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The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union
The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union
Luuk van Middelaar
Yale University Press, 2014
392 pp., $30.00

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Alister Chapman


The Virtues of Dullness

Two cheers for the European Union.

In recent years, Europe has been in the news more often than it would have liked. The Euro crisis has ensured regular, painful headlines about debt, bail-outs, demonstrations, and maddening summits. Europe's N-word is back as some raise the specter of German continental domination. Only the ignorant would suggest that the crisis will end any time soon.

One minor consolation for Europeans is that headlines from the United States have been depressingly similar. There too, the story has been one of financial crisis exacerbated by political jams. A major difference between Europe and America, however, is that no one has questioned whether the American union will stick together. In Europe, by contrast, the neologism Grexit, which raises the possibility of the departure of Greece from the European Union, is merely one sign of how worried some have become about that body's future. Watching Greek street demonstrations and wincing at Italian debt, it is easy to think that the Union's days must be numbered.

Luuk van Middelaar's book explains why this almost certainly isn't so. Van Middelaar is a Dutch political philosopher who now writes speeches for Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council. His book is an attempt to explain how the politics of the European Union (EU) works. Anyone familiar with the EU will know that he therefore deserves the utmost respect. Few outside the world of European politics would want to be asked many questions on the subject; it would be torture at the village quiz night. The European Union makes the American federal system look like something for second graders.

A historian by training, Van Middelaar is interested less in theory than in what can be learned from the experience of politics. He wants to do for the European Union what Tocqueville did for America: explain its politics through its life. Van Middelaar brings the key issues alive by introducing the dramatis personae and describing the crucial meetings. He also explores popular ...

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