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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 almost all of Europe was unified, basically just leaving the Balkan countries, which still had to overcome their post-war trauma’s, to join at a later stage. But after a brief period of euphoria, in fact only a year later, things started to go wrong when the citizens of France and the Netherlands rejected the ambitious ‘European Constitution’ by referendum. From then onwards things got 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 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. 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 thereby securing 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 without a chance for a come back, leaving the political arena splintered and, apparently, forever changed.

This was the situation in Europe when the financial crisis knocked on 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. 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’. The ‘European democratic deficit’ has always been blamed for every unpopular measure taken. But, indeed, it cannot be ignored that it is a worrying development that as a result of the euro crisis, powerful structures like the so-called Frankfurt Group are operating without any democratic legitimisation and that in Greece and Italy democratically-chosen government leaders (how incompetent they may have been) have been replaced by technocrats. That a minister of an EU country can suggest that people of another EU country should postpone national elections planned and instead adopt a technocratic government that leaves out the country’s major political parties is –even against the background of the seriousness of the euro crisis– adding insult to injury. Citizens of small and/or poor Member States, instead of feeling a part of a sympathetic whole, feel ‚colonised’ by large Member States and citizens of wealthier Member States feel unfairly used to help finance the economies of the weaker Member States. Solidarity seems to be a lost concept. The PIGs feel manhandled by the ‚Bigs’, especially by the old and new bogeyman Germany.

When Polish finance Minister Jan Vincent-Rostowski said in an extraordinary speech before the European Parliament in September 2011:
”We must save Europe at all costs. The danger of a potential war in the next ten years [...] is a scenario we should contemplate. If the ‚eurozone’ were to disappear, if it were to explode, then there is the risk that the EU may not survive. If the EU can't withstand this shock, the whole European project will be in great danger, which will lead to a situation where, in a number of years' time, we will have to face another great danger,“ he was not trying to catastrophise, he expressed the fears and experiences of a post-war generation. Peace cannot be taken for granted neither can welfare. The European Union is not an end in itself: it is there for a purpose. If citizens feel that purpose got hijacked, it is about time to re-claim and re-think the European project instead of ignoring, ridiculing or even destroying what is left of it.

The dossier ‘Europe – the final countdown or resurrection time?’ will provide an insight into the feelings and ideas which are held towards Europe by elites and (other)
citizens in a wide selection of EU Member States. The European Union office of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung has asked politicians, journalists, writers and other intellectuals in more than a dozen countries to describe what they and the people in their countries feel and think about Europe, whether from their perspectives there is a chance to resurrect and reclaim the European project and what would be the main changes necessary to succeed. Between March and December 2012 we will publish contributions by (amnongst others) Nikos Chrysolaras, Dany Cohn-Bendit, Radka Denemarková, Paul Gillespie, Pierre Jonckheer, Hilde Keteleer, Claus Leggewie, Ignacio Molina, Marc-Olivier Padis, Mario Pianti, Sławomir Sierakowski and Veiko Spolitis. We wish you an enjoyable read and are looking forward to your comments.

Marianne Ebertowski, Brussels, March 2012

The views expressed in this dossier are those of the authors alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.

Alex Warleigh-Lack
The European Integration Project - As Seen in the United Kingdom
At the time of writing – late November 2012 – the UK stands on the precipice of withdrawal from the EU. The only referendum on the subject that has previously been held in the country – that on staying in the then-EEC, held in 1975 – reflects a long-dissipated coalition in UK society. At the present time it is difficult to see how, without radical intervention, a referendum on UK membership is not to be held, and, from the pro-EU perspective, lost. More...

Mario Pianta
Sliding to the Periphery –Italy, the Crisis and Europe
Weak state, strong society’ has long been a trademark of Italy; which meant low nationalist feelings and high sympathies for Europe. After all, the manifesto of European Federalism came in 1944 from the anti-fascists around Altiero Spinelli confined on the island of Ventotene, and Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957. More...

Veiko Spolitis
Baltic Calculations or what Determines the Profoundness of the European Project in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
The minor cultural, historical and geographical differences between the three Baltic states (3B) – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – do not explain the major differences in preparation for EU accession, the structure of their political and economic systems and, finally, public attitudes towards the European project. more...

Paul Gillespie
Ireland and the Big Game Changer
A game changer. That was how several Irish ministers described the agreement reached early on Friday 29th June to allow the European Stability Mechanism recapitalise eurozone banks directly, without adding to sovereign debt, once a single European bank supervisory system is put in place. Since some €64 billion has been added to Ireland’s sovereign debt exactly because such direct recapitalisation was not previously permitted their reaction was understandable. more...

Tanja Dückers
Europe in Crisis
Seven years ago I had a curious, depressing experience: as a reporter for Die ZEIT I attended World Youth Day in Cologne. Just a few weeks earlier Pope Benedict XVI had become leader of the Church; he travelled to Germany for the first time since his election for the occasion. Since I'd left the Catholic Church some years earlier, my point of view in Cologne was purely journalistic and sociological – I wouldn't be cheering for the Pope. more...

Lennart von Schwichow
The EU’s Existential Crisis
After months of political and media comment it is likely that everyone has now understood that the EU finds itself at an historical crossroads. The current, long standing system is groaning and creaking on all sides and increasingly complex financial instruments are being used to patch things up and prevent the whole structure from collapsing. more...

Nikos Chrysoloras
Greece’s Economic Despair Gives Rise to anti-European Sentiment

All economic and social indicators show that Greece is facing an imminent humanitarian crisis and the risk of relapsing from the developed into the developing world. Despite the ‘pro-European’ result of June 17th’s elections, an ever-increasing number of Greeks blames the EU for the country’s plight. This spread of anti-European sentiment, in addition to high poverty levels and the unprecedented rise of political extremism pose, is a threat to the very survival of democracy in Greece. Such catastrophe would destabilise the Balkan region and the eurozone, while it would deal a huge blow to the European unification project. Coordinated and urgent action is required in order to avert it. more...

Hilde Keteleer
Europe: a Monster with Ice-Cold Breath?
On Hope and Loathing in Belgium

Stefan Hertmans, one of the best-known Flemish authors, wrote at the close of the 20th century in Intercities, ‘Perhaps this is how it must be: in a small, banal hotel room, with the peeping and rustling of the gypsy-like music that comes over the Alps from Sarajevo to Salzburg, you realise what an incomprehensible and impossible thing Europe is. . . . to understand for an odd moment what cannot be understood. That you’re living in a history impossible to disentangle, and precisely because of that, you want to live, although life slides past faster than a dream.’ The book opens with a quote from Victor Klemperer, writing in the early 20th century: ‘The contemporary knows nothing.’ more...

Marc-Olivier Padis
The French Debate on Europe

Europe was a major theme of the presidential election campaign that monopolised public attention during the first months of this year. The outgoing president emphasised his efforts, since 2008, to encourage members of the euro zone to act and his rival made European growth a central part of his manifesto. Nevertheless, the question of Europe in the electoral debate in no way corresponded to a full picture of either candidate’s views on the topic. more...

Radka Denemarková
Europe is here, and it’s not Going Anywhere (a Mosaic)
I live in 2012. Writers should capture ‘timeless’ totalitarianism, too. Weary timelessness. They should tell scary fairy stories about eastern European countries enchanted by an evil wizard. The thing is, these ‘fairy stories’ really happened. And Good did not conquer. Because every Good is infected with Evil. Days, months, years, lives pass. more...

Daniel Cohn-Bendit
Address on the Occasion of the Award of an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Athens (Faculty of Law) 9 February 2012
This afternoon whilst strolling in the university gardens I had a most extraordinary, if not hallucinatory, encounter! Just imagine, I found myself face to face with one of your ancient forebears, whose international standing needs no explanation. This key figure in the evolution of European thought was none other than Socrates! When he saw me, he took my arm and engaged me in conversation as if we were two old friends. more...

Claus Leggewie
Europe’s Place in the World
The idea that one is European mostly first strikes people when they are in a far-flung corner of the world. From afar, carefully guarded regional and national differences become blurred and you realise how negative our European naval gazing is in the global context. The European Union is, at the most, only a medium-sized political player that by 2050 will decline demographically to a residual population. more...

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