Europeans, particularly “pro-European” Europeans like me, often make the argument that it is only by pooling their collective resources that can they compete in the emerging world of continent-sized powers such as China, India and the US. By jointly pursuing their interests, the 28 member states of the European Union – the world’s largest trading bloc – can have greater impact than any of them can have individually. In particular, this argument is often deployed to show why it would be a mistake for the UK to leave the EU: to do so would commit it to “geopolitical oblivion”, as a French official put it to me. The idea, in short, is that size matters, as Peter Mandelson put it at a dinner I attended a year or so ago. But interestingly (and perhaps slightly worryingly), this discourse about size echoes the one in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century.
A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Tendenzwende conference – a small gathering in Berlin of historians, economists, constitutional lawyers and philosophers, that has been held annually since 2009. It is named after a famous academic conference held in 1974, which coined the term that is often used in Germany for the shift in the 1970s from the post-war settlement to a new phase of slow growth and high inflation after the oil shock of 1973. After the financial crisis in 2008, Andreas Rödder (a historian) and Günther Nonnenmacher (one of the five publishers of the Frankfurter Allgemeine) had the idea of holding a similar conference to discuss whether a new paradigm shift was now taking place. The big question was: what comes after neo-liberalism? This year’s conference (which took place under the Chatham House rule) was on Europe.