Laure Prouvost serves an all-consuming sensual platter.

By John Newton

Laure Prouvost’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery is billed as being two-part ‘immersive’ piece. This is certainly apparent; as you enter the space there is a large curved wall that seems to protect the inner video installation Swallow. The outer wall is covered in Shwitters-esque collage. It’s probably worth noting here that Prouvost has made a piece which is currently featured in Tate Britain’s Shwitters in Britain exhibition. In a similar way to her piece there, physical structure seems to an important part of the work.

It becomes clear as the piece slowly unfurls itself that this fortification is a practical necessity but is itself artistically superfluous. The physical separation from the outer-world into this purely sensual realm is one which is executed through the subtle and nuanced cinematic craftsmanship of the central piece, with the structure providing merely the machinery that houses this all-consuming oesophagus. Inescapably this seems to be the static corpus that houses the more vital and capricious inner-working of the main piece, which centres on fragments of video that variously depict nude bathers, birds, squashed fruits and wayward clouds.

Swallow, begins with and is punctuated by, the heavy breathing of a disembodied mouth. This is the heartbeat of the work. Alone in the dark in the opening seconds, there is nothing but the breathing of the mouth on the screen and inevitability your own, quite probably shallower faster breaths reflecting it. This serves as a lynchpin for the rest of the piece. Prouvost is obviously acutely aware of her audience and the piece repeatedly and knowingly reaches out to the viewer.

Another more obvious manifestation of this is through Prouvost’s narration. She addressed us directly, and there are many subtle changes in tone and intonation which lead us through the piece. Similarly with the relentless breathing, this attains an ambiguity which is paramount to achieving the total consumption of the viewer. The voice vacillates between very stark direct statements, “The water is naked”, to childishly oblique whimsy, describing a lost cloud falling from the skies and the empty pile of clothes left by a disappearing man.

These dexterously administered changes in tone occur around the central trope of nude women bathing in a waterfall. This at times static image apes classical scenes such as Titian’s portrayal of Diana bathing with her Nymphs.

Again Prouvost’s central aim seems to be to convey the sensuality depicted in palpable terms to the viewer, imploring us to “feel the sunshine in your mouth”. This is a work thats currency is the purveying of sensation. Food is a recurrent theme as is swallowing generally. It is difficult not to draw some parallel to the Freudian concept of Oral Gratification which Prouvost seems to have identified as the most basic sensual denominator and by exploiting this, aims to lead us through the entire sensual palette – tasting everything along the way from the piece’s nascent breaths onwards through the flowers and the fruit of life and experience.

Prouvost achieves this through a number of subtle techniques. She uses this oral prediction to let us into the piece through vivid images of torn fruit and the glistening of sunlight on cool waters before distorting and refracting our expectations of it. Fresh raspberries are messily trampled onto rocks; cut fruit suckles at a naked human breast, butterflies swarm around luridly coloured trainers. It is easy to draw parallels with the work of Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, whose mantra “we are juicy creatures” seems to strike a particular resonance with Prouvost’s sensual joyousness. Prouvost seems to be aware of how deftly she has executed her sensual structures and is confident enough to then subvert and pick over them.

The boundaries of the idyllic are pressed as the images evolve from the essential and relatively abstract into the clichéd and pastiche. This is most clearly embodied through several long languorous shots of ice-cream. This starts very much in the idyllic idealised mode before descending into a more Mr Whippy-ish seaside picture-postcard image. Having created a sequestered paradise Prouvost delicately and mischievously takes us on holiday. Once again Prouvost shows not only the desire but the ability to reach out to the viewer to lead us through the artistic spectrum, from what seems sublime to something we can directly relate to, spanning the arcane to the ironic.

This, while seeming to be achieved relatively effortlessly, shows the real craft in Provoust’s work. Video installations would seem to be the easiest form of art to execute but are surely one of the most difficult to get right. Provoust handles her materials with a masterfully dexterity, never overplaying her hand or leaving the viewer behind. The nudity is never gratuitous, the whimsy never contrived. This is achieved through the many faceted interwoven layers in the work. The breathing and the narration work together to push the work forwards and to embellish and contextualise the images of screen.

This leaves plenty of room for artistic counter-point – the narration is not synonymous with authority and occasionally collides joyfully with the apparent meaning of the images. Similarly the breathing while continuous is not consistent. It variously nips at the air in ecstasy or gulps it in extremis. This work is precocious and alert. Shimmering and refracted, it washes over the audience with texture and symbolism but remains rooted in the expertly executed formal constructions.

Prouvost successfully spins a complete web – sinuous and glistening – woven from the fibres of life. Once you are arrested in it she seizes her chance and swallows you whole. So, as the piece ends, sitting in the darkness your senses ring with the echoes of the colours and textures you yourself have just imbibed.

http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/max-mara-art-prize-for-women-laure-prouvost

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On the argument that it is never right to celebrate the death of a human being:


By Patrick Lee

Margaret Thatcher is dead. Act appropriately. My first reaction to her death was to think “lucky she did not die closer to the next election”, when Tory pride and eulogizing would be at a sickly peak, while the bitter arguments on “the Left’s” inappropriate street parties following her death would be tarnishing Labour’s election preparations.

The simple fact is that she is dead, and her death invites us to, like all deaths, analyse the life’s work. Let’s analyse:

Thatcher was friends with General Pinochet, a man who was charged with human rights violations, who murdered his political opponents; a man who, according to a governmental commission, tortured and murdered up to 30,000 people. Thatcher was a friend with Royalist, paedophile, and general inappropriate political fiddler, Jimmy Saville. She spent billions building nuclear weapons (Cold War aside, surely a negative thing). She blamed football fans and “hooligans” for the Hillsborough disaster. She and Reagan, in response to the oil crisis and rising inflation, deregulated major banks and welcomed in the age of neoliberalism. She destroyed inner city communities and trade unions. She widened the gap between rich and poor. She was PM while millions in the North of England were unemployed. She swapped the rule of the Trade Unions with the rule of the banks and private wealth.

Anti-welfare; anti-state; pro free-market; pro Murdoch; privatisation and, above all, introduced, perhaps irreversibly, a culture of greed and individualism.

While she was PM rubbish (literally trash) was piled up high in Trafalgar Square and there was a point when undertakers stopped burying bodies. Please take a second to absorb this image: there was a point when undertakers stopped burying bodies and Trafalgar Square became a rubbish dump.

 For anyone else still not convinced, I recommend investigating her record on apartheid (unlike the majority of European countries at the time, it is not great); and her record on Northern Ireland, where she allowed inmates on hunger strike to die.

 Still, it is easy now she is dead to remember her less than ideal record as PM. She did, indeed, create a surge in Tory support in certain areas of the country, in particular South East England, which they still enjoy today.

What maybe more relevant is to see how she has changed the world irreversibly, and to ascertain whether this is for the better or worst. And then, maybe then, we can think about whether it is morally right to celebrate the death of another human being.

It was Lenin who first posited the idea of dependency theory, disagreeing with Marx in his opinion that it would be a global revolution, not a national one, which would ultimately overthrow capitalism. Thatcher and Reagan are the King and Queen of the new, free, global market. According to sociologist Colin Crouch, Thatcher’s version of limited government became the “example which elites throughout the world, including those in countries emerging from communism, could embrace with open arms. […] concepts of democracy increasingly equated it with limited government within an unrestrained capitalist economy [and] reduced the democratic component to the holding of elections.”

Bottom line: Emerging from The Cold War the Thatcherite and Reaganite governments were the examples to which other countries saw and crawled towards. In his book, Post Democracy, Crouch chooses to focus on the consequences of this limiting of the state on the democratic process in general, noting that the more draconian, less egalitarian state suffered weaker democratic participation. And still does today.

According to Lenin the dominant state in a global capitalist market inevitably and fundamentally must have states it can rely upon for exploitation; in short, for one country to be wealthy, another must be poor, and imperialism must rule. Not only this, but according to Francis Fukuyama, the bandleader for free market Western hegemonic rule (and a convincing bandleader at that) this hegemonic rule of Western free market global economics is irreversible. Once the benefits of free trade, technological growth and investment, and technological revolution have been seen by another country, the benefits are such that no country will decide to operate in a more industrialised, socialist form again. Industrialisation can only take a country so far in a global market dictated by technological growth, free information and deregulated banking industries.

Consequence: The West does, whether you as a reader agree with the reasons behind it or not, have an imperialist presence in certain parts of the world. Lenin’s dependency theory was correct. As a digression I would argue that it is better that ultimately free-thinking, democratic states control the major oil lines on Earth rather than a psychopathic theocrat like Suddam Hussein, but nonetheless, there is a Western imperialist presence concerning oil in the world today. What am I trying to say here? I think boiled down to its skeletal form it is this: I keep hearing people argue that whether I approved of Thatcher as a politician or not, it cannot be argued she was perhaps the most influential post-war politician of our time. I am arguing that this is true because she irreversibly introduced global, free market economics. This system fundamentally, as Lenin saw, relies on the subjugation and domination of weaker states, and, ultimately on imperialism, often by force. Thatcher’s global economy encourages war, imperialism, masochistic relationships between states, and relies on imperialism for resources such as crude oil and for trade benefits.

Do we, as a Western society, not celebrate free market economics? Are we not all together in the neoliberal project of the self, in the ultimate and constant goal of achieving and of constant economic growth without end? More, and more and more growth and wealth, is the aim and intention of our collective society; and we as participants encourage this. We are, as has been recently excellently written about, discouraged from protest by an increasingly reactionary State but whether we like it or not, we are now participants in Thatcher’s exploitative, imperialist free market which, whether we like it or not, relies upon and consequently celebrates the death and destruction and exploitation of other nations. Our armies continue to grow, our technology for producing weapons gets better, and our presence in the World grows, at the expense of the lives and cultures of others. And yet still we argue over the death of the lady that started it all: Is it ever morally right to celebrate the death of another human being?

 

An Old Woman Dies

By Thomas Knight

With the death of Margaret Thatcher, an ugly side to the British people has been revealed. Watching the news last night, I was struck by the sneering glee visible on some faces – mostly those of the general public – as they said that she’d be remembered for destroying Britain. For years, comedians have expressed a wish to piss on Thatcher’s grave, or drive a stake through the old woman’s heart just to make sure she’s gone. Some people are all too happy to grasp on to a fictionalized narrative in which Thatcher is given far too much credit for the ills of the world today.

Ken Livingstone, for instance, claimed that the modern financial crisis proves the failure of Thatcher’s legacy. Conveniently ignoring the fact that the crisis occurred decades after Thatcher left politics, and that it was a Labour government who continued her politics of deregulation and privatization to absurdity. It wasn’t a Thatcher government that put taxpayers on the hook for the folly of major banking institutions, or a Thatcher government which has failed to respond to a changing global situation. For all her many faults, Thatcher was a highly responsive politician, who correctly identified China as an important rising power, believed in her convictions, and brought Britain out of one of the lowest points in its history as a power which commanded respect on a global stage.

Her most controversial policies were to cease subsidizing businesses which were costing the country billions – British Steel and the mining sector. Whilst she inarguably did this in a sudden and sharp manner, it is important to realize that Thatcher had no way of knowing that she would have over a decade in power in which she could have seen her goals to fruition. Acting suddenly and decisively was unpleasant – and undoubtedly is responsible for the majority of the ill will targeted at her today. It is not entirely fair, however, to judge the woman entirely in retrospect and declare that she could have done better. The fact is that, unlike so many politicians today, she did what she set out to do, and she did it unapologetically.

Thatcher believed that failing industries should not be propped up by the state. She also believed that terrorists should not be negotiated with. Despite being almost killed in a terrorist attack herself, her conviction never wavered. Crucially, she never went to the kinds of levels that the Blair government did in curtailing human rights and civil liberties in the name of security. Arguably, Thatcher had more reason than any other politician in modern British history to want to lock up individuals without charge or trial, to ramp up surveillance and limit freedom of speech. It wasn’t in the height of the cold war that we saw these things come into practice though; it was in the years following.

Margaret Thatcher undoubtedly set the tone of the modern political debate. Her spectre looms heavy over the politics of both Conservative and Labour politicians, but it is not that spectre which died yesterday. Indeed, the slavish devotion to the principles of deregulation and a misunderstanding of ‘free market’ economics will continue to dominate the language of our politics for the foreseeable future. What people don’t seem willing to grasp is that Margaret Thatcher was not responsible for the worst outcomes of the logic that drove her policies – and she may very well not have taken such a course herself. I don’t think the notion of something being ‘too big to fail’ had any place in Thatcher’s mind.

There is also a very human tragedy here. One doesn’t need to like the woman to accept that she was one of the most important figures in ending the Cold War and shaping Britain as it exists today. Towards the end of her life, however, she was said not to have any memory of many of the key events that she played a central role in. Love her or hate her, Thatcher had a keen insight into the burden of government and the loss of her mind is a tragedy. It would have been fascinating to know what the Thatcher of the 1980s would have made of today’s political situation.

But instead of acknowledging any good that she might have done, we seem to prefer to tear into the woman personally. We love a pantomime villain, and ‘Thatcher Thatcher the milk snatcher’ has become the hate figure that modern folk lore requires. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hate and derision poured on her by hip and trendy 20-somethings who can barely name who the Prime Minister today is, let alone thirty years ago.

There are times when I am ashamed of my generation. Listening to people who have benefited from a country which no longer expects them to go down into coal mines and work themselves into an early grave, spew bile on an old woman who died not knowing what she achieved, because they inherited a hatred of her from parents or grandparents who are supported by one of the greatest economies in the world rather than the ‘sick man of Europe’, is one of those times.

Sowing the Seeds of Greed

By Isaac Turner

Thatcher’s death was a cruel reminder of her divisive time in government. The nation split between lovers and haters, it now seems fashionable to pin your political colours to the mast and declare whether you adored or abhorred her ideals. The tribal nature of the Thatcher debate takes us back to a bygone era, vastly differing from the current climate of consensus politics, which is curious as many of her policies that were once seen as controversial are now the norm. Privatisation, free market economics and a capitalist mentality will outlive her, and in that sense, Thatcher has achieved a somewhat immortalised form in British politics.

Thatcher loved aspiration. She loved the individual. She believed that any one person could rise to the top in society through hard work and determination. To Thatcher, there was no such thing as society, and this is where her legacy begins to unravel. The fact that she was not a supporter of cooperation or compassion, prioritising the needs of one over the needs of many instead, wreaked irreversible destruction within several regions of Britain.

Barnsley is a town with a rich working class heritage. Thatcher systematically shamefaced the working class, until being part of it was seen as a social negative. She waged war in her battle with the unions, the miners and the collective, socially centred values that defined communities such as Barnsley. In the recent words of my grandfather, ‘Thatcher tore apart everything I grew up knowing. We’d have days for the families of miners to come together, rituals, celebrations. The Barnsley of 1990 was unrecognisable from the Barnsley of 1975. It has no spirit anymore.’

This pattern is repeated in towns and villages all over the United Kingdom. South Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Scotland. Thatcher created an environment in which the only way for such settlements to survive was to provide employment in the retail industry. Go to the towns with a working class heritage in 2013 and you might be able to see the next generation working in the local Londis, the local Peacocks, the local Wilkinsons, the local Superdrug. But they aren’t truly local. They cannot begin to embody the spirit of the previous generation, what makes the area and the people unique.

Thatcher was responsible for making people want more. The rampant materialism of the 21st century lies in the unsatisfactory outcome of her time as our leader in the 20th, and the way money and desire dictate our life stems from Thatcher’s desire for each individual to have more, get more, spend more. A recent trend in British society has been to question the valuation of everything in economic terms, and return to a more social, environmental model of living. This is exactly the kind of model valued in towns such as Barnsley before Thatcher took power in 1979.

The seeds of greed that were sown by Thatcher in her elimination of the spirit of community and solidarity are just as impactful as her economic policies. For one so vehemently anti-society, Thatcher managed to corrupt the individual in a way that has now resulted in isolation, overindulgence and selfishness. It is thanks to Thatcher that the working class are demonised, that so many towns have an unshakeable atmosphere of soullessness, that we value what we could have over what we already possess. What makes me dislike Thatcher so much isn’t the irreversible rates of unemployment, or her amiable approach to dictators, or her love of privatisation. It’s the complete despair I see in my grandad’s eyes when he talks about a beautiful kind of soulful British community which to me, and now also him, has been rendered utterly alien by Margaret Thatcher.

The demise of Paris Brown: a sign of things to come?

By Alex Bryan

Today, Paris Brown, the teenager appointed to be Kent’s first youth police and crime commissioner, resigned from her post after the unearthing of a number of offensive tweets sent throughout her teenage years. After newspapers exposed Brown’s history, Kent Police received high numbers of complaints about her language and the permissive attitude expressed towards drugs, binge drinking and violence, essentially forcing her resignation from the £15,000 a year post.

Brown is by no means the first person to have been caught out by ill-advised social media postings; politics is littered with such incidences. Indeed Chuka Umunna, the millionaire Labour starlet tipped for the top, was this week embarrassed by a post on an exclusive social media site from 2006 in which he bemoaned the ‘trash and C-list wannabes’ in West End nightclubs, demonstrating that social media stupidity is not a blight infecting only the young and naive.

Kent Police admitted that they did not check Brown’s Twitter or Facebook accounts before appointing her, suggesting that it may become part of the vetting process in the future.  We should remember that Brown, as the first youth PCC in the country, with a salary bemoaned by the press, was a particular case: she should be blamed for her words but, through no fault of her own, also happened to be stepping onto a public platform circled by a tabloid press at its most predatory. Caught in a confluence of so many of the Daily Mail’s most hated topics, as a symbol of a bloated public sector and of ‘the youth of today’, as soon as her Twitter account was discovered, Brown’s departure was assured.

There should be a zero tolerance attitude towards bigotry and hatred for those wishing to take on positions of power and in this sense it is a relief that Brown has left her post. Those attempting to excuse Brown’s words by appealing to her youth need only remind themselves of Malala Yousafzai, who at 15 is the same age as Brown was when she was tweeting. She surely shows us that youth is no barrier to wisdom.

But not all teenagers are so exceptional, and most teenagers surely lie in between the two: not entirely aware of the eternal nature of social media but also savvy and thoughtful enough to think about whether something is offensive before posting it. But will that thoughtfulness be enough to save them from sharing the same fate as the unfortunate Brown?

Given that Facebook profiles never die, and that few ever delete their Twitter accounts, it is certain that teenagers moving into professional life now have more of their personalities recorded and available for the public to see than any generation before them. Some of those, like Paris Brown, will want to move into politics. Few if any normal teenagers who have grown up with social media will have gone their entire lives without posting anything that, in hindsight, was crass or stupid or unrepresentative of who they actually are.

Some, of course, do. That most hated member of the political class, the fabled career politician, is a prime candidate. It is only those who will have forged a desire to go into politics before they know the entirety of what that means who will tailor the entirety of their social activities towards becoming an MP. One would think that the rise of social media might favour these types even more than the system currently does, but that would be to assume that one can look elegant whilst hoisting themselves onto the greasy pole. William Hague and Boris Johnson are two who took very different paths towards political prominence, but both know that looking smarmy (in Hague’s case) or just plain absurd (in Johnson’s) in one’s youth can haunt one’s later career.

The career politician, then, is as prone to such embarrassing misjudgements as the rest of us. But the question remains of what effect the archive of information amassed by us all will have on future politicians. The answer is not that it will favour those who attempt to look squeaky clean, but that it will favour those who the media favours.

Although Twitter and Facebook records and accounts can be accessed by all, it is newspapers who will put the time and resources into uncovering the minutiae of a political candidates life story. They will more often than not find something. Paris Brown’s words were wrong, but she was savaged by the Daily Mail as much for what she represented as for what she said. The politicians who are best-able to play the media will be those who – like Umunna – escape unscathed. There will even be some who copy Johnson’s techniques and use it as something of a springboard to launch themselves with. Either way, like all information, the social media records of future candidates for high office will be mercy to the media’s  machinations. The difference, of course, is that when it comes to social media, everyone has skeletons in their closet.

Queen receives an extra £5 million from the taxpayer

By Derek Van de Ven

Her majesty the Queen has been granted an extra £5 million per year, as a result of new legislation regarding the taxpayer’s contribution to the Queen’s bulging finances. The new rules, called the sovereign grant, mean that the Queen will receive 15% annually of the profits generated by the Royal Estate. The money she receives for the financial year 2013-14 comes from the profits generated by the Royal Estate profits from the financial year 2011-2012, which came to £240.2 million. The total amount she will receive was raised from £31 million to £36 million, a hefty £5 million tax-funded increase. The previous year’s amount, £31 million, does not include the £1 million donated to the Queen to help cover the costs of running the Diamond Jubilee. The new system replaces the old system of the civil list and grants-in-aid, which gave the monarch a set amount of money every year and was not reliant on a percentage of profits.  The BBC has reported that the cost to the taxpayer of the Monarchy has been rising slowly but steadily since 2010, at about £1 million per annum. However this year the costs took a much higher jump due to the changes in funding.

The money is supposed to help the Queen fund the costs of being a Monarch. This includes travel costs, both within and outside the United Kingdom, and official costs of Royal engagements such as public openings and meeting foreign heads of state. It is estimated that £10 million pounds is spent yearly on the wages for the Queen’s Royal chefs and footmen. It is expected that the costs of Her Majesty’s security would be higher but these figures have not been released.

A Spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said that the majority of the new funds will be spent on maintaining the grounds of all the Royal Estates around the UK. She argued that the money received by the Queen has decreased by 15% in ‘real terms’ over the last five years and this has caused a backlog of work to be done on the Royal Properties, hence why the money is needed. She added further that, by undergoing such restoration, ‘works will see funds spent in the real economy creating work and opportunities.’ It is poor timing however, that the new legislation comes during times of austerity in Britain; the highly unpopular ‘bedroom tax’ could see some of Britain’s poorest families losing £1000 a year, not including increased funds for the monarchy.

Whether or not you support the monarchy it is hard to not feel some anger at the new rules. Without even any public money the Queen and her family would still be ridiculously wealthy. It is therefore questionable as to why we, the taxpayers, should give her a penny at all when much more important government departments are having their budgets cut. It is thus hard to justify such drastic spending when in reality the money going to the Queen is unlikely to come back to us – taxes in the UK are supposed to help fund the key functions of the state – the NHS, education, defence, police and public services. The money is simply not being spent on such things. The anti-monarchy group, Republic, denounced the measures as immoral and absurd. The head of the organization, Graham Smith argued “the Windsors must learn to live within their means like everyone else.” Combined with the £1000 tax cut for millionaires or ‘wealth generators’, it is hard to believe the PM’s pledge that “we are all in this together.”

Time To Repay The Favour

By Joesph Parry

After the devastation of World War II, Europe lay in ruins whilst its population struggled to feed itself. The only allied power intact was the United States which from 1945 to 1947 was offering financial assistance to Europe; military assistance to Greece and Turkey and the newly formed United Nations was providing humanitarian assistance. US assistance culminated in the Marshall plan or what was officially known as the European Recovery Program (ERP). Its primary function was to rebuild the economies of Western Europe, which turned out to be a fantastic success. Steel and Coal industries led the economic prosperity and helped to formulate what we now know as the European Union.

Since then the United States has led the West to a Cold War victory and continues to share an economic, military, diplomatic, and cultural allegiance with Europe. However, the US is beginning to reprioritise its strategic interests as it ‘pivots’ towards Asia and a rising China. Leading to speculation by European officials about what is going to happen to NATO as US troops leave Europe for the Pacific theatre. Although the US would still have just under 40,000 troops left in Europe this is a real opportunity for Europe to increase its hard power and fill any power vacuum.

If Europe were to improve upon its current Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and build up its military capabilities this would prevent Europe from becoming geopolitically irrelevant in an era of giants such as the US, China, Russia and India. Furthermore, Europe could start looking after its own neighbourhood – particularly the Middle East, North Africa, and even deter a resurgent Russia. Moreover we would be returning the favour to the United States, shouldering global responsibilities together.

Fair enough, Europe’s economy is hardly vibrant. The Euro Area has no growth with unemployment at 11.9%. Suffering from the worst financial collapse since Wall Street in 1929 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis, the EU has lost its swagger.

The result of economic misery is stagnant or reduced defence budgets. Austerity measures across Western and Central Europe have meant that eighteen European countries have seen real-term falls of more than 10% in military spending since 2008. This is unlikely to change in the near future, not until the Eurozone crisis is finally resolved, economies restructured, and growth levels begin to rise.

So how can the EU help the US with a sick economy and ailing defence budgets? The obvious answer is pooling resources so as to offset some of the impact on defence budgets. This to a degree is already happening. The UK and France are currently training together to develop a new joint expeditionary force. Belgium and the Netherlands co-operate in helicopter maintenance and Bulgaria and Romania have made it easier to police each other’s airspace. A catalogue of national niche military capabilities could go some way to remedying any military shortfalls. For example, Britain supported France by providing logistical support it did not have for its intervention in Mali.

Europe could significantly improve its military strength were its economic engine, Germany, willing to bolster its own armed forces. Currently the German military lags behind the UK and France much to the displeasure of hard headed Europeans who wish to see a more involved EU. Speaking in Berlin last year, Philip Hammond the UK defence secretary said that Germany’s ‘historic reluctance’ to launch military action outside its borders is now limiting its international importance. If the EU-3 were to combine equal military strength with the rest of Europe, then the ability to conduct a mission such as in Libya remains feasible.

By utilising all of Europe’s resources and maintaining the hope that Germany will eventually match its economic might militarily, Europe can do three things. First it can aid the US ‘pivot’, in which the EU has an interest, by taking over some US responsibilities in European trouble spots like the Balkans and more importantly NATO. This will free up troops for the US whilst securing the Trans-Atlantic alliance’s strength and importance.

Second, the EU can become more self-reliant in defence and not rely solely on the US. Interventions in Libya and Mali exemplify Europe’s ability to do this although these conflicts were relatively small-scale and short. However, whether through EU institutions or bilaterally, Europeans have a real opportunity to fill a potential power vacuum with their own strength.

Thirdly, in a world increasingly dominated by powers of continental dimensions, the EU can avoid becoming a geostrategic irrelevance by strengthening its voice. This does not have to conflict with the EU’s normative power. If anything, Europe could do with hard power behind its soft not only to defend what the EU has achieved but also to support spreading its message to the periphery of Europe.

The United States has done plenty of good for Europe but is now coming under criticism from EU officials for changing strategic direction. Understandably, EU members wish to make sure that NATO is still important to America as well as the continent itself. However, the response to the US ‘pivot’ should not be fear. It is an opportunity; to help the US when it too is going through fiscal and economic difficulties, whilst increasingly under strain after ‘a decade of war’. At the same time the EU will have a more muscular voice, greater European cooperation and security in its own borders, all the while repaying a favour from over sixty years ago.