Where are you heading, Europe ?

As confirmed by the low turnout at the last European elections, Europe is unable to seduce the Europeans. What are the reasons for this lack of interest? How to revive the interest of the citizens and give its project a future? Should we proceed with enlargement or deepen existing ties? European intellectuals and politicians have their own opinions.

Published on 3 July 2009 at 18:29

How can we restore the magic of Europe? This was the question posed by Libération in juxtaposed interviews with Jacques Delors and Marcel Gauchet. The ex-president of the European Commission and the French historian and philosopher had bitter words to say about the current situation in Europe and the general apathy inspired by the European project. “The main danger is to blindly wish for a Europe, which will never become a reality,” warns Marcel Gauchet, who takes the view that our principle goal should be to restore meaning to a project, which grew out of a historical context that no longer prevails. Today, the overriding issue is Europe’s place in a world, which may be undermined by globalization and the dismantling of trade barriers.

“Globalization has meant that the major powers in Europe continue to reason in terms of nation states,” remarks Jacques Delors, who further notes that national interests are given priority, especially in times of financial crisis — with Germany, France, and the UK defining policies and solutions that do not take into account the interests of their neighbours. For Marcel Gauchet, an important question will be “the development of Europe in a context of globalization.” He further adds that ethnocentrism, which defines the relationship between United States and the rest of the world (what is good for the US is good for the rest of the world), should be avoided by Europe.

What is needed is a focus on a “practical relationship with the world,” and a greater role for Europe “in an emerging polycentric future.” It is a view that is shared by Jacques Delors, but the ex-Commissioner insists that only a strongly federal EU with a streamlined decision process will prove to be effective in such a context. On a more local level, Gauchet emphasizes that Europe should aim to revitalize “an educated and civic-minded society,” which is one of its major historical innovations.

The issue of Europe’s place in the modern world also raises the question of the enlargement of the Union. Should the EU seek to integrate new countries or focus on internal development? In a text published by the French Terra Nova foundation and reprinted by the Czech daily Lidové Noviny, Michel Rocard defends the view that enlargement should constitute one of the main goals EU, because it “contributes to the cause of peace between peoples.” The former French prime minister believes the accession of Turkey represents a critical development, and an opportunity to promote “peaceful dialogue between Judeo-Christian and Islamic societies”. It is on this basis that he is convinced that “the preservation of a European territorial identity within the European continent should not be the main priority.”

Responding to the text in Lidové Noviny, Czech political analyst Petr Robejšek criticizes what he terms a poetic vision of European enlargement and the message: “love one another and enlarge”. He further takes the view that “a missionary European Union” has become a nonsense. Citing a link between Francis Fukuyama’s thesis — the inevitable spread of democracy across the globe — and Rocard’s enthusiasm for enlargement, the Czech analyst advocates greater consideration of the risks involved.

In particular, he takes the view that enlargement will lead to “a blurring of Europe’s boundaries and an increasing lack of cohesion.” The financial crisis has brought to light major problems in the EU. “The free-market has been undermined by protectionism, and the euro has been destabilized by national deficits,” writes Petr Robejšek, who believes that the Union “which has grown too quickly, is no longer manageable.” He further concludes that “the idea of a Europe on which the sun never sets is just a little too fanciful.”

If we are forced to adopt a poetic vision of Europe, perhaps we should seek inspiration from writers rather than politicians. That is the view put forward by journalist and historian Timothy Garton Ash, who, writing in the Guardian praises Irish poet Seamus Heaney for reminding us “of the grandeur of the European project.” On the occasion of the launch the “Ireland for Europe” campaign, which advocates a “Yes” in Ireland’s second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty scheduled for October, the Nobel prize laureate advised his countrymen to “Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare.”

Garton Ash remarks that “this is not the kind of language we usually associate with the European debate, more’s the pity.” The venerable poet will certainly be able to count on the support of “Generation Yes,” a group of young activists who emphasize the role played by the EU in shielding Ireland’s economy and the message that “the EU is Ireland’s safe harbour.” For Garton Ash, the beauty of Europe is “young Irish, Brits and Poles working and living together on entirely equal terms – and taking this for the most normal thing in the world.” He further adds that the future of Europe will have an impact on the future of Iran, because “the most important thing the Lisbon treaty does is to create the institutional machinery for a better co-ordinated and more effective European foreign policy.”

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