Europe – the Final Countdown or Resurrection Time? Reclaiming the European Project

Reclaiming the European ProjectFinal Countdown or Reusurrection Time?. Photo: Josip Gamberožić . All rights reserved.

DOSSIER

Europe – the Final Countdown or Resurrection Time? Reclaiming the European Project

The European Economic Union and its predecessor the European Coal and Steel Community were founded on the ruins of WWII with the explicit intention to prevent war in Europe. Slowly the European project transcended economic cooperation and turned into a political union unifying more and more countries in a common project. In 2004 this project reached a preliminary climax when most of the former communist countries of central Europe became members and, with Romania and Bulgaria joining three years later, almost all of Europe was unified. The EU Summit in Thessaloniki in 2003 had given the Western Balkan countries, which still had to overcome their post-war traumas, hope to join at a later stage. However, the ‘All European honeymoon’ did not last long. Already in 2005 things started to go wrong when the citizens of France and the Netherlands rejected the ambitious ‘European Constitution’ by referendum. From then onwards things went from bad to worse. The adoption of the Constitution’s watered-down follow-up, the Lisbon Treaty, after many problems and compromises could not hide the fact that the European project was under pressure. The extended EU family of 25, later 27, started to squabble about the way its common future should look like. Even worse, European citizens started losing interest in a ‘common future’: for new generations in western Europe, the threat of war no longer counted, certainly not after the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War, whereas the citizens of the former communist countries were still trying to develop their own (national) identities which had been suppressed for so long. Many citizens in many western European countries felt their own national identities under threat as well: by immigration from non-European countries on the one hand and by the seemingly undemocratic ‘European bureaucracy’ on the other hand. Where politicians of the established democratic parties failed to explain the importance of the European project to their citizens, populist leaders were keen to play on the feelings of political estrangement and succeeded in assuring for themselves a central place in the political arena where they could no longer be neglected by the establishment. In some countries the political establishment was reduced to the level of background actors with a very low chance for a comeback, leaving the political arena splintered and, apparently, forever changed.

This was the situation in Europe when the financial crisis knocked at its door for the first time at the end of 2008, followed by the outburst of the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone in 2011, a general economic decline and a disturbing increase of unemployment, especially youth unemployment in the peripheral countries of the eurozone. Since then the European Union has been staggering like a punch-drunk boxer just before the knock-out. Is the great European project down for the count? Does anybody care? Does anybody understand why they should care? Citizens (at least some of them) have turned into recalcitrant ‘indignados’ or vote against their national political establishment and against the EU’s austerity measures, as recently in Italy, with serious consequences for the rest of Europe, or they vote with their feet, as many thousands of Portuguese have done during the last years who have tried to find a new future in former Portuguese colonies as they do no longer see a future for themselves at home. These are tragic developments for Europe.  

In 2014 European citizens can elect their representatives for the European Parliament for the 8th time in history. The year 2014 will be a historic year for Europe as it marks the beginning of the First World War 100 years ago, the ending of the Second World War 65 years ago, the beginning of the peaceful revolution in Eastern Europe 25 years ago and the ‘Eastern enlargement’ of the EU ten years ago. Will it become the year of a new beginning for Europe or will it go down in European history as the year that marks the beginning of the dismantling of the European project?
 
 
 

 
 
"This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commisson cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."
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Challenges (Photo: Daniela Schwarzer. Under cc-by)
A European Behemoth? (Photo: Viriato Soromenho-Marques. Under cc-by)
Time to Deliver (Photo: Nikos Chrysoloras. Under cc-by)
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European Identity (Photo: Leijla Turcilo. Under cc-by)
The UK in the EU? (Photo: Fraser Cameron. Under cc-by)
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The Brussels Cabbage (Photo: Adam Ostolski. Under cc-by)
reclaiming the European Project (Photo: Pierre Jonckheer. Under cc-by)
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The French Debate on Europe (Photo: Marc-Olivier Padis. Under cc-by)
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Address (Photo: Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Under cc-by)
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Presentation Alexandre Abreu (Photo: Alexandre Abreu. Under cc-by)

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