by Anthony Bruder
The European Union is not the same thing as Europe. Yet, the arguments coming from both the right and the left regarding Europe’s future seem to ignore this fact consistently. Nationalists from EU Member States claim to want to save their country from the ogre of Eurocratic Brussels and the erosion of sovereignty which EU institutes are said to threaten. The communitarian left, on the other hand, tries to popularize the narrative of the “European Citizen” – simultaneously embodied and protected by the EU, the proud inheritor of “European Values.”
The dream of European unity is not new. What is new of course is the desire to achieve this erstwhile and evasive goal peacefully, rather than at the hands of a liberating Napoleon or an all-conquering Hitler. And yet, simply because politicians suddenly commit themselves to achieving their ends peacefully, and even if their end is the very impossibility of the use of force itself, what remains unclear is whether this necessarily makes it alright. Our national governments are, after all, institutions born of centuries of conflict and struggle.
Today’s EU is a halfway house, characterized by the ultimately aggravating phenomenon of a supra-governmental body trying to preside over a resolutely international community. The anger felt by many is a simple one. Citizens in most nations across Europe already feel unrepresented by the governments they voted for. Though Europe will never be more than the sum of its parts, it is these parts themselves which, through the constant turning of the dynamos of culture and politics, generate the “Idea of Europe.” In his essay, The Idea of Europe, philosopher George Steiner reminds that in Europe, as in all things, “God lies in the detail.” He writes, “Europe will indeed perish if it does not fight for its languages, local traditions, and social autonomies.”
Therefore Europe, unlike the EU, can certainly be more than the sum of its parts. Let us take an example. In the European Union one sees France and Spain. Yet within Europe, one can find French, Bretton, Occitan, Basque, Spanish, Catalonian and Galician nations (though not of course nation-states). In the EU, one can see the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Europe, however, boasts the English, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Irish. Such diversity, hidden under the surface of the EU, represents the true powerhouse of Europe.
The peoples of Europe do not need more government in order for Europe to cohere and flourish – they need less of it. Nationalism rearing its ugly head across the continent is in part fuelled by dissatisfaction with the specter of a weak but firmly entrenched supranational government. It is also the expression of fear that the forgotten peoples of Europe are stirring; they want their slice of the cake of self-determination. The EU wants to trademark and thus to euthanize the universal values of Liberty and Democracy. The way to stop it from doing so is by waking these values up and putting them back into practice. Europe’s cultural and ethnic diversity is its crowning glory and the source of its energy. Centralized governmental institutions with charters of rights and values are not necessary to celebrate this.
Jean Monnet’s dream of a Europe united economically and politically has run its course. This is nothing to be sad about, however. There will always be a Europe. Today’s dream should be to let its forgotten peoples run freer than they ever have, thus allowing them to give Europe back its lost vitality. As Prince von Metternich once said: “Objects mistakenly made subject to legislation result only in the limitation, if not the complete annulment, of that which is attempted to be safeguarded.” Legislating for the European Union is costing us our European Unity. Europe’s future is in its peoples and its past, and not in the proclamations of shared “European Values.” Democracy and Freedom belong to all humankind, and the hand that lays exclusive claim to universal values sullies both them and itself.
EUROPEAN UNION OR EUROPEAN UNITY? – A REJOINDER
by Jamie Lee-Brown
The European Union is not the same thing as Europe. The former is a legal, cultural and security union with its foundations grounded in economic cooperation, forged in the kiln of political endeavor. The latter is a nebulous geographical term with loosely defined cultural-historical connotations. It is not the difference between Europe as a legal-political Union and Europe as a place of which Europeans ought to be reminded. It is merely of Europe itself. To discuss the “Idea of Europe” and to tackle issues of European identity in the abstract is not something that will impact the everyday lives of Europeans. The European Union was designed to serve its people. To do away with it now would be to deprive them of the EU’s palpable successes and to regress.
To adapt a dictum put forward in Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists, people need to be reminded of what is important and dear to them, to avoid these beliefs and convictions is to be drowned out by the hubbub of life. This is arguably what the EU’s presence serves to do. Stripping Europe of the voice it holds alongside national politics would leave Europeans with no reminder of what can be achieved through unity. Instead, they would be faced with daily reminders of national and local concerns with no regional counterbalance. Europe would soon lose center-stage in the minds of those whose history and interests are intertwined with the continent at large. To relinquish the Union would only serve abstract and impractical ideals which discount the need for an organizing principle. Europe needs to ground its lofty ideals in practicality.
Decrying the Union as a “halfway house” is to assume a predetermined end point of Union development. The Union is unequivocally a means, not an end in itself. The Union’s primary law is replete with mention of the ways in which its competences can be used to meet the objectives agreed upon by its Member States. This is evident in the Treaty of the European Union’s discussion of “a European Union” — something under constant review and without a designated end point — as distinct from “the European Union.”
To paraphrase Koen Lenaerts, Vice-President of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Union works to order pluralism and to coherently bring together Member States’ legal traditions and values through the application of shared competences. The EU is an exercise in synergy and the notion that it is smothering any culture which exists beneath it, pays no heed to the voice of Europeans themselves. In a 2013 Eurobarometer survey, only 11% chose the “loss of our cultural identity” as a phrase which best describes what the EU means to them. Far from limiting Europe to being the sum of its parts, the Union adds an additional layer of pan-European culture which sits in parallel to those of its national counterparts. The European citizen is a manifestation of this complementary second culture. The concept of European citizenship is far from being a fruitless effort to popularize the narrative of a European citizen. Eurobarometer’s July 2015 survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of Europeans describe themselves as “feeling like a European citizen.”
The secessionist movements that Europe has witnessed were not encouraged by an EU threat to liberty and democracy. In the case of two of the most prominent separatist movements — Scotland and Catalonia — both entities are desirous of remaining EU members following independence. Moreover, “Catalan Votes,” an initiative of the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia, describes the Catalan people as “fervent Europeans.” This does not suggest that they feel the Union’s codification of values to be a threat to the liberty and democracy for which they are striving. While codified charters of rights and values are not required to celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity, this is hardly all that they are intended to do. In codifying rights and values, the European Union provides for them, ensuring that the Union does not infringe upon the values stipulated by the Member States. Nowhere does the Union claim exclusivity over these. Rather, they are “uploaded” by its constituent parts.
Jean Monnet’s dream has not run its course — because there never was a predetermined course for it to run. The European Union is a tool designed to support Europe in achieving its goals. A tool which is under constant review and for which there are established and accountable means for revision. While the Union undoubtedly has its shortcomings, to abandon the project for its faults would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.