Recent events have uncovered a startling truth: the European Union always fails when it comes to preserving its Enlightenment legacy – that of civil liberties, defence of those freedoms and an open society. The question of how to protect our security, defence and freedoms is an important issue for which the European Union has no answers. Does this raise the threat of renationalisation and spell an end to the tremendous vision of Spinelli, Schuman & Co?
European politicians, or more specifically those responsible for the policies of the European Union, seem out of their depth. What about Greece? While outwardly it appears to have been “saved”, there is still a huge degree of simmering internal unrest. And what about the euro? No stability, volatile, and falling against other world currencies. Or greater fiscal, economic and currency union? Somewhat controversially, one might well ask: who cares about any of that these days? In view of the security debate, migration policy and the national military manoeuvre of individual EU countries, who is still interested in Europe these days? – unless it happens to coincide with national interests. This is why ECB supremo Mario Draghi is so heavily in favour of a common European Deposit Guarantee Scheme: not least in order to rescue an already faltering Italy, without having to burden the Italian state coffers with it in the future. Which makes the question even more relevant: is Europe itself even interested in Europe?
Surveillance and nationalism
The most obvious sign of the slow demise of the European Union is illustrated by the approach to secret services and the very different outlooks and operational concepts at work within Europe. The way they deal with the fundamental rights and civil liberties and data protection or personal privacy issues is also instructive. In France, the land of the Enlightenment and civil rights, there has been a very dense web of surveillance since time immemorial. In Austria there has been an attempt for quite some time now to legalise retention of mass communication data and sign off on the State Protection Act at the expense of constitutional liberalism and civil liberties, while at the same time putting the Freedom of Information Act on the back burner.
There is no European consensus on where to draw the line between the suspension of fundamental rights and preservation of freedom in the name of “security”, or on the degree of intervention the state and its security agency should be allowed in any free, democratic society before its fundamental values are surrendered. In Austria and Germany alone, some significant differences are already discernible. Austria follows the tradition of Maria Theresia in the sense that it is the state’s role to manage society”, and Germany operates more in Friedrich mode where “society is organised by the state”. Terms like data protection and private sphere are treated much more liberally in open societies like Sweden than in Central Europe or, perish the thought, in Eastern European member nations. After all, it is not so long ago that secret services in such countries directed their efforts against their own population.
Where has Europe gone?
And what is happening right now? Countries are busy closing their borders – despite Schengen, and with no protest coming from Brussels. Individual states of the EU are insisting they want to work together in a concerted effort to fight terror. It’s a strange sort of rhetoric, when you think that they already operate within a common border – the Schengen one. NATO serves as the protective military shield of Europe and wants to engage as a sworn ally on possible acts of retribution. But what is preventing Europe from seeking emancipation, at long last, and developing an EU army of its own? This would mean emancipation not only from the USA but also from Russia – in the name of European values (even if that term has been rather over-used in recent times). Instead, national action plans are being issued and meanwhile Belgium is coming under increasing pressure – disparagingly referred to as the European bolthole of “Islamists”.
Does this mean standardised common integration measures in the EU? Far from it. Such common ground is more likely to be found in regulatory measures such as European banking union. Communitarisation – after all, this would be the task of specific national bodies and ultimately the job of the nation state. Then the targets of terrorist attacks would no longer be countries like France or Germany, because it would no longer be a matter of individual countries taking military action to defend themselves. It would be Europe acting as a whole (and on FB the profile image would be embedded in the European flag as a sign that it was defending its shared “values”).
What does Europe want? What do we want?
But do we really want that? By we, I mean we the citizens of this European Union. There are many indications that governments, countries, economic and political groupings outside Europe do not want the European project to thrive. A strong, self-confident Europe would not be in their best interests. Economically speaking, the EU is already ahead of even the US and China. The EU could become too powerful an entity, if it knew how to defend itself from external forces by garnering its inner strength and taking a more emancipated and independent stand.
- The EU economy today – based on the volume of goods and services (GDP) – is bigger than the economy of the USA: 13,920,541,000 euro (GDP of the EU in 2014)
- The EU share of the global population is only 7%. Yet trade between the EU and the rest of the world accounts for 20% of global imports and exports.
- About two-thirds of all trade by EU nations occurs between other EU countries.
- EU trade was not immune to the global economic downturn. Yet, with a share of 16.4% of global imports in the year 2011, the EU retained its leading position worldwide, followed by the USA on 15.5% of total imports and China on 11.9%.
- Furthermore, with 15.4% of all exports worldwide, the EU was the world’s biggest exporter, ahead of China (13.4%) and the USA (10.5%)
We want Europe – but only to a greater or lesser extent. And I cannot tell, from today’s perspective, whether there is any solution to that conundrum.