Ego dubito, ergo Europa est

       Europe is a beautifully intricate mosaic of realities and inextricably interwoven pasts whose harmonious existence depends on its very diversity. This riddling trait is quintessentially European and should remain so.

     Recent literature on Europe is either excessively keen on glorifying the past of the continent or else inordinately anxious to celebrate supranational integration. While elegiac texts might be tolerable in spite of its anachronistic nostalgia, I personally find the European Union’s grandiose account of its nature and humanitarian purposes increasingly hard to stomach.

     The European Union was founded on ambivalence in terms of objectives that were secondary or thought to be a means to the attainment of the overarching objectives of making another European war unthinkable. Following a Montesquieuan philosophical conception and a preeminently Kantian inspiration, the first steps were taken towards an economic integration, which would –or so they assumed—beget its own impetus and spread to other sectors.

Most unfortunately, a sense of belonging together and having a common destiny cannot be manufactured. The path towards the consolidation of this nascent European project has therefore been one of lurches and fumbles, in which some have been tempted to simplify matters, so to speak, by the creation of a federal state of Europe as the sole sovereign power, thus showing little analytical heft and a complete disregard of established realities which cannot simply be erased.

„Wer nicht von dreitausend Jahren

Sich weiß Rechenschaft zu geben,

Bleib’ in Dunkeln unerfahren,

Bag von Tag zu Tage leben.“

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Divan – Buch des Unmuts

     In the construction of the European Union, political integration must be carried out alongside existing national institutions, not against them. We may well be resolved and determined to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”; yet the more globalization and Europeanization create superstructures and anonymous actors hidden behind an artificial construct and far removed from the citizens, the more the people will cling to the nation-states for security and isolate themselves behind hermetic borders.

     Acerbic as my assertions about the European Union may be, I am not being dismissive of its commendable achievements and laudable aspirations. The past century bequeathed to us important lessons and the various international agreements and arrangements within the realm of the Union are chiefly responsible for the success in avoiding the repetition of interwar disasters. I am merely expressing my skepticism towards any kind of utopia and decisions informed only by vapid idealism. I also disapprove of moral uneasiness, gargantuan bureaucracies and complacent institutions (we could certainly do without their somewhat patronizing attitude and their unasked for propaganda), forlorn hopes about the Union’s global role, and the encroachment of vitiated principles (woeful inconsistencies regarding democracy should at least be acknowledged), misconstrued words and other appellative frivolities.

      The European Union must needs be humble enough to reflect on and question its validity rather than be carried along by an aimless dynamic and an uncontrolled acceleration. So much for the beacon of modernity, progress and democracy if the EU proved to be impervious to criticism! To quote the words of Ortega (1949):

«No recuerdo que ninguna civilización haya muerto de un ataque de duda. Creo recordar más bien que las civilizaciones han solido morir por una petrificación de su fe tradicional, por una arterioesclerosis de sus creencias.»

     There is an exasperating tendency to exaggerate the importance of institutional factors which not only belies the actual underlying dynamics of EU governance, but would also be highly undesirable. Europe is a union in law largely dependent on political agreements and concessions. In the advent of the Ukraine crisis, nobody paused to look up the solution in the Treaty of Lisbon; nor did they expect the appointed High Representative for foreign affairs to come across as a convincing and relevant figure during negotiations at an international level on behalf of the member countries. Then again, different matters call for different measures and for either a more supranational or a more intergovernmental approach.

     Informally developed practices –i.e. decisions left to the realm of politics—allow for flexibility, policy innovation and ultimately are one of the reasons why the whole EU legal system and institutional structure doesn’t collapse and crumble into incongruous pieces of primary and secondary law and procedural jargon.  These practices are gradually incorporated to and embedded in existing formal codes and rules –whose existence is necessary for deviations to be observed—, but they could potentially constitute a source of uncertainty and a challenge to legitimacy, in that governance in the Union displays a worrying lack of transparency. And opacity fuels distrust.

     There is no way to elucidate whether the decisions taken are reasonable or based on vested interests, whose real motivations are rarely stated. However, aside from the regular “updates” they must undergo in order to adapt to changes, I do not think there is an urgent need for revamped organs and institutions. Rather, they should strive to render their operations less obscure, if only slightly, so that we may judge on the defense and respect of values they purport to serve.

     And that is the whole point: I do not believe I have enough information at my disposal to form an opinion. I might loosely agree with what is stated in the Treaties and with the designed theoretical set-up for the functioning of the EU, but that is the extent of my knowledge.

     I could naïvely think of Europe as a privileged place in which a large part of the population lives in freedom and contentment; admire the efficiently run institutions and the competent bureaucracy; the civic awareness of a community in which political representatives are elected at the polls; the tolerance toward others’ beliefs and customs without surrendering one’s own; the healthy respect for the shared history of Europe’s peoples; the scrupulous respect for human rights and a ban on the death penalty; the memory of atrocious wars, both civil and national, and the subsequent pain of atonement; the determination of governments and society not to allow citizens’ social well-being to be governed by market forces; the requirement punishment of corruption in administrative systems; the consensus in developing the Third World; the concern for the environment; and the acknowledgement that Culture is not a mere ornamental or ancillary aspect. A Europe tacitly understood almost as a byword for the unattainable.

     But were I to approach the nebulous subject of Europe more warily, I would come to grips with the more sinister Europe of double-standards, plans concocted behind the expressionless façades of Brussels, an impenetrable wall separating us from Eastern European purgatory –whence it shall not budge because of the thinly concealed animosity of countries afraid of losing their subsidies or their gas supply—, and the absence of recognized collective strategic interest beyond maintaining the status quo.

     Now that the prospects for the EU look particularly grim, adopting a reformist eurosceptic stance could help the quest for a better Union to prosper. Wishful thinking will only precipitate its demise.

I would rather redream a feasible project than pursue an untenable dream.

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Bibliography

  •  FISCHER, J. From Confederacy to Federation: thoughts on the finality of European Integration. Speech given at Humboldt University in Berlin, May 12th 2000.
  •  FONTAINE, P. (2010). Europe in 12 lessons. Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. <http://ec.europa.eu/publications/booklets/eu_glance/91/en.pdf>.
  •  HRYTSAK, Y. (2005) The Borders of Europe seen from the Outside. Eurozine [pdf] Available at: <http://www.eurozine.com/pdf/2005-01-10-hrytsak-en.pdf> [Accessed: 18th April 2014].
  •  JUDT, T. (1996). A grand illusion?: an essay on Europe. New York, Hill and Wang.
  •  JUDT, T. (2005). Postwar: a history of Europe since 1945. New York, Penguin Press.
  •  KELLER, U., & RAKUŠA, I. (2004). Writing Europe what is European about the literatures of Europe? : essays from 33 European countries. Budapest, Hungary, Central European University Press. <http://site.ebrary.com/id/10133541>.
  •  ORTEGA Y GASSET, J. (1966). De Europa meditatio quaedam. Berlín, 1949. Revista de Occidente.
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