European Union: Back to the nation
8 June 2011
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The European Union was the best thing that could have happened to the continent. But over the years it has grown into a demon, uncontrollable and impossible to throw out of office. To avoid collapse, there is only one road open: back to the nation. And back to democracy. Excerpts.
The European Union is the best thing that could have happened to the continent since the fall of the Roman Empire. For the jostling nations of the West to reach a state where they could no longer wage war on each other first required total catastrophe. After 1945, no sane European could go on seeking his salvation in nationalism. The ideal of a Europe united was simple: by gradually intertwining national economies, every motive for going to war – indeed, the sheer logistics of such an effort – would render war impossible. Who would lay waste to his own factories and fields?
That dream has come true. The continent is administratively and legally the strongest economic area in the world. It suffers no internal conflicts, mass poverty or dictatorships. And now? Europe has reached the end. The common currency is crashing, inflated into monetary waste paper by a handful of desperate bankers and business leaders pumping out emergency credits. In immigration, the EU is leaving desperate masses to play roulette with death on leaky sloops in the Mediterranean. And as the Near East rises up for freedom, every European country is fighting its own colonial war – or discreetly looking away.
Italian vegetable farmers are getting a drastic lesson in what the Common Market means today: lethal bacteria in Hamburg keep Italian crops out of Russian markets. France relies on nuclear power plants on the border with Germany, while the Germans prefer to hammer up windmills. The Danes are putting up new facilities too, inside the Schengen zone, for fresh border personnel, since everything bad now comes from beyond Denmark’s – not Europe’s – borders. And who wants to explain to a Slovak factory worker that his pension has been wiped out because those Greek balance-book fraudsters want to go on basking in the sun from the age of 53?
Europe a phenomenon of “post-democracy"
Is it any wonder that a tough political stance towards the EU is rewarded with twenty percent of the vote? Actually, what is truly puzzling is that the Finish-It-Now faction remains so small. The fact that Europe is still accepted rests solely on former glories. With its growing regulatory system that has imperceptibly woven together all the Member States, the EU has crept in through the back door. At first it was all about steel and the scrap metal left over from the war. Then came an agreement on coal production. Then, on the production of power. Then to agriculture. Then to customs duties. Then the judiciary. Then to border controls. Then to the common currency. And now – everything is in the EU portfolio. No citizen has ever been asked what he thinks about that.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger has not picked on Europe – the “gentle monster Brussels” – as his current bogeyman by accident. Enzensberger has no argument against the civilising achievements of the EU, but rather identifies the bureaucratic headquarters of the Union in Brussels as the culprit that threatens, with its mania for centralisation and regulation, to turn the continent into a “correctional institution”. Enzensberger relishes breaking a taboo when, as a beneficiary of the peace generation, he tackles the EU head-on. Will he line up with Wilder, Kaczynski, Le Pen and suchlike? Of course not. The “right-wing populism” that is always discussed by the media as if it were a cancerous growth is, in essence, nothing more than a half-baked, xenophobic ideology that has only a single solid core of growth: nationalism. European voters are instinctively streaming en masse back to the old order simply because the new is working out so terribly badly.
Here lies the heart of the problem. Europe is, as Enzensberger calls it, a phenomenon of “post-democracy.” In most member countries there was such a dearth of alternatives to the project that the EEC, Schengen and the euro were never voted on. Such was the welcome prosperity thanks to open markets and structural support that even nations that think highly of themselves, like Hungary and Poland, delegated their freshly acquired sovereignty to Brussels without demur.
In any event, the euro will collapse
Even if good will were there among the political classes, the pan-European junket could never have worked, because something key is missing: Europe has no common public. The EU proves that democracy can never succeed without a common discourse. The supranational European Parliament, which in any case has hardly anything to say, is appointed in national elections. But the nightly news, the political leaders, the cultures of debate and the traditions remain purely national. Because of this, left and right majorities regularly vote against all incumbent parties when it comes to greater Europe. Here the majority of the polyglot and internationally networked elite simply holds no sway.
Europe must therefore be cut back to what Europeans still understand, to some extent, and can then weigh up at the ballot box. This Europe will not be the lobbying and compromise factory of Brussels, where eighty percent of our laws are cobbled together today. It will be rather, purely and solely, a Europe of democratic nations.
Europe will only be served well when the rumbling and jolting stop on the over-engineered machinery of the EU. All decision-making must go back to being democratic – and that at national, regional and local levels. The encroachments must end. In any event, the euro will collapse.
There is, incidentally, one state that has already wrapped up its national phase and given itself over wholly to the EU. By no accident, it is the most European of all the states: Belgium. There, democracy has gently wafted away in the corruption and nepotism of regional interests. A government will still be appointed, but there really is no government any more. Bureaucrats steer business along on the EU leash without major disruptions. The sovereignty of the people and politics per se are gone.
If that is not to be our fate, there is only one road ahead for Europe: back to the nation. Back to democracy.
Translated from the German by Anton Baer