Book reviews

Book reviews

Here's a general invitation to all members to contribute reviews of current or recent books.
Our overarching topic will of course be Europe – political, cultural or personal.
A target length of between 300 and 600 words seems good,

and suggestions for illustrations would be welcome.


BookEuropa! is the European Movement in Scotland's European Reading Group. They hope that interested readers will join them, not just in Scotland but all over Europe and the world.

Their intention is to have at least two books 'open for discussion' at a time. One will be on a topic of general interest, such as travel, history or culture. The other will be on a more technical issue of political or economic interest.

As a start, they have chosen two books: In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century by the Dutch journalise Geert Mak, and European Identity, a volume of thoughtful essays edited by Jefrey Checkel and Peter Katzenstein. They are both interesting and thought-provoking volumes which should give plenty to think about.

On their BookEuropa! blog Francesca Lacaita has written useful introductions and intial reviews of both books. Have a look - and please let them know what you think.

The EU & Romania
Accession and beyond

Edited by David Phinnemore

If only I had read this book before the Sussex Branch Study Session on Enlargement in November 06, colleagues might have been treated to a more coherent account of Romania’s journey to accession!  So it is only right that I should tell you where you can find such an account. This volume follows the path from 1989 to 2006 and sets out the wider economic, social and political background to events and situations I had seen as vivid and often disturbing snapshots during regular visits through the nineties to the early years of this century.

The editor is Jean Monnet Chair of European Political Integration at Queens University, Belfast, and contributors are distinguished academics, parliamentarians and officials, each reflecting on a key aspect of Romania’s journey to membership.
These reflections are set in four sections covering the context, the road to the EU, Romania in the EU, and implications for the region.

Little is known about the country here; since the 2004 Big Bang the focus has been on Turkey; Romania has mostly been presented in the press in a negative light – orphans, corruption…; our ethno-centric Western European history books rarely ventured this far. So the first four chapters setting the context are very welcome, allowing the reader to understand where the problems on Romania’s difficult road to membership came from. The changing frontiers between 1878 and today which define relationships with the immediate neighbours, the historical reasons for the decline of a predominantly agrarian society and economy, with disastrous industrial developments compounded by the catastrophic last ten years of Ceausescu; the difficult exit from Communism. However the historical and emotional nature of the application to join the EU was the overwhelming desire to "return to Europe", and regain Romania’s rightful place in the European family.

Revolution in 1989 did not lead to democracy, there was no consensus for capitalism, political parties never succeeded in providing good quality governance and predatory elites remained in charge. For the first ten years of the transition from communism, the economic results were disastrous, with hyper-inflation and millions impoverished.
It is a measure of how far the country has come that it finally achieved recognition as a "market economy" in 2004. The different chapters spell out the detail of the challenging and painful path of political and economic transition, the boom and bust 90’s, the collapsing banking system, the powerful people above the law.

continued in right column

Alongside the economic and political analysis there are chapters looking at the massive societal changes needed. Difficulties over human rights and the treatment of minorities, Hungarian minorities in Romania, Romanian minorities in surrounding countries; no-one mentions the Roma. Child protection - a problem that shocked the Romanian public as much as the outside world; it has taken 15 years to come up with a policy that addresses some of the causes and provides community and family based solutions, though it remains to be seen how the 2005 law is implemented. Civil society is weak; it only evolves over decades and hopefully will as the economic situation evolves. The media, still controversial but becoming more free and dynamic.

The negotiations to join the EU are charted. The formal application for membership was submitted in 1995 but Romania was quickly left behind by the other former communist countries. The Ministry of European Integration was created in 2001 and several years of tough bargaining began. The environment chapter for instance was bound to be challenging in a country with no tradition in environmental protection and a complete lack of environmental collective conscience. Adhering to demanding EU standards will bring hardships in heavily polluted areas. There are still concerns about corruption and the independence of the judiciary, about product norms and standards, about discriminatory restrictions affecting public procurement, the collection of taxes and so on. However, through all these difficult years the aspiration to become part of the west, for Euro-Atlantic integration has not wavered and each painfully achieved step, from the Council of Europe in 1993 to NATO in 2004 has given a huge external push to the transition process.

The final section deals with the new situation for the EU, with the frontier pushed eastwards to the virtually unknown Black Sea. Romania’s role in this new space for the European Neighbourhood Policy, for relations between the EU and the Western Balkans and with Turkey remains to be seen. Will Romania, the laggard of eastern enlargement, have anything to offer Turkey, the laggard par excellence?

The EU & Romania
Accession and beyond

Edited by David Phinnemore
published by the Federal Trust 2006

reviewed by Margaret Tuccori
February 2007

Giles Tremlett
Ghosts of Spain

This is a splendid book, in spite of a thoroughly misleading title. It is in fact an account of contemporary Spain by the Guardian’s Madrid correspondent, an excellent journalist who plies his trade by talking to people and distilling a stream of readable and - glory be! – unspun reportage. There is an immediacy and authenticity in this that is compelling; the writing flows easily and clearly and the whole is judiciously spiced with enough of the wider cultural background to make the contexts coherent. In a word good old-fashioned journalism.

Spain like Ireland is one of the success stories of integrating Europe, with its transformed economy and political culture driving it ever deeper into the European Union. The root-and-branch modernisation of Spain over the last quarter of the twentieth century was remarkable, and was achieved – pretty well though not entirely cost-free – without violence or social dislocation. If centralised Spain could do it, why not the UK? All the big predictable issues appear on the scene – the new political culture, the role of the monarch, regionalism, the Basque problem, language diversity, the transition and exorcising – or not – of francoism, the decline of the Church, immigration, feminism versus machismo, aristocratic Spanish banks, Almodóvar, the goings-on in Marbella, the sad demise of gipsy culture … All in one way or another get an update, often a novel one. But there is much more to Tremlett’s modern Spain than appears in the foreign press, most of it anchoring the country to its extraordinary past. Those persuaded by the argument that European integration standardises will be disabused of their silliness here. And most helpfully the reader will be well prepared to cope with that real bummer for the occasional visitor, Spanish logic.

España es diferente, the jingle goes - but it’s true. If you want to know why and are venturing only five or ten kilometres from the costas – in their terrible garish glory, he says, but catalysts of change nonetheless - read Giles Tremlett. He illuminates much and you will enjoy the read.

Ghosts of Spain
by Giles Tremlett

Faber and Faber 2006
422pp.   RRP £16-99

reviewed by Michael Rider
October 2006