Europe will not allow itself to be redrawn

22 February 2007

Europe will not allow itself to be redrawn

In discussions on European cooperation the emphasis tends to lie on Europe's unity. Yet it is Europe's diversity which is its essential characteristic.

by Ronald van Raak, Member of Parliament for the SP

Ronald van Raak‘Before any possible political unification of Europe, the intellectual unity of Europe seems to me a reality – and a task, which finds it deepest roots in the consciousness of the diversity of this, our Europe.' Mooij quotes these words, which were written by Hans Georg Gadamer, who died in 2002, in 'Het Europa van de filosofen' (1). They come from Das Erbe Europas, a book which appeared in 1989, the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The then doyen of European philosophy did not go along with the jubilant analysis of Europe's new unity. Gadamer valued instead the differences, for example in language, which have led in turn to a diversity in religion and culture. He also celebrated the fact that ever new differences were coming into existence. It was not the unity, but the diversity of Europe which we should cherish. If there is indeed something which is typically ‘European’, then it must surely be the respect for differences amongst us.

Should we set down our shared values in a European Constitution? And what values are those? These questions are once again current. March 2007 is fifty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome and the beginning of the current form of European cooperation. The celebration of this anniversary will be seized upon by the German EU Presidency as an opportunity to put the European Constitution back on to the political agenda. This is also the 'way out of the impasse’ proposed by Marcel Becker, Kees Klop and Bas van Stokkom in Na het referendum over Europa ('After the referendum on Europe'), published by the Centre for Ethics in Nijmegen. The new Constitution, these ethicists argue, must include 'a system of values which expresses the identity of the Union.”

These authors also rather like the idea of 'constitutional patriotism', put forward by Jürgen Habermas. In this view what binds people together is not a shared history, but a liberal Constitution. If such a Constitution lays down nothing more than the rules of the political game, these would nevertheless need to be brought into line with Gadamer's basic assumption, Europe's diversity. The point is, however, that Becker, Klop en Van Stokkom do not disassociate themselves from a Constitution which also contains markedly 'liberal' (for which read neoliberal) principles for European policies, for example in relation to public services, the labour market, and justice.

A federal Europe is, according to these authors, necessary in order to ensure a democratic structure. But where does this leave national democracies? In the Netherlands, for example, a large majority of the population is undiminished in its opposition to such a European Constitution. The institutional interest is thus placed before that of the people. Becker, Klop and Van Stokkom also fail to show why European cooperation is of more value than national solidarity, or than cooperation with countries in Asia, Africa or Latin America. Their reference to an "older European we" – a tradition of human rights, freedom, equality and the rule of law – suggests moreover a unity in European tradition which has in reality never existed.

Multi-coloured Europe

Following the referendum we are seeing a typical example of essentialist thinking on Europe, one which is dictating discussion in the wake of the rejection of the European Constitution. Jan Mooij's Europe of the philosophers offers a fine historical counterbalance to this. In an accessible essay, this poet and philosophy professor emeritus is seeking to draw his readers' attention to the multicoloured quality which has characterised thinking about Europe and to introduce a number of perspectives which he has missed in following the debates on Europe over the last few years. A colourful pallet of thinkers is reviewed, but three broad 'currents' are identified.

The first harks back to the tradition of the Enlightenment, with Kant as the classic representative. In Zum ewigen Frieden ("Perpetual Peace") of 1795, Kant explained how rational rules and treaties were by far the best means to achieve a peaceful international order. Edmund Husser stands in this tradition, as also does Alain Finkelkraut. Another current lays the emphasis on Europe's shortcomings and takes its lead, Mooij argues, from Novalis. In Die Christenheit oder Europa ("Christianity or Europe") of 1799 Novalis stated that only a religious revival could bring about a living connection between the different European countries. Theodor Lessing and recently Peter Sloterdijk stand in this more romantic tradition.

Advocates of the European Constitution such as Becker, Klop and Van Stokkom clearly belong to the first of these currents. Their belief is based on an image of Europe as the bearer of universal and inviolable values. Mooij shows that such arguments can descend into fundamentalism. The same goes for emphatic opponents of European cooperation, who call above all for national unity. Most critics of the present European unification belong to a separate current, one distinguished by Mooij, who includes Gadamer in its ranks. Dominant in this current is the idea that Europe has its own character. Hegel, for example, laid the emphasis on the values of protestantism, whereas Karl Jaspers argued that it was humanism, above all, which gave unity to Europe. For Gadamer it is precisely the way in which Europeans in the past learned to deal with their diversity that is the hallmark of European civilisation.

Het Europa van de filosofen demonstrates that Europe will not allow itself to be reconfigured on the drawing board. Unity laid down from above ignores the ideals of citizens who cherish their differences in democratic structures, social security and cultural diversity. It is precisely a love of Europe which can provide the occasion for a critique of a European Constitution.

This article first appeared in Dutch in Filosofie Magazine, January 2007.

(1) J.J.A. Mooij Het Europa van de filosofen (2006) (“The Europe of the Philosophers”)

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