European Union: an unachievable symphony

by Hervé Pugi.

European Union: are those who want to kick out the Greeks, and those who see themselves exiting, like the British. Therein lies the litmus test of the « constructed » European Union (EU), a champion of extending boundaries. weakened, this continental institution has not failed to rise from the dead over the years. The evidence, however, is compelling: by pushing out its walls, its foundations are failing dangerously. Too many people in the European home? A more-than-legitimate question…

There was a time when European schoolchildren only had to learn 12 capital cities, which everyone knew, and locate them on a map which was at the time the European Economic Community. That was before the machine went wild, the Iron Curtain came crashing down, and the ideal of a continent in quiet peace with a single unsatisfied goal of overwhelming economic power. From 12 in 1986, the number of Member States rose to 28 in 2013. Now we see the EU negotiating with Serbia, (re)discussing terms with Turkey and hoping that the Ukraine, Russia’s former hunting ground, will join. Ultimate proof of the attractiveness of the Union! Yes, but at the same time, borders are sprouting barbed wire and nationalism is flaring up again. A phony success?

Taking a longer view, it’s a fact that Europeans have lost their vision – unless they never actually had it in the first place. Once and for all: a single currency will never forge an identity! Which will not please backroom bankers in Frankfurt. Today, the Continental vision offers the man-in-the-street only a massive common market in which the euro reigns supreme. To hell with grand ideals, they’ve been buried under an avalanche of painful technical measures and massively subsidized. And the little people who are putting up with it, like the little people who aren’t, grumble from the heart and are dragging the 12-star flag through the mud, which they had at one time believed in and aspired to, to a greater or lesser extent.

The utopia of a Europe of peoples

The European identity. That’s the big question. Even more so in these difficult days that are seeing the “bedrock of values”, so dear to the representatives of the institution, falling apart. The principle of solidarity between the States has not withstood the flood of immigrants. German intransigence, so complicit in mishandling the Greek fiasco, has revived prejudices and attitudes to the East, showing its true colours reminiscent of the Soviet bloc, voting to restrict human freedoms. As for “history”, France more than any country has to rid itself of the fictional debate about national identity. Not without, however, introducing an acid touch of xenophobia that makes an extreme Rightist happy as a Europhobe, advocating a wholesale return to the “the way it was”. This includes the bag of regionalists, nationalists in disguise, calling for an independent Scotland or Catalonia. In Belgium, Flanders is taking the same route… Go build a Europe of people with that…

Looking more closely, yes, in some aspects the Old World isn’t really much older than the younger America. Italian unification? 1871. The dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire? 1918. The end of Franco’s Spain? 1975. German Unification? 1990. These, however, are only markers – non-exhaustive but evocative – in the tortuous history of the continent’s latest journey milestoned by major political upheavals. Between alliances and betrayals, ideologies and ideals, fraternisations and disagreements, national DNAs have undergone thousands of mutations but none have yet resulted in the emergence of a sentiment of common destiny that could link Finland to Malta and Portugal to Bulgaria. Indeed, the very principle of “European citizenship” has been reduced to merely electoral participation (and referendums don’t even count when they go against official intentions) and simply obeying the law.

Rule, Britannia!

Just recently, the European Union considered giving Greece back its drachmas. Which wasn’t regarded as an Athenian tragedy. Now, it’s the UK – a gifted soloist always preferring God Save the Queen to Ode to Joy – not ruling out going it alone like in the good old days. In any case, a majority of Britons would want to keep the Channel Tunnel as their only tie to the Continent. What can we do differently, now that Schengen and the Euro seem an exotic dream? What do they want if not the death of a European society and the reinstatement of borders? It must be said that we’re no longer in the Glorious Days of the European experiment and that the moribund Eurozone no longer inspires the partisans of Rule Britannia. « Business rules! » shout supporters of the European Union who see it all as just a money thing. Who, however, will stand up for the motto: in varietate concordia?1 Unfortunately, not many…

1United in diversity

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