European Adventure – The Missing Variable

Cartoon: Jasper Rietman
Cartoon: Jasper Rietman – New York Times, Dec 18, 2013

The Europe we live in today is the worst possible Europe apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time. No European alliance, empire, commonwealth or community has endured forever, but we should want this one to last as long as it can – Timothy Garton Ash 

Politically, the European endeavor appears as fragile as ever. Pockets of populism (extreme-right and extreme-left combined) have been popping out since the collapse of the financial markets in 2007. But the recent results of elections in Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Spain, Denmark and so forth are demonstrating that the European electorate is increasingly voting more extreme than before. In the case of France, the Front National, which was historically a party of opposition has become the “first party of France” to take her President’s words. If populism is becoming attractive, it has created a complex national debate of incomprehension and anger between populist voters and the mainstream rest. National unity, in France, Europe and even in the US, is under attack.

Experts and political analysts have been identifying a series of variables in order to explain the rise of populism such as immigration, terrorism, economic stagnation, high level of unemployment, corruption, cronyism, globalization and Europe. Each variable is highly valid and can explain what motivate Europeans to seek for extreme alternatives. But one core dimension has been missing and is most likely the strongest component: an adventure, a story (for Europeans) and a dream (for Americans).

Loss of Memory/Direction in a Ever-More Globalized World

Globalization has been framed as the foundation of all national turmoils and traumas. For populist movements the word ‘globalization’ is a toolbox with no clear definition for obvious political reason. The concept of globalization should be understood as an acceleration in the degree of interaction and interconnection between humans, capital and goods. To some extent, the physical world is shrinking; the speed in interaction is accelerating [distance-time are disappearing]. A smaller shared space ultimately affects the understanding of one’ space and culture.  In her recent address about the reflection on a common strategy, HR Mogherini framed the question of globalization from a security angle, which contributes to the reflection on the definition of the globalization in this piece. She said that:

Everything that is important to our citizens is influenced by our international environment. And there is actually no distinction, no borders, no line between what happens far away, what happens at our borders, in our region, and what happens inside our European Union. Even these categories are now losing sense. 

‘Losing sense’ is quite a powerful part of her statement. Populist movements are directly responding to this sensation of physical, emotional and ideational feeling of dizziness. In addition, populist movements argue that the European Union is in fact a materialization of globalization and its global forces weakening national unity. Unfortunately, this is not true if one takes a historical look at globalization bringing us back to the 14th century with the Dutch empire. Globalization has roughly emerged at the end of the Dark Ages and pushed the economic and political transition of Europe and North America into the pre-industrial world. Arguing that globalization is the root cause of all national traumas is an absolute fantasy considering the longevity of such phenomenon.

However, one should talk about the speed of globalization and its acceleration in the last 20 years. “We live faster than ever before” writes Svetlana Alexievich “Content ruptures form. Breaks and changes it. There are no borders between fact and fabrication, one flows into the other.” Certainly globalization has become a powerful force highlighting serious limitations and weaknesses of European foundations. If capital and people can travel quicker than ever before [in roughly 12hours a human can be on the other side of the world], and in a less than a second billions of dollars/euros can be wired from one continent to another, such forces can undeniably create serious problems to the slow-moving entity of the nation-state and the EU. These realities of an ever-more globalized world is creating a distortion between immediacy and reflection. Immediacy could be embodied by the current economic model of casino capitalism; while, reflection is in fact the foundation of European political regimes, Democracy/Republic. If casino capitalism is based on economic gamble informed by pseudo-rational thinking as it is more a question of rumors and speculation, democracy is a slow process of introspection, discussion, collaboration and compromise. The discrepancy between casino capitalism and democracy is obvious and stretching the limits of European societies. Here lays the core of the problem in the globalized world of the early 21st century.

Ultimately, when a politician like Marine Le Pen, president of the extreme-right party le Front National, tells a story of national sovereignty, national control through the construction of physical barriers and implementation of protectionism, these narratives attract a confused audience. But the lie is obvious, the building of physical barriers to block invisible forces won’t do a thing in order to solidify national sovereignty and empower cultural exceptionalism. Building physical barriers in order to limit the flow of people is a myth. Millions of Europeans went through the Atlantic Ocean, an ocean, for a better future; are a series of walls around Europe be sufficient to stop refugees to come in. Not a chance.

European Adventure

The story of the European construction is a remarkable story and endeavor. In the rumbles of Europe, visionary leaders and thinkers drove European politicians to follow their visions

Europe
Cartoon: Paul Lachine

in order to avoid another war that could destroy the world. World War two was one of the most vicious global fights with genocides, mass-movement of troops and civilians, arms and technological race and so forth. Over 40 million individuals died in six years leaving Europe as a massive field of destruction. From the agreement of the Treaty of Paris in 1951 to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, the European construction was far from perfect but it was an adventure for greater political, economic, and institutional integration. It was an adventure in order to horizontally expand the Community/Union from six original members into a Union of 28. It was an adventure as European citizens saw the fall of physical borders, from the Berlin War to national borders under the Schengen Agreement. It was an adventure when on June 7 and 10, 1979, European citizens could vote for the first time at a European election for the European Parliament.

It was an adventure as Europeans could finally move within a wide group of states in order to start a career, to start a European life, to study. It was an adventure as the continent saw an unprecedented economic boost bringing struggling states – Germany as one of them – into highly sophisticated and developed economic and industrial levels. It was an adventure in the agreement to share a common currency, the Euro, in order to facilitate commercial and financial transactions at first, and then the flow of people. It was an adventure as the Community/Union demonstrated the world that cooperation at its extreme did not undermine national sovereignty, but rather empowered it.

The Quest for a European Life

Today, the European adventure has become a European set of technicalities. The European adventure, which was at first bold and big, has become a highly technocratic and reductive vision of politics, finance, economics, and culture. Emotionally, European citizens are not opposed to the European Union, but are thrown off by the appeared and perceived distance between them and “Brussels.”populism-400x300

Europeans are in fact in search of meaning, a raison d’être. Unfortunately, this quest for a raison d’être is being hijacked by populist movements selling a past that never was. Populism, either fascist or communist, is attracting audiences – from elder voters to first time voters – because they are selling a ‘mission,’ a purpose to reconstruct a past that never was. Unfortunately, these populisms have no serious political, foreign, economic, fiscal, educational agendas. These populisms are simply selling smoke.

Instead of talking of clash of civilization – in order to identify a mythical clash between Western societies and radical islamic movements, which do not speak for societies with a majority of muslim citizens – experts should be talking of a civilizational depression. Instead of seeking for external enemies, Europeans should be looking within, inside and reflect of this European state of confusion. Europe may be simply dealing with its mid-life crisis. Now it is a matter of avoiding a complete divorce with a supposedly dark and repressive past, the European integration process.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

A book review – Une jeunesse européenne by Guillaume Klossa

BR_Klossa-COVER

What does that mean to be European? What is a European? Is there such thing as a young European? What does the future of the European Union (EU) look like? In his recently published thoughtful book, Une jeunesse européenne from the Editions Grasset (2014), Guillaume Klossa, speaking in the first person, reflects about growing up European, his life as a European citizen and Europeanist.

Klossa is the founder of the excellent pro-Europe French think-thank EuropaNova. As he explains in his book, the idea of the think-thank emerged after the 2002 French Presidential elections bringing the extreme-right wing party, the Front National, at the forefront of French politics. Clearly, French and European politics have never been the same since the turn of the new century. The most recent elections for the European Parliament demonstrate the rise of populism and extremism throughout the Union. Europe is facing a serious malaise.

This little book is refreshing in its tone, structure, arguments, and ideas as Klossa clearly demonstrates the deep connection between the European experiment and European lives. Traveling throughout the Union, the message tends to be, ‘what has Europe done for me?’ Well, Guillaume Klossa puts succinctly and clearly what Europe has done for him, and ultimately for all of us. Yes, the European experiment can be a little far, complex, and blurry. But, the integration process of a group of Member States starting in the aftermath of World War two has certainly been one of the most fascinating human and political endeavors in the history of humanity. Sixty years later, the Union is a success story. For instance, war has not occurred among European Great Powers – it is necessary to underscore the vicious wars in the Balkans during the 1990s – and each Member of the Union has greatly benefitted from it despite the growing euroskeptic domestic narratives. Certainly the 2007 global crisis causing, by snowball effect, the Eurozone crisis has led to a severe criticism of the Union. But are the Eurozone and Union imperfections caused by the Union or by its Member States? Klossa discusses this question in his book and work produced by EuropaNova.

A recurring theme appears in Klossa’s narrative about the concept of the future and the power of our generations – meaning the ones after the Baby-Boomer raised in the 70s, 80s, and 90s – to take action, and shape our own future. Naturally, the future ought to include a reformed and rethought European Union. Klossa wonders about why our generation has not done more. He asks if a revolution would have been necessary (p. 181) and answers maybe. But he claims that it may have not been possible because our generation is too “well-raised, too polite, and always waiting for the next elections hoping that the new leaders reorient a more ambitious and creative direction” (p. 181). Klossa is right on.

This argument of generational politics has become an important theme in studying the shaping of politics in the Euro-Atlantic community and explaining why the US has a more isolationist foreign policy and Europe has a high level of abstentionism among European youth. For instance, Paul Taylor of the excellent American polling center, Pew Research Center, recently published a book, The Next Americalooking at the Millennials in order to understand the future of America (see a more in-depth analysis on the The Next America). Based on the book and politics, one can understand the rising lack of interests in politics in the US. But is the same phenomenon occurring in Europe? I would tend to argue yes, and Klossa demonstrates in some ways how our generation can deal with its current challenges: high unemployment, lack of upward mobility, decline of the welfare state and so on.

201326_chomage_jeune_europe

How do the youth of Europe become a European youth? Through the creation of a European culture – which already exists – and through its perpetual deepening and understanding. One of the greatest European policies has been the Erasmus program (here is the official webpage), an exchange program for European university students established in 1987. As argued by Klossa, Erasmus has permitted to develop empathy, mutual understanding, and

Source: European Commission. 2014
Source: European Commission. 2014

adaptation (p. 129). These factors developed through Erasmus has certainly contributed to the fostering of a European youth, a European identity. Erasmus has made the EU a reality.

This reflective book may have one core problem: the narrator and the Europeans selected and described throughout the book are all extremely well-educated. Guillaume Klossa figures as one of the top scholars and experts in France on the European Union. His family heritage, his education and his social networks (chapter 3) demonstrates a deep sense of Europeanness and understanding of his democratic heritage. His ‘true’ European youth through his voyages, education and experiences have most likely deepened his degree of Europeanness. What about the rest? What about the lower European classes and their children? The point is not about expressing jealousy, but rather a reflection on the class of Europeans being able to experience such sense of Europeanness. I can certainly relate to Guillaume Klossa having studied in France and the United States and getting to know and appreciate my European heritage, while abroad.

Ultimately, one can wonder about one central question in order to reflect on the future of the EU: Is the European project an elitist experiment? With the recent rise of populism, extremisms and regionalism throughout the Union it seems that the pro-Europeans may belong to this sort of European intelligentsia, while the pro-state to a lower socio-economic class. Klossa’s argument on having our generation in shaping our future is very important, but it needs to include a common narrative, common vision allowing to encompass all Europeans. Historically, the development of the EU has been from a top-down approach, the EU of tomorrow needs to inverse this recurring trend.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).