The Decline of Europe's Identity - English

An Elusive Dream

By Juliane Mendelsohn30.06.2013Europe

While Americans have always rallied around their country in times of crisis, Europeans have abandoned the dream of a united Europe.

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jepoirrier on flickr

While the European Union was constructed as an economic union, its underlying idea has always been the dream of an integrating structure immersed in our common ideology, that of democracy. Democracy: the religion of the European Enlightenment, the mechanism of the ultimate empowerment of all peoples free and equal. Though not codified, when we say we believe in Europe, this forms both the structure and the content of our dreams.

For a while, integration and empowerment of the people of Europe was achieved solely by means of the free movement of capital. Banks and other financial institutions readily invested in projects outside their own economy. Then crisis struck. The last six years have been a desperate attempt to calm markets. We’ve had minimal success at this, while paying a huge and unacceptable price in the currencies of unity, democracy and the rule of law.

Long before the crisis, the primary laws governing the Euro had come to be treated as a nuisance. When, in 2003, two of the strongest member states went unpunished for breaching the Maastricht criteria, it seemed evident to markets that the “no bailout” rule would also not be enforced, and that both banks and member states were in practice too big to fail and would be saved by whatever means necessary. In 2012, the “Pringle Judgement” of the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the ESM (a bailout provision in all but name) doesn’t allow for bailouts, shows the ever-greater extent to which the law is seen as an obstacle rather than a foundation.

A European community of fate

As the European Union grew, both institutionally and geographically, so grew its evident democratic deficit. The nature of “crisis legislation” is inherently one of patchwork instead of changing underlying structures; mechanisms such as EFSF and ESM are therefore treaties between the member states rather than an extension of European Union law. Equally, promises of greater financial solidarity on the one hand matched with greater supervisory fiscal powers on the other have created a _Schicksalsgemeinschaft_, or co-dependence, that goes far beyond an intergovernmental organization but lacks democratic oversight. The crisis has led to such an incredible increase in co-dependence and integration that the superstate “Europe” has taken shape in all but name.

In practice, many member states – Greece, Cyprus and others “on the periphery” – have too little fiscal sovereignty to be considered self-governing. Indeed, it is only months since Greece and Italy were governed by unelected ex-European commissioners sent in to clean things up. Whatever technical and legal arguments exist, the fact remains that this is not the treatment usually extended to sovereign states, but to protectorates.

The rule of capital (by the means of the fear of its collapse) and the helplessness of the situation has led to the decline of (real, the kind you can feel) democracy in individual members states. Voters are faced with extreme choices or no choices at all. Mainstream parties, all offering different shades of Thatcher’s TINA doctrine – “there is no alternative” –, leave voters disillusioned and unenthusiastic about the prospect of voting and rightly sceptical of their power to affect change through the ballot box.

The greatest union on earth

I try to think back to all the things that we were taught were good about the European Union, back when it was flourishing…. free movements of people and goods, rights, intercultural discourse… I am not certain these things ever had the ideological or otherwise uplifting power to inspire me or anyone else. They were pleasant principles in times of prosperity, but now they only make me sad.

Europe has grown hostile, both within its border and outside. Who could believe that a second wave of nationalism, racism, and anti-semitism would find fertile ground on this continent? But it has. The creation of a stronger and more democratic Europe requires a new positive vision for Europe.

As “man cannot live from bread alone,” so Europe’s people need more than a system that at best almost functions. All well and good to praise all the detailed work going into the construction of fiscal pacts and banking unions, if, in some back room, the same efforts are also going into the creation of a greater future Europe, an ideology that could awaken this continent’s citizens from their slumber and allow for real participation.

For all its problems, intelligent American friends still feel comfortable referring to their country as the “Greatest Nation on Earth.” I think of Bach, Hegel, Lorca, Descartes, and Socrates… and I want to be able to say the same about Europe.

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