Many a time since the financial crisis arose, in 2008, it has been stated that the chaos brought about will force the European Union to become more virile and more tightly united. Political economists and political analysts as well as many political leaders claim that this is an opportunity to correct what was not foreseen, to mend what was badly sewn. They say that as with every organism, when faced with an outer enemy, Europe will pull itself together; the self-preservation instinct always prevails and all doable is done, they say, in order to ascertain survival.
That may be the case with unitary organisms. Or with societies or communities that function and perceive themselves as such. With nations. With families. With teams.
But how do we define the EU? Is it a concrete body, a single organism, is it a team or not?
The Eueopean Union has mainly been about reports, directives and agreements. Behind all this are the elites, the bureaucrats, the politicians. But besides firm institutions, effective-or-not instruments and rigid instructions, the EU consists of people. Of peoples. Of citizens. The union is supposedly aimed at the creation of a unified, concrete and yet multicultural, multilingual and multinational unitary Demos….
To identify people as “a” people, a demos, though, they must share some traits, a single or a common identity, but most of all they must share a hope for a common future.
Do we have one European Demos? Do we aspire to a common future? Statistical facts and figures say that there is no such thing as a single European populace.
The Europeans (Germans, British, Greeks etc) have been demonstrating two very worrying signs lately. Two signs strongly related to - and in all probability resulting from- the financial crisis.
The first one is that their trust in the European Institutions has declined and, more important, the reliance on the EU for effective intervention and protection of its citizens, has faded. According to surveys among executives, one in ten believes that the Eurozone is going to fall apart, and four out of ten expect that, if it does not fall apart, certain countries will exit the Eurozone and introduce local currencies. This notion is a recent change of mind and heart….
Secondly, the peoples of Europe tend to be suspicious of one another. The Germans blame the Greeks as liars and manipulators, the Greeks point at Germany for being conceited and heartless. Such accusations cannot be found in official documents and formal announcements, neither in the publicized transcripts of the conferences. But they are present in each member state’s national and local media. They are beliefs popular among the European voters. And now that the EU is clearly not a matter of the elites alone anymore, citizens DO have a say, and that say is not a promising one.
What more proof do we need to get alarmed? All positivity towards the EU has decreased and all negativity is substantially increased... I strongly believe that this is the main ominous consequence of the economic tornado: the fact that the social cohesion and solidarity among the 27 member states has been, perhaps irreparably, damaged, and, moreover, the public has lost faith in the EU purpose.
How did this occur? What has actually occurred?
The truth is that real politics begins when the resources go scarce. When the pie shrinks, everybody demands a piece bigger than before, to 'feed their own'. With the crisis invading all our economies we tend to perceive our perspective benefits as mutually exclusive. We view each negotiation as a zero sum game. It’s not anymore all of “us” together at a party, but it is “us” against “them” on a battlefield.
Nations are tightly woven. Nations can respond to outer enemies unanimously. But Nations are imagined communities; they are formed through history, tradition and education. Since we cannot change history and do not want to tamper with tradition, the means to this unity end lay in partial harmonization and cooperation in the education field. We chose open coordination instead and the scattered outcome lies before us.
For that reality, that is, we are to blame. We, the leading team of this old continent’s effort to ever more closely unite. We did not part with our nationalistic rhetoric. We did not save up when things were good. We did not come closer, when things were easy. We adopted a European citizenship, but we did not cater for a European identity, a sense of belonging, a common goal for the future, among the half a billion people whose destinies we rule. We did not inform the people of how exactly the EU had changed their lives for the better. We chose to keep that knowledge selfishly -and idiotically- all to ourselves, to the elites, mainly on grounds of political expediency and political gain.
We have misused the European Institutions as handy scapegoats to throw the blame on, whenever it was hard to find a way out of public criticism. Well, it is crystal clear that the “blame it on Brussels, Strasburg and Frankfurt” method has been utterly successful. Our electorates truly and fundamentally doubt the EU, distrust its capacity and willingness to pull them through this havoc.
***Because nowadays, the outer enemy has showed itself. State economies collapse. Their needs and dependence n the Union are more urgent, their fears get greater and at the same time the aforementioned pies get smaller. As a result, citizens become more insecure, more pessimistic and therefore more introverted. Distance growing and ignorance lurking bring about rejection and even hostility.
Two problems derive from the people’s growing antipathy towards the EU. The first one is that the European policies as attempted by the member states’ leaders will further lose legitimacy with the public. They are often compelled to resort to anti-European rhetoric, in order not to lose face. But that very fact, in turn, alienates the citizens more, both from the EU, and from other peoples, as well. That is the starting point of a vicious circle, where fear begets alienation, and alienation multiplies the fear.
The second problem of the antipathy is one that we will come across in a few years. Due to that progressive distancing from the EU, it is very possible that in many upcoming elections, in all states, the vote will be in favor of anti-EU proposals - and parties of either the far right or the far left. It has already happened in Sweden and it will in all probability happen in many more member states. The EU will soon be reflecting different balances, ones that will not be so favorable towards the whole venture of the EU and the EMU. Additionally, it is very probable that even the pro-Europe parties will change their message as far as European integration is concerned.
Furthermore, the anti-union ideas are regularly promoted by the media and all known euro-scepticists. And they have the power of self-fulfilling prophecies as usually is the case with economic estimates. Fear alone can and will make the economic crisis worsen. An even more trembling economy will most definitely turn the Europeans even more against one another and all of them more negative towards the EU. The vicious circle, once again.
In conclusion: many experts argue that the crisis at our feet will reinforce the EU and reify its cohesion since it compels us to cooperate and coordinate to rise above it. It is more than obvious that such a statement is like claiming that having a heart attack is good for you, since it makes you lose weight and quit smoking.
The truth is that, firstly, no one can know beforehand whether they will be able to rise to the occasions. We have to keep in mind that, the EU is not a single organism to control its will and actions and responses. It operates at many levels, intergovermentally, supranationally and at a sub-national level as well. It is really far-fetched to expect that we will be able to control all of those levels, in all of these functions and many more that now arise. We cannot realistically believe that we will get out of this crisis stronger and more of a union than before.
Furthermore, when these analysts and politicians confidently assume that we will fight united to overcome the crisis, they do not realize that we Europeans have never had an unyielding fist to fight with. We only have dispersed fingers at our disposal; fingers pointing at each other in wrath. We cannot fight joined together as things are, and what we are lacking in, there is no time to find.
To paraphrase a Robert Frost verse, “I think we know enough of hate, to see that for destruction ice is also great, and will suffice”.
*Το κείμενο γράφτηκε τον Νοέμβρη του 2010, στο πλαίσιο μιας εργασίας
debate/role play για το ΠΜΣ όπου φοιτώ. Ζητούμενο ήταν να
υποστηριχθεί με ένα πολιτικό κείμενο/ομιλία, όχι ιδιαίτερα
επίσημο, και συγκεκριμένης διάρκειας, η θέση που αναφέρεται
στον τίτλο του post.