Europe is the last permissible ideology. Specifically, it has been made into an ideology by some of its most vocal propagandists. The continent does not deserve this, and it must protected from its most ardent proponents.
First and foremost, after all, old Europe is a creation of great delicacy, dignified with age and at the same time so fragile – and this right in the middle of the crisis. In the second Europe, the European Union, The continent has found a framework for its history and its future, and that framework is being continuously revamped. The crisis has transformed it too, and a little more than usual, not least following the Brussels crisis summit. And now it’s time to replace the provisional scaffolding with a solid frame. How exactly that new frame should look is – as is usual in Europe – much disputed. So far, so good.
The European Union, though, is another thing. For many it serves as a bogeyman – for those who fear globalisation, for those who have no desire to give money away to other countries and regions, and for those with a perennial inner rage who have chosen to hate the EU.
Finally, there is a third Europe: the Europe of the Europhorics. Those are the people who constantly want more of Europe, and as fast as they can. For them the EU is a way of looking at the world. The idea of a unified Europe they are abusing as an ideology.
Unlike anti-European populists such as Umberto Bossi in Italy, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and the True Finns, the Euro-ideologues are in no way marginalised. They are pivotal in shaping the debate, and many government politicians, like Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker or [German Finance] Minister Wolfgang Schäuble echo their arguments in somewhat milder form. Their ideological paradigms often corrupt the discussion, and at worst they provide the populists of the political right with ammunition.
Great leap forward
The leaders of these Europhorics are high-profile intellectuals such as Ulrich Beck, Austrian writer Robert Menasse and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. In their attempt to escape from the demons of the past by the full integration of a Europe of nation states sapped of their meaning, they have ended up right back in the past – in ideology and in the pomposity of the Wilhelmine era.
In their manifesto for Europe they are busy painting the continent in the darkest colours and whispering that things will get far, far worse if total European integration is not begun on immediately. Hovering over us all is the threat that “the ascendancy of our two thousand years of culture” will be swept away in the flicker of an eye.
It’s not only Europe that is threatened with destruction. The world itself is in the gravest danger, facing as it is “large-scale trade conflicts and new world wars.”
Why do such thoughtful people get these notions? The Europhorics are at the moment trying out something rather paradoxical: they want to make, at the most depressive and difficult point of the EU, the greatest leap forward. Precisely because it is so difficult, they argue, we must proceed all the more quickly. This is, of course, extremely
counter-intuitive, since every normal person would say that, if something is not working out too brilliantly, we ought to move forward with a little caution. Which is exactly where Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt are pumping up the apocalyptic mood music.
Karl Popper, the great philosopher of sobriety, has described it as a mark of ideologies that they are not falsifiable, and so cannot be refuted. That’s how it is with the Europhorics as well.
To any break-down in the EU, to any reasonable doubt whether we’re on the right track, they reply: weaknesses in the EU can only be fought by having a lot more of the EU! Obviously, people follow such thinking only if they know no other way out.
And precisely this hopelessness is what we are to be won over to. To be or not to be, either/or, now or never, who if not we? That’s the language all the ideological leaders of the last century have spoken. The two hotted-up European politicians Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt are taking it to an almost quaintly revolutionary pitch. With fiery gestures, they call their imaginary European comrades onwards: “Only the cowardly, lazy and short-sighted heads of state and national governments cannot grasp this. Shake them awake. Let them pass not a day unchallenged!”
Interestingly, the word “cowardly” is meant to imply that Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are hesitating to make the great leap forward solely because they are afraid of losing an election. If this is true, it is true only because in Europe there is simply no majority behind this great leap forward, because the people are not yet sufficiently fearful and also because they do not want to be pushed into it.
Robert Menasse, who has lost his temper and wants to make a clean sweep, also gives us an insight into his theatrical flourishes of rage: “In the medium term, one can do away with national parliaments. In such a Europe we would not have to deal with such irrational phenomena as Mr Cameron being able to block a common European fiscal policy in order to protect his City of London, his financial speculation market, despite his country not even being inside the European Monetary Union.” That's the idea, then: Menasse believes he can silence interests and people merely by taking their away their opportunity to express themselves in a parliament.
Even the Anti-reformism is creeping back into this European ideology. As in the days of the Weimar Republic, when the Social Democrats stood accused of reformism by the communists, Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt are urging the revolutionary European masses never to let the System lull them to sleep: “We need radical change. A real revolution.” “Reject the all-too slow reforms!”
The argument that only a united Europe can assert itself in an altered world where the centres of power lie in the U.S., India, Brazil, Russia and China, of course, has something to it. Europe’s self-assertion is a coldly realistic political criterion, with a somewhat Wilhelmine aftertaste. Europe can certainly desire to secure its place in the sun, but it needn’t make such a fuss about it. Moreover, the countries that Europe will have to deal with in future are predominantly nation states.
It’s not really a question, therefore, of being or not being a nation state, but far more a matter of size and standing. The European nation-state, it seems, almost embarrasses the Europhorics – although in other places they admire it. Along with this inferiority complex comes – again, unfortunately, reminiscent of Wilhelm II – a touch of megalomania.
If Europe does not unite, there apparently threaten, as we have already seen, world wars. Without a European Union superstate, as well, claim the Greens, catastrophic climate change cannot be staved off. Can one not simply say that Europe is searching for its own path and the others their own, and then we’ll see?
How strange it is that people who consider themselves sensible should start spouting ideologies once again, and about Europe of all things – our poor old continent that has, after far too much damage it brought on itself, become reasonably prudent.
In Europe one can really talk about anything, even about the most far-reaching reform. No problem with that, honestly. But not in this tone. Desist!
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