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?
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 – as many European citizens are already experiencing right now. 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. It does not deserve to be ignored, ridiculed or even destroyed.
The dossier ‘Europe – the Final Countdown or Resurrection Time?’ tries to provide an insight into the feelings and ideas which are held towards Europe in a wide selection of EU Member States and candidate countries. The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union has asked politicians, journalists, writers and other intellectuals in more than twenty 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. We wish you an enjoyable read and are looking forward to your comments.
Marianne Ebertowski, Brussels, March 2013
Are We on the Way to Creating a European Behemoth? A Portuguese Perspective
The European Union today represents a growing danger, a kind of ticking clock bomb menacing to explode within the heart of the fragile fabric of global economy. Political wisdom seems completely absent from the vision and policies voiced by national governments and European political institutions. More...
It is Time for Germany to Deliver on its Commitments
Strange as it may seem, Greeks and Germans are not so different in some respects. For example, in the latest “Global Attitudes Survey” conducted by Pew Research, they were the only ones to rank themselves as the most trustworthy, least arrogant and most compassionate nations in Europe. In every other country, ...
The Souring of Turkey EU-Relations: is there a Way Out?
Turkish democracy is stagnating and has been suffering substantive breaches of fundamental rights and freedoms, and there is not much talk of Turkey’s EU membership neither in the Turkish nor the EU discourse. The current stalemate is also reflected in the attitudes the Turkish public and the political actors display towards the EU. Is there a Way Out?
Adriaan Schout and Jan Marinus Wiersma
The Netherlands in the EU: From the Centre to the Margins?
A Eurobarometer survey published in September 2013 showed that although 62% of the Dutch think the EU is a good thing, its popularity dropped with 8% compared to a year earlier. Only 35% feel really attached to the EU, which is low compared to other countries. A growing disenchantment with the EU is clear. What now? More...
From Federalism to Euroscepticism - the Finnish Debate on Europe
How has the public debate on Europe changed in Finland during the last years? What is the main criticism on Europe, what do Finish people expect from the EU? MEP Tarja Cronberg on Europe, Finland and the phenomenon of the so-called 'True Finns'. More...
The EU Crisis Seen through the Lenses of the Italian Transition
Is a need to take into account the uneven social and geographical effects of European integration and of the single currency on Italy on the one side and at the level of the EU as a whole. Are these structural effects of EU integration? Or are they primarily the result of the neoliberal policies that have been dominant in the last twenty years at the level of EU institutions, or both? More...
Perceptions of the European Union in Serbia
As a result of its specific political background, Serbia is a country with a very distinct perception of the European Union and there are numerous discussions about alternatives to the EU. The perception of the EU in Serbia significantly changed over time. More...
Bosnia-Herzegovina and the European Union: Strong European Identity in Spite of Scepticism
In February 2013, Doris Pack, MEP, presented a Resolution on Bosnia-Herzegovina, which list all political and economic problems in the country. As one of the biggest concerns, the Resolution mentioned the lack of a joint vision in the state. Bosnia-Herzegovina and the European Union: where do we stand? More...
How long will the UK Remain in the EU?
Will the UK still be a member of the EU in five years? The answer is almost certainly yes. David Cameron has taken a big gamble in promising a referendum but the result, if it comes to a referendum, will most likely be a vote to stay in. In 1975 polls showed a majority of Britons wanting to leave the club they had just joined but in the end there was a convincing victory for the yes campaign. The British are renowned for their pragmatism and a well-run yes campaign leading up to the 2017 vote will expose the many myths propagated by the no side. More...
Ignacio Molina & İlke Toygür
Future of Spain, Future of Europe: A Dream or a Nightmare?
The name of Spain ̶ apart from fiesta, culture or football1 ̶ was associated with a story of prolonged political and economic success, for many years. The Spanish transition from authoritarian past and the subsequent consolidation of a Europeanized and semi-federal advanced democracy have inspired other democratization processes. Its economy even outshined Germany's during the second half of the 1990s and the 2000s. However, at the end of 2008, that happy story started to change. More...
Pressing Juice out of the Brussels Cabbage - Poland and the European Union
Let us begin with a paradoxical observation. The founding myth of European integration is about peace. The European Union was designed to be a ‘peace machine’. And yet, all over Europe we are witnessing a new wave of nationalism and xenophobia. More...
Europe - the Final Countdown or Resurrection Time? Reclaiming the European Project
Unsurprisingly, reading the contributions available online primarily provides insight on the national, and at times dramatic, singularity of situations. The European question is inherently considered across the prism of historical, cultural and societal realities of each country. More...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...