Tuesday, April 8, 2014

European unity


People sometimes ask me about my views on Europe and the EU. I don’t have any specific expertise in this field, e.g. I understand nothing of the ongoing discussion of the “Eurobonds”. But I know something of international relations, and understand that we cannot seriously go back to the confinement to small states which Europe was conceived to liberate us from.  I will briefly state where I stand.

Flemings of my generations were Europe-minded as a matter of course, and I still feel that way. One reason is that we don’t have a nation-state to exchange for a European identity. “Belgian” is only a passport identity, there is no such thing as a Belgian nation. Therefore, in supporting European integration, we are not losing or even compromising a nation-state; we never had one. When I hear the Dutch philosopher Thierry Baudet argue for Dutch sovereignty and against the projected European identity, I hear someone speak from a confident sense of nationality, which I realize we have never had.

Another reason is that the European level counts internationally. For us, being from a small country, Europe is the only way to feel big. Maybe the French don’t need Europe to take themselves seriously, or at least they still have the historical memory of greatness, so they know what it feels to be something else than European. But for us, being European is the highest concrete political identity we aspire to.

In today’s and tomorrow’s world, size matters. One day we may have global unity, but during my lifetime, it will be alright if we can already manage continental unity. When we have to deal with giants like India or China, we do have to speak from a sufficiently large platform rather than from a small Dutch or Portuguese or Latvian position.

So much for my general sympathies: I am all for European unity. My study of India’s struggle for its own unity and integrity confirms the importance of a sense of unity over and above the sense of local specificity.

As for the euro currency: I am all for a common currency, which is very practical for borderers (and in Belgium, you’re always near a border) and travellers. Moreover, for Flemish autonomy, it takes away one of the worst hurdles: a Belgian currency would always be used as a blackmail instrument against the plan to break up Belgium. It is always said that the Belgian level will erode between the Flemish and European levels, but we see no such thing happening. In the case of the currency, however, it does. That is one reason to oppose these left- and right-wing radicals who oppose the common currency. However, a common currency requires a common economic policy. That is why I support further political and economic unity.

The problem is the EU’s reach and structure, not the abstract geographical entity Europe (of which democratic Switzerland and Iceland and prosperous Norway are parts, even though they reject EU membership). It is obvious that the EU badly needs to be democratized. The EU has just condemned the Swiss referendum resulting in a majority for limiting immigration, as well as the Crimean referendum yielding an immense majority for accession to Russia. It ignored and overruled the 2005 French and Dutch referendum results rejecting the proposed EU Constitution, which was reintroduced as the Lisbon Treaty. It made the Irish vote again until their referendum yielded the “right” majority, thus making a mockery of people’s sovereignty. As for representative democracy, the European Parliament is not really representative and does not have the power to bring down the effective EU government, called the European Commission.

So, the EU institutions have to be restructured to create a democratic and transparent power hierarchy, and provision must be made for a binding referendum at citizen’s initiative. Many competences in the cultural and social fields should be de-europeanized and given back to the member states, the European level should simply not deal with them.

On the other hand, the EU should speak with one voice on the world stage. Foreign policy and defence competences should be delegated by the states upwards to the European level. A European army should be created, not because we are eager to make war on anyone, but to give credibility to the EU’s diplomacy.

The present situation is neither here nor there. It is very confused and has its priorities backwards. We need to have less EU involvement with quota for butter or so, and more with the serious business of international relations. So, there is a lot of work to do in order to make Europe a fatherland we can love. But this is no reason to back off from the original plan to unite the European countries. I am not a Eurosceptic.

Since Europe is not a very deep concern, I will appeal to a very light kind of authority here.  As Toto Cotugno, the 1990 Eurosong winner from Italy, sang: “Insieme: unite, unite, Europe!”


Unknown said...

Perhaps, Dr. Elst while on this topic you could also share your views on two points: - what mainland europeans feel about the British and the european institutions' handling of the growing threat of Islam in Europe...

ysv_rao said...

How a smart, knowledgable, mature,wise and insightful individual like Dr Elst CANT be a Euroskeptic is a mystery to me!

Im afraid in this instance Dr Elst has allowed Maya of Mohini(the beauteous illusion of sentimental pan Europeanism to justify his Belgian identity) to overcome his dhyana(all adjectives in first para)