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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Do the Europeans need a new elation for Europe? Rising EU scepticism

Greece almost dead, Spain on a continuous decline, increasing anti-EU tendencies all over Europe. The German weekly news magazine “Spiegel” recently published a list of “Europe’s most dangerous politicians”, with high ranked European personalities from different member states either attacking one of the crisis states, the Euro, or the EU as a whole; not lacking aggressive rhetoric and polemic statements which are close to xenophobia.

While German Markus Söder (State Finance Secretary of the Federal State of Bavaria) is eager to throw Greece out of the Euro-Zone in order to make an example, to scare off the other crisis states to go down the same road as Greece has been doing for years and forcing them to adopt the austerity programmes by the EU and the IMF. In the meantime, Greek Alexis Tsipras of the leftist Syriza Party rejects any on-going negotiations with the Troika, specifically firing at Germany as the what he says “main cause” for Greece’s crash. But it is above all notorious and reckless EU-basher Nigel Farage from the UK Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament, who does not miss any opportunity to use the plenary sessions of the European Parliament for his personal attacks either against blame the European Commission, Germany, France, or any other policy making institution of the EU as a “fascist construct” to control all of Europe and its citizens.

These are just a few names representing the increasing group of EU sceptics. In the view of an imminent failure of the monetary union, EU sceptics regard this as an obvious proof for a future collapse of the European Union as an institutional construct as a whole. The general public blames the lack of transparency of centralized EU regulations and their decision making processes, the apparently greedy Eurocrats earning high salaries while the general wages and salaries are on the decline, and the economic downturn for which the Euro is being blamed for, leading to an overall distrust of the European population against the EU – even despite its integration successes. Because of the repeatedly stated accusation that the European Union is a non-democratic construct, the voices for a Europe wide plebiscite regarding a highly discussed political union are getting louder. Even the German government is now seriously considering a referendum in Germany about the future of Europe.

It is currently en vogue to blame the EU and above all the Euro for all economic misery spreading on the continent. The question is: will Europe’s decline be accelerated through the public distrust? And how can politics, society, and economy rekindle the Europeans’ enthusiasm for Europe?

Evidently, mass media is having a significant contribution to the anti-EU tendencies through a distorted coverage of EU policies. They were showing a presumably empty plenary in Strasbourg or Brussels, MEPs signing in for plenary or committee sessions to receive further session payments – without actually attending them, a blurred correspondence about EU decisions and regulations made on the European level and implemented to the national level, and the obvious inability of European policy makers to control the scale of the economic crisis. This disturbed image makes it hardly possible to win a broad public support for a European identity and a common feeling that the EU did more for the overall benefit of the modern European society than any political and economic system before, especially more than on an exclusively national level, as history has proven many times.

One of the main blames from public has to be found, however, in the EU’s administrative and bureaucratic monstrosity, which – even for scholars of European Studies – is hard to comprehend in detail. EU sceptics accuse the EU bureaucratic mechanisms to have lifted national bureaucracies to a level in which it is no longer clear which regulations and directives still have a national or even a regional relevance, and especially how it affects a citizen’s individual life. In individual policy fields such as local administration the European principle of subsidiarity is lacking national, regional, and local support. The citizens are not being sufficiently informed about the European legal framework affecting national, regional, and local legislation, resulting in a general opinion of top down administrative policy implementation from Brussels. Some “evil voices” might even state that Europe has turned into a Brussel-Eurocrats controlled “dictatorship” as they are intellectually not capable or willing to comprehend the complexity of a Europe wide legal and political framework leading to provisions that are applicable in all EU member states. The mass media controlled general public replies to this complexity with a notorious “we don’t understand it, so we oppose it” attitude. In the long-term, this attitude leads to a “don’t bother me with that” mentality and an overall Europe apathy and accepted ignorance.

This approach leads to a severe withdrawal of general public support, not only from the European institutions, but from Europe as a whole. A European Union that cannot longer rely on a general public support will lack democratic legitimacy, which in fact is already suffering from a plunging public bias, not only through the already low European election turnouts. The European institutions and the national governments will have to address this rising “EU fatigue” by pointing out the overall achievements despite the economic crisis. The citizens have to be made aware of their consequences of continuous disenchantment for European politics and they have to be re-involved in active European affairs. The recent plans of national governments to involve the European citizens in a referendum about the future of the Euro as the common currency has the potential to rekindle European awareness in public, but it could also backfire. If the turnout at a referendum remains at such a low level as for European parliamentary elections, the entire democratic legitimacy of the European integration project will be questioned. However, even if the turnout is high, the result could be just as severe as non-participation, assuming that the people vote against the Euro and in favour of a break-up of the Euro-Zone. In both cases the political elite will have to decide whether the referendum is politically and legally binding or not.

Maybe it is redundant to paraphrase former US President John F. Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask not what Europe can do for you, ask what you can do for Europe!” Turning the backs to Europe means that all the integration successes of the past decades will be wasted in vain. But above all, a failure of the Euro and the EU will mean that the clocks of history will be turned backwards, to a time without a common currency, without generally applicable consumer protection laws, without the chance to live, study, and work in another European country without extra permissions, and with border controls which will set an end to free travel inside Europe. Everyone criticising Europe and its overall structures and successes for a peaceful reconciliation of the European continent will have to ask himself, if he really wants to turn back the wheels of time and ditch all the freedoms and liberties he has been taking for granted for the past decades. If you do so, you are very well advised to rethink your decision one more time. Everyone rejecting the European idea is free to leave the system.

In the end, it is our choice. And no matter how the result might look like, we will have to take all the resulting consequences. We will have to pay a high price, for sure. But it will be much higher if we decide to set and end to Europe.

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