Europhiles are fracturing the European dream

13 August 2015

Europhiles are fracturing the European dream

On the evening of Wednesday June 1st, 2005, the SP gathered in Artis – Amsterdam’s zoo – to celebrate the victory in the referendum on the European Constitution. Two-thirds of Dutch voters had said ‘no’. Not to Europe, but to European politics. The world’s media were also amassed in Artis. Just as I began a live report for Fox News, a punk band began to play.

Conservative America must have thought that a revolution had broken out in Amsterdam, but they needn’t have worried. After a brief period of mourning in Brussels, the votes of the electorate in the Netherlands, France and other countries was ignored and the same European politics pursued with undiminished vigour.

After the Second World War a number of countries in Europe decided to step up cooperation. In the past, leaders had tried to force unity on Europe by means of violence. Now a new European ideal was born, of democratic countries looking to cooperate of their own free will in order to work for freedom and the wellbeing of their citizens. With the European Economic Community, there began at the end of the 1950s a gradual process of political and economic integration. This proceeded with steps forward and steps backward, as historical processes will.

An important change came, however, in 1992, with the Maastricht treaty, which established the European Union. From then onwards, ‘Europe’ increasingly became a vehicle for a specific form of politics, a neoliberal politics aimed at running down social security and deregulating markets, especially the financial market. The public’s view of this became of less importance - as the Dutch people discovered ten years ago, as the Greeks have now seen for themselves.

In 1992 also, the plan for what would become the euro was outlined, a common currency which would be introduced ten years later. A common currency would sound the death knell for any gradual process of integration and become instead the means by which a political union would be enforced against the will of the people, whose views were never sought. Countries with completely different economies and cultures were pressed into the mould of neoliberal policy.

'Before any possible formation of a politically unified European political union, it seems to me that a European spiritual unity (would have to be) a reality – and a task which finds its deepest foundations in the consciousness of the diversity of this, our Europe.’ So wrote the German philosopher Hans George Gadamer in Das Erbe Europas (Europe’s Heritage.) That was 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. This doyen of philosophy was warning that if anything was to be typically ‘European’, it must be respect for mutual differences.

The political leaders did not take this lesson to heart. Europe’s political elite must enforce a unity which did not suit Europe’s countries, with a policy that Europe’s people did not want. This neoliberal policy pushed economies into crisis and played member states off against each other. In the southern countries, generations of young people are growing up who no longer place any hopes, or have any confidence, in Europe. In the Netherlands too, people are following European politics with increasing suspicion and cynicism.

It is precisely the most fervent advocates of a European politics who have let the European dream fall apart. These ‘europhiles’ have far too little feeling for the individuality of the European countries and the diversity of the European population. The European project can, however, get no further without the support of the European population - without the spirit of 2005, when the future of Europe was being debated and people expressed themselves en masse. The lesson is that politicians must take the voters seriously – a lesson from the public in the Netherlands, in Greece, and elsewhere in our diverse and multi-coloured Europe.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the national newspaper Het Parool on 11th August

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