British Lord wins European Book Prize with plea to make EU stronger

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Former British minister for Europe, Denis MacShane

The 2014 European Book Prize was awarded to two of Europe’s most deserving authors: Sociologist Anthony Giddens, and novelist-journalist Pascale Hugues.

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Minister for Europe.  His book Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe will be published by IB Tauris early in 2015.

As the question of Britain leaving the EU rises remorselessly to the surface of British and European politics, the Brussels corps of correspondents has awarded the 2104 European Book Prize to an exuberant defence of Europe and a plea from the heart of the British establishment for more, not less, stronger, not weaker, Europe. 

The European Book of the Year Prize was set up by Jacques Delors in 2007. The second winner in 2008 was Tony Judt, the British historian and expert on French politics for his magisterial, Postwar: Europe Since 1945.  That book was classic narrative history written by a man already dying of motor neurone disease who accepted his prize by video link from New York, as he was too ill to travel.

The prize has the enthusiastic support of Europe’s most famous book seller, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz. Schultz made a powerful, emotional plea at the ceremony in the EP’s Anna Lindh conference room for the centrality of books and how they must still exist as printed object, not digitized into a cyberworld controlled by Google and Amazon, though he avoided mentioned the G and A names.

Now a second Brit, a member of the House of Lords no less, has won the 2014 prize. Anthony Giddens, has written a passionate plaidoyer for Europe. Turbulent and Mighty Continent: What Future for Europe (Polity Press) combines optimism of the intellect as well as of the will. Different subjects, from regional policy, to the need to advance the classic trade unionist Social Europe, to what Giddens describes as a ‘Social Investment Europe’ are discussed.

The European Book of the Year Prize is organised from the office of L’Obs (as France’s Nouvel Observateur is now called) and is supported by European media like Libération, Le Soir, El Pais, Le Monde, Euronews, la Repubblica, RTBF and EURACTIV. It does not have a British newspaper involved, nor a British Brussels correspondent on its jury, since David Rennie, of The Economist, decamped to Washington.

So it was generous to award the prize to a British intellectual and sociologist. Tony Giddens has written many books, and as the French MEP Jean-Marie Cavada pointed out at the ceremony, is best known as the theoretician of the “Third Way” – the socio-economic model of reformist open market social democracy linked with the name of Tony Blair.

Giddens has also been Director of the London School of Economics, as well as a founder of Polity Press. He has a restless ever-inquiring mind which does not sit well with the British academic establishment, which likes its professors and university chiefs to be plodders, getting every footnote precisely in place. Giddens is an entrepreneur-intellectual wanting to get his ideas into play as policy and not as commentaries or advice.

His book wants a powerful president of the Europe and urges a single language for use by those conducting EU business. No prizes for guessing which one!

But in the midst of any number of querulous books by the British commentariat on Europe with the usual attacks on the usual suspects – the Euro, the Commission, the European Parliament – Giddens offers the freshness of enthusiasm and engagement which is hard to find anywhere in today’s British political, press, or intellectual scene.

The paradox of the European Book of the Year Prize being awarded on the eve of major developments in British politics which may well lead to Britain quitting the EU if the proponents of a Brexit referendum in 2017 get their way should not be lost.

Giddens may be the last British laureate as the prize is reserved for writers who are EU citizens. The prize for the best novel of 2014 went to the former Libération foreign correspondent, Pascale Hugues. She has lived in Berlin for the past 25 years, and her novel, La Robe de Hannah: Berlin 1904-2014 (Les Arenes) explores the history of a single street and its inhabitants in the German capital.  She at least is likely to still be an EU citizen by the end of the decade. The same cannot be said, with certainty, for Anthony Giddens.



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