by Petre Roman, former prime-minister of Romania
<<Hier entspringt die Donau>>, here the Danube is born, says the plate at the entrance of the Furstenberg park, in Donaueschingen. And another one at the Berg spring pretends to be the
remotest point from the Black Sea at 2888 kilometers. In his splendid book “Danube”, Claudio Magris beautifully sums up: “…I’m asking myself if following (the Danube) all the way to its delta, among diverse people and nations, we will penetrate into an area of bloody combats or else to the heart of an all unitary humanity in spite of its diversity of languages and civilizations.”
The EU challenge is still there: can we do some hard thinking while wielding the mentality of many nations? If there is no cohesiveness of the ideas there couldn’t be cohesiveness of the parts.
These days we are forced to admit that the EU is less than ever a united whole. The real problem is not that within the EU there are now great differences of opinion and stances of the EU member-states governments. The problem consists in the continuation of the business-as-usual formal-format at the high level and summit meetings while deep disagreements remain unresolved and superficially debated.
We continue to believe that a collective Europe is the only alternative to a fragmented and less democratic Europe but no theoretical arguments, no rationale, as powerful as it may be, could prevail if so many Europeans resent the Brussels bureaucracy.
The Brussellophobia is today everywhere because many people across Europe are more and more against the transfer of the decision making from the national field to the opaque institutions of the EU. This fact has been eroding the sense of national self-determination as well as the confidence that the national state can protect its citizens. The democratic assumption that the people’s destiny was in their hands no longer holds. Or, may be as described recently in the NYRB by Mark Lilla, an opinion focused in the past “…(is) disappearing into the formless morass of the European Union”.
The prevailing political psychology in many EU countries constitutes barriers to the further development of a more cohesive Europe.
EU skeptics point to self-serving bureaucrats in Brussels who often seem as if entitled to act in such a way. The Italian prime-minister Mario Renzi reacted strongly against what he called a “teleruled country” [Italia non e un paese telecomandatto]. I think that EU is today affected by three A’s: Aporia, Anomie, Aphasia. Indeed (1) we are confronted with a growing contradiction between Europe as a space of ralliement and Europe as an amalgam of nations. This is aporia as long as we live in this contradiction with a no foreseeable end. (2) The anomie in the sense of a place without law or regulations is certainly not the case in the EU. Rather the opposite is true. But anomie understood as lack of moral standards could be attributed to some crucial situations and decisions within the EU. And (3) aphasia is just the well-known dithering about when urgent decisions have to be taken by the EU leaders.
Initially the EU was an European democratic organization conceived as a set of restrictions-freely self-adopted regulations-in conformity with an European society which is organizing the economic phenomena predominantly within an economic competitive order.
When Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann presented to the public – the 9th of May 1950 – the Community of Coal and Steel it was stated that “the proposed organization takes the opposite course of a cartel1…The objective of a cartel is to maintain high and stable profits and the conservation of acquired positions…The objective of the proposed organization is the production and productivity growth through the improving of the methods, the enlargement of the markets and the rationalization of the production.”
The Community aimed at the perfect competition on the market. Although such an aim is idealistic, the EU single market is too often subject to strong monopolistic pressures which undermine national economies especially in the case of Eastern European countries. In Romania, for instance, the TV debates on the former “glory” of the Romanian industries are very popular. Millions of jobs were lost during the transition to the market economy and hundreds of industrial activities disappeared.
As a result more than two million Romanian workers were forced to emigrate – to Italy, Spain, Ireland, England – where they painfully found a better paid work. It is a simple economical fact that among the vanished plants and factories many were obsolete, plagued by low technologies and low productivity. However, some very important and successful former industries also disappeared in the turmoil of the real estate highly speculative transactions. It was a time of an unacceptable wild capitalism. It is primarily the lack of responsibility of the political class which caused such a social fraying and industrial collapse. As prime-minister in the early 90’s I asked the consulting company Mc Kinsey to perform an analysis of the Romanian economy and to outline a strategy of development within the Western market environment. According to this study many of the existing industries needed to be modernized and only a few of them had no future. Where industries providing thousands of jobs were still functioning in the 90’s now there are only supermarkets and malls. Romanians used to be well-educated and skillful but in the last 15 years the jobs offered to the young people require very low qualification and correspondingly they get very low wages. The multinationals companies all over Europe but especially in the Eastern Europe control the market of certain products. The pharmaceuticals or oil companies, for example, are a de facto monopolies and can control the prices on the market. This situation is obviously in sharp contradiction with the EU conceptual and legal framework. I think that within the EU we have an obligation to fathom out how and why this situation is not properly addressed. In that sense we should elaborate an account from a truly European perspective of the factors and events that influenced mostly the creation of the current situation. The nostalgia of many Eastern Europeans for a stronger state can be better understood in the light of the concept defined by the French historian Fernand Braudel in 1976:
“A national economy is a political space transformed by the state – owing to the necessities and inventions of the material life – in a coherent and unified economical space, whose activities may be carried on together in the same direction.”
I would like also to add the opinion expressed by James Buchanan (Nobel prize for economic science) and Gordon Tullock in their work “The Calculus of Consent” (1990): “…if the individual participants to the collective option act in such a way as to promote the <<public good>> rather than their own interests, it seems that there exists little rational support for the multiple expensive and inconvenient2 institutions which characterize the modern democratic process.”
The Brussels institutions are expensive and for many Europeans are also inconvenient. As a result the EU bureaucrats are not seen as accountable and the policies imposed by the EC are not considered to be grounded on the opinion and sentiments of the public. I believe that we can get right decisions by the deep understanding of the people and their traditions.
The collective European personality seems to be caught in between a clear and conscious destiny and another, obscure and unconscious. Sometimes the foundation and the essential reason of the first one seems to be ignored.
Fernand Braudel, again, said that “a vision of the world is only the consequence of the prevailing social tensions…The culture is a device recording those tensions and those efforts.”
Although the EU is not a classical hierarchical system – since its basic principle is the subsidiarity – it is harder and harder to see how the political system can evolve coherently in that direction. Most hierarchical systems tend to become top-heavy, incapable of responding to change. And by now it is quite obvious that the resulting tension cannot be released by diminishing the role and the strength of the nation-states. Alternatively – for instance a strong Brexit type option – will reduce to almost nothing the common European capacity to deal with the global problems.
Let us remember the contemporary mantra “networked problems require a networked response.”
Winston Churchill offered a vision on what could be the sense of united Europe. It was in Strasbourg, the 12th of august 1949: “This first and sacred fidelity we owe to our own country, it is not difficult to reconcile with our wider feeling of European companionship. On the contrary, …everyone will serve at best the real interests and the security of its own country if we greatly enlarge our feeling of both citizenship and common sovereignty…”.
Any decision whose result is the diminishing of the essential holding of the EU in the present circumstances can cause profound and unnecessary damage to the EU legitimacy and its commitment to the values of liberty and human rights: humanism,tolerance,fairness,rule of law.
Sometimes we need a crisis that makes the politically impossible to become possible. And hopefully this is case for the European Union today.
As Einstein put it: “We cannot resolve a problem with the same thought that led us to have to confront it now”
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