongside a further distinction between what he called the general will and the will of all. The general will, he said, was like a sovereign because it was single, supreme and simply what, at any given moment, it happened to be. The will of all was like the content of any other association, consisting either of the various wills of its individual members or of the wills of the many associations themselves and, usually, some straightforward voting procedure to establish a relationship between the two.

Sovereignty and government could coexist because sovereignty would be unitary and singular while government would be multiple and plural. Instead of a Brexit-oriented distinction between a federal system and a sovereign system, Rousseau’s concept amounted to no more than a sovereign state, or a unit made up of other units. It was not exactly a community of communities because it was held together as much by money (particularly by credit and debt) and the law (made as much by judges as by legislatures) as by any more affective allegiance. The UK is like this, as is the EU. Both have their problems, yet as several 19th-century economic and political thinkers pointed out, there are also occasions when politics can turn into civil war, but legal systems and financial resources provide forms of conflict resolution that politics cannot. Money sometimes eliminates debt, just as law sometimes secures rights. States, as Rousseau began to show, have the ability to create both.

In the light of the framework established by Rousseau, there is no need to make a fetish of federalism, or to think that it refers to something peculiar, distinctive or sui generis. Brexit was, at least in part, an effect of this type of binary thinking and the way that it played it into other, more deeply entrenched, features of English nationalism. As Rousseau showed, there was no binary. Instead, there was a relationship, between, as he put it, the general will and the will of all. It is time to put the binary aside and focus instead on the relationship. We may be surprised to discover that, while we have been living in the United Kingdom, we have also been living in the European Union for a long, long time.

Michael Sonenscher
King’s College, Cambridge

Perry Anderson claims that ‘Bernie Sanders’s three basic demands – reject or modify Nafta and the TPP; raise taxes on Wall Street; free university tuition – would be out of reach’ if the US were subject to EU rules. The EU member states and the EU Parliament rejected TTIP. The Commission has no direct influence on corporation tax but has objected to the tax breaks sanctioned by several member states, including Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It is true that the Stability and Growth pact attempts to exert fiscal discipline, but this is routinely flouted, especially at present during the Covid crisis. Taxation remains an area of state competence, beyond the reach of the Commission. As for tuition fees, many EU member states charge virtually nothing for university tuition and whether they do or not has nothing to do with the EU.

Simon Sweeney

The Railway Hobby

Ian Jack evokes an era when ‘trainspotting’ had none of its later derisive connotations (LRB, 7 January). I can remember persuading my very reluctant mother to take our small group of eight and nine-year-old boys – most of them fixated on their occasional sightings of Western Region County Class locomotives – to the Swindon works before it stopped building steam locos in 1956. The term ‘bashing’ is new to me, but we were blissfully allowed into the cab of a moving shunting engine – probably a GWR 5700 (Letters, 21 January and 4 February). When we arrived, a works employee shouted to a colleague: ‘This lady wants to see round the sheds.’ For years afterwards my mother, who had studied logic (and worked as a decoding Typex operator in Hut 6 at Bletchley Park), cited this as a good example of a statement that was both false and meaningful.

Donald Macintyre
London SW4

No Splitting

Freya Johnston believes that Mary Wollstonecraft would have been horrified by today’s ‘feminist argument’, which she characterises as a process of ever more specific self-articulation: ‘a means of vindicating any position’ which ‘runs into the problem of electing which of anyone’s possible identities (gender? race? sexuality? nationality?) ought to be pushed to the fore’ (LRB, 4 February). I assume Johnston is referring to the influence of intersectional theory on contemporary feminism. She might be surprised to find that Kimberlé Crenshaw, the lawyer who introduced the term, argued for a legal framework that would recognise the claims of ‘those who are multiply burdened’, claims which ‘cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination’. In other words, an intersectional feminism argues against precisely the splitting out of identities that Johnston suggests defines ‘the dominant 21st-century mutations of feminism’. Any rigorous account of contemporary feminism would deal with its retheorisations of solidarity, from the renewed popularity of 1970s Marxist feminism and Wages for Housework to the coalitional work of the Movement for Black Lives. Johnston asks how ‘you are meant to define, understand or explain any cause if you do not first attempt to grasp your opponents’ point of view?’ From the vantage point of a feminism she defines as ‘fragmented, self-involved’, I would ask her to do the same.

Kristin Grogan
Rutgers University, New Jersey

In H13

I so enjoyed Nicholas Spice’s piece about Hans Keller (LRB, 4 February). I’m old enough to have known Hans in the 1970s when we both worked at the BBC. The relationship between a producer and his editor, in the loneliness of H13 in the attic of Yalding House, could be quite intimate, and we became good friends. He told me some memorable stories and shared some extraordinary thoughts. For instance, he said that after his dreadful experiences with the Nazis he ‘would never be in a bad mood’ and that I should reprimand him if he ever was. When we were editing in German, he told me he had quite forgotten how to formulate the correct grammar of a German sentence. He found it endlessly amusing that at Radio 3 meetings the controller would enter with two files – one labelled ‘Opera’, the other ‘Music’. And there was an extraordinary lecture he gave when, after a lengthy interruption, he announced: ‘I hope you can remember my last sentence, because I am going to start again with “However”.’

Tony Kime

A Great Deaf Bear

Gavin Tucker speculates about the subject of Beethoven’s Für Elise (Letters, 4 February). He rightly says that the dedication is not confirmed: it could be ‘für Therese (Malfatti) or für Elisabeth (Röckel)’. But it could also have been für Elise Barensfeld, a notion introduced in the Musical Times in 2014 by the late Rita Steblin. Elise was a 13-year-old prodigy who lived opposite Malfatti on Vienna’s old Haarmarkt. She was the ward of Johann Mälzel, still famous for his metronome patent, who displayed her striking voice in public concerts alongside his mechanical trumpeter, perhaps his most popular invention. One critic observed how strange it was ‘to see a young singer on stage alternating with a machine’. Beethoven was fascinated with Mälzel, more than his biographers like to admit. Was Für Elise his own take on that performance?

John Deathridge
King’s College London

Against Natural Gas

Charlotte Hanson mentions hydropower as a climate-friendly source of energy (Letters, 17 December). But there are many ways to generate hydroelectricity, some of which are extremely destructive. During the past half-century, Hydro-Québec in Canada has destroyed many free-flowing rivers by constructing hydroelectric stations with enormous ‘reservoirs’ that contain and block the rivers’ natural, seasonal flow. The Romaine River, in which I swam as recently as 2008, has been wrecked by the construction over the past decade of three, soon to be four, hydro plants. Some of Hydro-Québec’s reservoirs flood thousands of square kilometres of land, which, as well as transforming the natural environment, has a negative impact on the climate: drowned vegetation can no longer remove carbon from the atmosphere and, as it rots, releases carbon and methane into the water and the air.

Tom Ellis
Albany, New York

Bone Up

Gavin Francis’s reminiscence about the difficulty of distinguishing human from other animal bones took me back (LRB, 21 January). Most stories from medical school are apocryphal, but this one happened when I was there fifty years ago. In his viva, a fellow student was handed a clavicle. This is the nightmare bone, because it can be oriented in four different ways, making it hard to know left from right. ‘What’s this?’ ‘A bone, sir.’ ‘Ah. Would you care to try for honours? Which bone?’ ‘A human bone.’

Peter Jones
Witton-le-Wear, County Durham

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