6 July 2012
It is the indispensable elementary particle, the one that explains why the universe exists and why the elements of which it is comprised have a consistency. Without it, there can be no comprehensible grand design. The only problem is that for the moment it exists only in theory. Long and expensive experiments, involving the relentless manipulation of matter with complementary and often opposing charges, have been undertaken in the hope of finding this particle. Some have worried that if these forces collide either with each other or an unexpected obstacle, not only will the resulting explosion ruin the experiment but it might also blow up the laboratory. However, if we remain unable to demonstrate the existence of this particle, our universe will appear increasingly artificial to the point where it runs the risk of collapsing. Without the boson of Europe, the particle of shared appartenance, the European project will ultimately turn out to be nothing more than a political model that is inapplicable in the long term. Whereas science has made decisive progress with the almost certain discovery of the Higgs boson, the divergent reactions currently produced by the European Union’s political accelerator continue to disappoint. This week, the European parliament rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) – a decision that highlights the opposition between two major forces in the European universe: the parliament voted against the position adopted by the European Commission which supported the treaty. But it was a decision hailed as a step forward for democracy, because the agreement had been actively contested by Europe’s citizens. A few days earlier, the eurozone leaders’ decision to approve the growth pact and remain on course for a banking union resulted in a surge of centripetal force in the European universe. However, at the same time Denmark announced that it would be happy with a two-speed Europe – a position that will no doubt appeal to a growing minority of German MPs who are opposed to more flexible conditions for aid to countries and banks in difficulty. Under pressure from conservative party backbenchers, the British Prime Minister was forced to reopen the debate on the issue of a referendum on European Union membership, at a time when Britain’s future presence in the EU appears to be increasingly in doubt. And the Finnish Minister of Finance announced that his country would rather leave the euro than pay other countries’ debts. In the meantime, Cypriot head of state Dimitris Christofias inaugurated his country’s EU presidency by expressing his gratitude to Russia, which may offer less strict terms than the EU for financial aid. This chaotic universe, in which political games along with concerns over the inconvenient implications of financial solidarity have created additional turbulence, could still be marked by the discovery of a boson of Europe that would enable us to construct a European project that is prosperous, democratic and above all stable. But for this to happen our leaders will have demonstrate an unprecedented level of wisdom.