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The New Europe

, by Daniel Fiott

Europe stood as a steadfast lighthouse undeterred by the crashing waves of economic ruin, a reoccurrence of war or the low morale of its people. Today however Europe is losing faith in its own importance and conversely stands as a flickering candle light threatened by winds from all directions it seems unable to comprehend or deal with.

Europa.

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Europe, like the atheist, is content with its own existence in the universe but spiritually hollow. Slowly dying is the collective spirit that made the European continent great in the post-Second World War period. Europe stood as a steadfast lighthouse undeterred by the crashing waves of economic ruin, a reoccurrence of war or the low morale of its people. Today however Europe is losing faith in its own importance and conversely stands as a flickering candle light threatened by winds from all directions it seems unable to comprehend or deal with.

Europe, like the atheist, is content with its own existence in the universe but spiritually hollow. Slowly dying is the collective spirit that made the European continent great in the post-Second World War period.

The economic crisis has hinted, if slightly, at the fractured nature of Europe with its member states either unable to reach consensus on what union should mean or government heads relying increasingly on protectionist rhetorics. Yet in a world dominated by the United States and increasingly by powers such as China, a united Europe is needed to off-set creeping rigamortis in the continent and to bring balance to the future international order. But even if the Lisbon Treaty has done the necessary job of consolidating the myriad texts purported to make Europe “work” into a tidy pile, the Treaty is not and will never be enough.

This is not to suggest that Europe needs a new treaty - and talk of doing so to accommodate new initiatives such as the European Monetary Fund would be a mistake. Does Europe really need to extend the problems of the Eurogroup into a much wider domain where states such as the UK – possibly under a eurosceptic Conservative Party – would have a say? Does Europe really want to turn what is essentially a question of the mismanagement of the Greek economy into another round of treaty negotiations where eurosceptic states would surely seek to renegotiate other parts of the Lisbon treaty?

Does Europe really want to turn what is essentially a question of the mismanagement of the Greek economy into another round of treaty negotiations where eurosceptic states would surely seek to renegotiate other parts of the Lisbon treaty?

In any case further reform of treaties is not what Europe needs and we as Europeans must be prepared to dig a lot deeper to find the solutions to current woes. If Europe fails to soon become pregnant with a common project and awareness of the future, it will fail to be significant in the world and left by the roadside. Recently Europe has moved from crisis to crisis without a meaningful map: we have our GPS firmly fixed to the window screen but it is terribly low on power. There are a number of explanations for this.

In Europe the past is still the dominant raison d’être for the Union. We cannot force ourselves into the position of comparing the present with the past. So Catherine Ashton is no Javier Solana – she may never be - but gains made in the past are never enough to sustain a people into the future. We should not hark back to happier times before the crisis and we should not look to turn the clock back either. As the great E.H. Carr once remarked ‘the old world is dead. The future lies with those who can resolutely turn their back on it and face the new world with understanding, courage and imagination.’

Such understanding, courage and imagination is currently undermined by three mentalities pervading both the minds of the political classes and ordinary citizens in Europe: i) those who seek a “New Jerusalem” without due regard for the continuing presence of the state in Europe; ii) those who venerate at the feet of the state without due regard for the need to seek progress; and, iii) those who do not care. Where the last of these mentalities is concerned conditions in the international system – e.g. higher energy prices because of heightened competition from emerging economies – will hopefully ensure that Europe will represent more of a necessity in the future to such people. The other two mentalities are, however, far more serious to manage.

European federalism is – and has always been – a normative percept. Federalism may well become the future form of political and economic organisation in Europe – in some areas perhaps sooner than others. However, bundled-up with the idea of federalism is the idea of Europeaness, and the tendency has been for some to judge states on the degree to which they “act European”. This is a mistake and at present an unhelpful political tactic. In the present case of Germany, for example, are we to really judge the degree of Germany’s European idealism on whether or not it grants Greece a loan?

Federalism may well become the future form of political and economic organisation in Europe – in some areas perhaps sooner than others.

The opposite of this – too much realism – is also unpalatable. Indeed, bundled-up with the idea of the state is a tendency to promote the idea of nationalism. This force results in eurosceptism and above all close-minded thinking of the sort that values “the trees over the wood”. The coming multipolar world will demand that we look further than individual borders, for our real economic and political interests will lie far beyond Europe. What good will total independence be for a state if it is trampled into insignificance by the order as a whole? Locking the door to your cottage is not a mature response to a tsunami.

The new Europe should therefore focus on restraining these two forces but also – paradoxically – using the best elements of them. Idealism imparts the willingness to radically break from reality and stagnation and opens up the mind to possibilities barely thought possible in the past. Realism, however, charts the trajectory through the waters which the idealist wants to steer. To isolate the example of European foreign policy, for example, idealists may want an “EU army” but how would this function realistically without the resources of reluctant member states?

The tonic to the plague currently infesting Europe, therefore, cannot be found in purely functional terms through treaties. Treaties are simply legal texts that put into practice the political desires and needs of states and citizens. What should be behind treaties is a grand vision of a Europe that will safeguard the interests of Europeans in a future sea of uncertainty. Above all else citizens cannot expect their respective governments alone to stop the candle light from going out. The understanding, courage and imagination needed to build a new Europe for the future is a collective duty for us all.

The understanding, courage and imagination needed to build a new Europe for the future is a collective duty for us all.

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Image: Johannes Kunath.

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