Foreign Policy Magazine

Ever Closer Confusion

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE EUROPEAN UNION? A postnational superstate or a mechanism to augment the power of nations? A neoliberal fantasia or a protectionist cartel? A Christian empire? A socially liberal paradise? Or is it something defined not by what it is but by what it is not—the lack of war in Europe, the taming of extremist ideologies, the avoidance of another Auschwitz? And what if nobody in the EU, including the people who work in its institutions, even knows the answer?

Such questions have riven the EU since it first came into existence, but in recent years, the latent tensions have risen to a breaking point. Now the Austrian writer Robert Menasse has dramatized Europe’s existential agonies in his splendid novel The Capital, which won the 2017 German Book Prize, one of Germany’s most prestigious literary awards, and was recently translated into English. The book should do more than any treatise or treaty to help readers understand the union’s crises.

Menasse spent four years living in Brussels to research his subject, and it shows. The novel abounds serves as a fun primer on how Brussels works.

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