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March 24, 2023

Future of the EU as seen by the citizens

The genuine financial tsunami Europe is going through today, which questions the existence of not just the euro-zone, but of the EU entirely, could have only galvanised the response of the European public. They are increasingly concerned about what’s going on, want to identify the causes of this unprecedented crisis and voice opinions on how the EU will need to be reorganised in the future.

Of course, decision-making powers in coping with this tsunami, as well as in securing a future for the EU, belong to politicians and, at a broader scale, to the European elite. Politicians seem to always be in the limelight, but the representatives of the elite have also engaged in this continental mobilisation to give the most appropriate answers to the current crisis. Here are two examples. Well known German philosopher Jurgen Habermas was stating that, under the current circumstances, European citizens have been reduced to the status of spectators of the crisis, saying that states do not have the right to speak for them, because they represent ‘the biotope of old Europe’.

In a Paris conference this month he reiterated his creed: Europe is ‘a project for civilization that must not be allowed to fail, and why the <global community> is not only feasible, but also necessary to reconcile democracy with capitalism.’

The second example comes from reputed British historian Timothy Garton Ash, who was saying in a recent interview that the origin of the crisis ‘is that the big engines of the European project are no longer running. I’m talking about the passionately engaged politicians with their personal memories of the war, the occupation, the dictatorship, the Holocaust and the Soviet threat. That’s why they promoted the project.’ And he continues: ‘Germany was a major engine of the European unification process for 40 years, but it isn’t anymore.’ He actually says that Germany is the indispensable engine of the united European construction. So what are the citizens of Europe saying? To find out that, even if with missing spots, in a fragmented way and without claiming to speak generally, we have chosen to highlight a few of the opinions expressed in the comments posted on the forum of a The Economist feature, with a significant headline: ‘The Future of Europe. Two-speed Europe, or two Europes?’ The theme of the feature reveals that, among politicians, especially those with an important voice in the construction and leadership of the EU, there is already a scenario for rebuilding it as a ‘hard core’ overlapping with the euro-zone and ‘the rest’, which of course equals a North-South division line or, even more concerning, a split between rich Europe and poor Europe. In fact, the author insists on the relevant proposal pushed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in an interview at the beginning of the month.

We have chosen the comments selected by the topic moderator as ‘readers’ most recommended’. Although a majority of the authors of the almost 1,400 posts are British, there are also opinions from continental Europe and North America, as well as from other Anglo-Saxon countries.

It has to be noted how comforting it is for one to see how aware readers are of the serious situation of the continent these days. They debate the genesis of the crisis and its priority reasons, speculate on how old the idea of a ‘two-speed’ Europe is or even its validity, they pull each other’s leg – Brits and Germans, but they all demonstrate a remarkable awareness and feel the urgency of identifying a solution. The solutions are Germany’s leaving the euro-zone, the elimination of problem-countries, a relaxation of the European Central Bank’s inflation policies, higher austerity, relaxation of austerity, the issuance of a European bond to come out of the sovereign debt crisis or the setting up of an ‘isolated club’ of Northern states and the UK as a counterweight to the euro-zone, functioning as Europe’s hard core, etc. While some oppose the ‘two-speed’ Europe idea either because the ‘hard core’ would become much to etatistic – see the French model – or because it would be dominated by Germany, other consider ‘a third Europe’.

It is simply surprising how many commentators see in the euro crisis a sign of German competitiveness. One states: ‘The problem with the euro has always, fundamentally, been German competitiveness. In a sense, Germany is like a champion mountain climber who has chosen to climb Everest with a group of middle-aged insurance salesmen. Italy, France and Spain might have insisted they were up to it, but it was inevitable that trying to keep up with Germany would lead to a heart attack.’ On the other hand, there are other who think the opposite – that Germany is now trying to discipline continental economy and the continent as such for its own benefit.

There are also views blaming the US and, most of all, Great Britain, for the current euro crisis – most invoke toxic financial engineering – which shows a certain amount of trans-Atlantic tension that should be considered. One of the readers goes as far as to say that ‘we can reproach many things to the Brits, but they would never kill the chicken that bring them eggs, in another word, the Brits like to make business with solvent clients, and they would never reduce these clients to be so insolvent that they wouldn’t be able to trade with them anymore.’

Opinions are therefore much varied. However, the encouraging general sign is that a common, supranational conscience is being consolidated at the level of ‘Europe’s biotope’. Another important fact is that the debate is dotted with incriminations heavy with stereotypes of the past, which left a tragic mark on the history of the 20th century, such as the chimera of German hegemony or the malversation of the ‘perfidious Albion’. But the most refreshing thing is that the European citizens do not doubt that the EU will come out of the crisis one way or another.

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