Freedom and European unity

The economic and debt crisis that has engulfed most of Europe, and in particular the Eurozone, coupled with the generalized identity crisis that is sweeping the continent are an opportunity to reflect on European unification and the problems that it can, but has failed to, address and solve.

The all-too frequent meetings and summits that typically end up with vague statements (never followed up by concrete acts) on the necessity for tighter cooperation, the unability of European heads of states to come up with meaningful and original ideas to tackle this double crisis, and, last but certainly not least, the unbalanced power among the various European states (a few countries deciding and imposing policies for the rest) are only the visible symptoms that reveal what the European Union has become: not a confederation, certainly not a federation, perhaps not even a real union, but just a conglomerate of countries with varying agendas.

The rise of the far right from Hungary to France, from Greece to the Netherlands, if it is (rightly) condemned among traditiona political circles, should not and cannot be ignored and just dismissed as the undeducated choice of sympathizers of an outdated fascist ideology. Rather, the rise of far right parties has happened precisely because of the discontent and the generalized feeling among large segments of the population that the political élite in each of these countries has failed to address the problems caused by globalization. The reasons for people to support the far right (and far left) are many and diverse. these reasons include the loss or, at least, dilution of traditional identities within impersonal and uncontrolled flows of goods, people, and capital, the decline of the political sphere in favor of the financial sphere, etc.

Yet, while all parties on both extreme speak out to tackle those issues, theirs are mostly reactionary measures that often fail to take full account of a global reality we cannot ignore. Politics and policies in each European country are now arranged as three concentric circles: national policies, still theoretically at the center of European politics, are no longer the exclusive source of decision, but also depend on the second circle, the European Union, and further still, are affected by the movements of the outer circle, that is the global (mostly economic and financial sphere). What’s more, the second circle, that is European politics, has partially merged with the third circle. The result is that each European country, while theoretically independant, are in fact left without the possibility of free movement, as if each were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The impossibility to return to the old national sovereignty, and the failure of the European Union to create a true political arena have left each of these countries not only vulnerable, but unable to deliver on their promises to act. This loss of freedom is at the root of the current problem. It remains to see what the election of F. Hollande in France, the Greek vote and the emerging anti-austerity current will be able to achieve, but, if these may succeed to some degree, they will not be enough to build a stable, enduring political entity in the long term.

The vote in France has shown that national politics is not entirely dead. The hope that all the citizen body can accomplish something, this hope that we can create something new to get rid of the old is an act of freedom. It is perhaps not surprising that the French vote has been monitored with so much attention across Europe and beyond, because France, as one of the leading European countries, is the only one that can also develop enough political momentum to have a real impact across the continent. This political experience, which goes back to the Revolution, has been one of the main driving forces that has pushed for greater European integration. Monnet, De Gaulle, Mitterand are names that are associated with European unity. German power is of a different kind. Germany’s economic power certainly gives it political clout, but it does not have the same will to create something radically new, to develop a vision that would give a united Europe stable political foundations.

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