The European Project – What Future? (part 2 of 2)
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Giving the Whole Thing Up: the Solution?
To deal with the challenges the European Project currently faces, the latest trend seems to be to give up (on the project as a whole or on some parts). I personally prefer fixing and adjusting over giving up in general, but I believe it’s not necessarily a bad way of solving problems IF done in a constructive way: you no longer feel connected to the vision? Give it up and pick another one. You feel the methods aren’t going anywhere? Drop them, go back to the vision and come up with new ones more in line with what you’re trying to achieve. In short know where the problem lies, know what you want to replace the broken elements with and be aware of both what will be gained AND lost by giving up in favor of something else.
However the current trend seems to be a very nihilistic one, born from fear, lack of understanding, frustration, lack of long-term vision and so on. What is it that makes me say that? Well, I believe most people have no idea where the problems lie, they have no suggestion to replace what they want to give up and they have no idea what they truly lose by giving up.
- What exactly do people want to give up? Do they know it? Given how confused the whole topic is (as explained before) it seems unlikely, and so for example for issues related to how things are done (not democratic enough, not equal enough between all members, etc.) the solution becomes to give the whole thing up, including the vision! Since when do we give up on a goal because the methods employed to reach it don’t work or aren’t perfect?
What I’m trying to highlight here is how, at the moment, “giving up” as a solution doesn’t come as a well-thought conclusion for a very specific issue. Instead it’s a shortcut to just “be done with this mess” (nihilistic). And that’s how it is when the source of a problem isn’t clearly identified.
- What should replace the things we want to give up? So far I haven’t really seen any concrete suggestions… Is the vision the problem? What should we target then? Are the methods implemented the problem? How should we do it instead? Right now the trend is mostly about going back to how things were which, again, doesn’t demonstrate a well-thought conclusion but rather a fear-based decision and the need to go back to the comfort-zone (nihilistic), however messed up it may be (and messed up it is as two world wars and centuries of conflicts bear witness). And that’s how it is when there are no suggestions to replace what must disappear.
- Among those who would like to give things up, how many are truly looking at both what works and what doesn’t work? How many are making their decision with the full knowledge of the consequences? Very few if we are to believe that the 2nd most googled terms in the UK after they voted out of the EU was “what is the EU?”… Suddenly “giving up” isn’t so appealing anymore when you look at what’s truly at stake instead of simply what doesn’t work. I mean, do you give up on your spouse when things go wrong? If you do it won’t be before having carefully reviewed everything you’d gain AND everything you’d lose…
And so this proves that “giving up” as a solution isn’t a well-thought conclusion based on an objective assessment of the situation but rather a way to express one’s frustration or anger (nihilistic). And that’s how it is when people only look at what doesn’t work.
This whole situation actually reminds me a lot of the French giving up on the republic in favor of Napoleon’s empire. Historians out there do correct me if I’m wrong, but the French lost sight of the vision behind the republic, they got frustrated by methods that weren’t working (by the way if democracy got 200 years to get better, not even counting Ancient Greece, we can probably grant the EU an extra 50 years to find its pace and working methods), they only saw the bad sides of the whole project and how giving up would solve everything (forgetting in the process what they’d lose), and they didn’t have any suggestions for improvement other than “let’s go back to how it was” (king/emperor). The result was several years of wars and conquest and in the end the return of the republic.
The nihilistic approach described above and consisting in giving up on things indiscriminately as soon as problems come up without replacement and without knowing what’s at stake is born from negative emotions, and letting such emotions drive our decisions will only lead to bigger problems, as history and even our daily lives have taught us over and over again.
If we consider that giving up (at least in the way it is done today) or staying where we currently are both aren’t an option for all the reasons explained above, then what alternative do we have? The answer is actually quite simple: moving on to the next level of cooperation.
It seems the European Project has reached a standstill: much has been done, especially in its early life when the purpose of maintaining peace was very clear, but it looks as if we’re now beating about the bush. New legislations are made about points of details and this is taking the whole project from a great vision to some heavy administrative agency, weighting on other administrative systems that really don’t need this. In short it looks as if the EU leaders keep themselves busy by adding new rules here and there but without ever dealing with the real question: to bring (or not) cooperation to a whole new level. The result is a system caught between two stools: it was built with the idea of close cooperation but isn’t there yet and thus doesn’t work. Here are a couple of examples:
- The most obvious is the Euro Zone. I’m not a professional in this field and would love to hear more competent people talk about it, but from what I studied in Korea we have two schools of thoughts: one is about giving the whole thing up, the other is about unifying the financial systems (identical tax system for example) so that a monetary union can work. When looking at the project with this perspective it becomes obvious that the Euro Zone is far from a failure: it is incomplete.
- Another example is the ability to live and work in any country (concept behind the Schengen space): in practice until everyone speaks at least one common language it will be difficult to make this work. So what are we waiting for to consider an EU language along with a local language (the country’s language)? Beyond mobility and the cultural richness this would bring (imagine every kid speaking at least two languages!) it would also contribute to fulfilling the single market idea: one language would make the EU even more attractive internationally and simplify import/export between member countries.
- One last example, about handling immigration: one solution is to put back the national borders and give up on the Schengen Space… Or we could consider EU borders instead and cooperate on how to manage them.
However bringing cooperation to a new level can only happen if it is shared as a common vision by the whole EU, leading to a willingness from the EU citizens to make that vision come true. For this is where it all starts in a democracy. From there national leaders should follow the movement.
Right now though, most leaders “protect national interests” instead of aiming higher and the project suffers from a general lack of support from the citizens. Basically the European Project has so far been built by a few visionaries on their own and this cannot (should not?) hold in a democracy (it is actually quite impressive that we could go so far with so little communication and popular support) and will definitely not lead to the next level.
Remember for example the European Constitution where the French voted “no” via a referendum (mostly to express their anger at the government. It seems by the way that the EU is often a way for people to express their frustration…). A little while later the same constitution was approved by a vote within the government. Not very democratic, is it? Although I believe the constitution was necessary to move on, this example is symptomatic of how the EU has been built (at least those last couple of years): a few people make the decisions because they see the potential while the rest is left to follow. This will never lead to the next level.
So how do we create commitment and a general willingness to move forward?
- EU and national leaders: clarify your vision of the European Project. Where should it lead and why? In short sell it. Spend less time exposing methods and more time explaining where to go: the ability to show people a distant destination and to get them excited about it is leadership. Discussing methods and hows is administrative work. We’ll probably find out that many political parties out there are actually aiming at the same thing.
- EU Citizens: democracy is a responsibility, just like any time you’re given the power to choose. Inform yourself on the vision behind the EU and other agreements and also on the agreements themselves: see both the negative sides AND the positive sides. You have the duty to forge for yourself your own opinion based on facts instead of following someone else’s views (may it be an opinion leader such as a political party or the media) or picking what you “feel like picking today” (to express your discontentment about some other issues for example).
Then we can bring these two groups together via elections of parties. In short the citizens pick a vision via the party they elect and the people elected, who should be competent, pick the methods they believe are adapted to reach the vision. If necessary they should educate on why this or that is adapted and necessary.
Why not using a referendum? That’s only a personal opinion but referendums are democracy in its purest form (i.e. everyone gets to give their opinion and we follow the majority) with everything negative it entails, especially the fact people without the knowledge and skills to decide something get as much decision power as those with the skills. Think about a financial manager and a programmer: they each have their skills and knowledge, and decisions they should and shouldn’t make. The programmer should trust the financial manager to make the right investments while the financial manager should let the programmer create a great software. If I don’t have the skills I let someone who has them decide but I make sure I understand what’s at stake and that we follow the same vision.
On top of this, during the last couple of years referendum have mostly been a way to express discontentment or reflected a general feeling of fear (often enhanced by the medias) rather than well-thought opinions.
However the representatives elected should do their job: it is time to drop corruption and self-interest. The person elected has a responsibility toward those who elected him/her and must be worthy of this trust.
Now will such a method necessarily lead to tighter cooperation within Europe? No because we cannot tell what people will choose. The things is that closer collaboration cannot be achieved otherwise: it must be the choice of the majority of the EU citizens for that is the only way to get the necessary level of support and commitment.
Conclusion on the Alternatives for the Future
The current trend that consists in giving up on the European Project in its different forms is a destructive attitude where we dump everything because some specific elements don’t work and many others are unclear. This, in my opinion, can only lead to more troubles (quite the opposite of a constructive decision of giving certain things up).
However since staying where we are now obviously isn’t an option either, then what’s left? Well, to cooperate even more, to “cross over the threshold” in every field (judicial, military, financial…). As long as we don’t take that step, things won’t work. But crossing this limit can only be achieved with the full support of the EU citizens, and we are unfortunately not there yet.
The European Project – What Future?
European Union, Schengen Space, Euro Zone, single market… They are all but methods created to reach a vision. But what is this vision? What are we actually trying to build? Lasting peace in a region plagued by centuries of war was the initial goal. We reached it, now what? Go back to what once was, however unsatisfying, and prove that history repeats itself and that we never learn? Or go somewhere else, try something new?
The European Project, on top of being a key project for Europe, has the potential to become one of the greatest achievements of mankind, a beacon of hope and inspiration, the proof that humans are made to live together and help each other. It has already brought some successes though it’s far from perfect and it faces the same challenges as any great project: fear, misunderstandings, cowardice, lack of faith in its success… But these limitations can be overcome to let the Project reach its full potential: we need a clear and well-communicated vision that seeks to bring European cooperation to a whole new level, that receives the support of European citizens via democratic means and that is used as a point of reference when choosing, implementing and adjusting the methods.
To those who’d give it all up for whatever reason: look around you at people and the planet craving for unity, look at all that has been achieved and how the life of European citizens has changed for the better between the end of World War II (and before that) and today, look at what we could build, and then ask yourself: “isn’t this worth fighting for?”
Any decision born from negative feelings WILL have dramatic consequences, as history (and our everyday life) has taught us over and over again. So turn fear into courage, doubt into willpower and dare to carry through what has never been done before.
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