The European Union is in trouble. And I’m not talking about the economy or euro now… The trouble goes deeper than that. The idealistic project sketched in the post WW2 years with great visions had slowly and little by little started taking the shape of a political union. However, despite more than half-a-century of inching closer and closer, it becomes more and more obvious that Europe is not yet ready for such experimenting. When things go tough, you play for your own (national) team anyway. As a commentary in the International Herald Tribune accurately noted, “to save the EU, Europe must believe in it”. That does not seem to be the case.

Angela Merkel started openly calling not only for a multi-speed Europe but she also mentioned the need for a genuine public European identity. The latter has been one of the main problems with the EU for at least the last twenty years. There is no more “permissive consensus” that European citizens had given to their political leaders in the fresh post-war years when the European idea had been born. While now the people themselves want to be and need to be part of the process – somehow the democratization of the EU through direct elections to the European Parliament or referenda failed to bring Europe closer to its citizens. The statesmen of EU member states are not sharing a common vision and their electorate feels neither European, nor understands the benefits of further integration. The image of the EU has been continuously suffering. As the Eurobarometer surveys show, the trend is clear: the EU conjures up an increasingly negative image, the trust in European institutions is waning. No need to talk about a declined level of optimism about prospects for the future.

With euroscepticism on the rise, the gap between the Brussels elites and the citizens does not get any narrower and under the current circumstances, feels even more difficult to overcome, as the communication with the citizens from the EU remains largely an ineffective rhetorical exercise. Eurosceptic political parties are getting points, to detest the EU is becoming more and more modern.

I am progressively going through a transformation from an EU-enthusiast, over to an EU-indifferent, not even Eurosceptic! Barring a miracle coming from above, the EU project might be killed from below.

Comments

dejan's picture
dejan
It seems to be me that a lot of Euroscepticism is coming from national political class representatives (countries in extreme economic distress might be an exception), amplified by media; bad news is always good news, after all. I would really like to know how young people (say 15-25) see the idea of Europe and European identity, which could be important if EU survives a few more years. When I come across groups of young backpackers on their way to the hostel next door, speaking and laughing in several European languages simultaneously, I'd like to believe that they have a better vision of their future than the current mainstream media. But then I could be wrong, and these modern day seasonal nomads could be a minority and an exception to the rule. Has there been any recent credible research on this topic?
Tereza Horejsova's picture
Tereza Horejsova
Dear Dejan, thanks for your comment. Raising the question of how young people view European integration is very important (and the Commission focusses on a lot on the youth). Do the young people feel common European identity? How can we promote it? Would it make sense to introduce citizenship studies in the curriculum and deal with the EU in this context? According to Eurobarometer surveys, what you mentioned in your comment is actually the main meaning of the EU for young Europeans (the freedom to travel and work anywhere..) I definitely agree that national political elites play a role, just look at some quotes of the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus (see his latest speech at http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/3116) and how he deforms the Czech debate on the EU. As for research - do you mean research on Euroscepticism in general? There has been a lot in the last two decades in particular. But still a lot needs to be researched to understand the features on public Euroscepticism and trying to understand why is it so hard to love the EU.
Mary's picture
Mary
Recent 'leaked' recordings here in Budapest show a government minister talking to trade union reps about closing down some train lines and 'holding' the closure until the next round of talks with the IMF so that they can lay it all at their door. 'Not our fault - blame the IMF'. The EU and the IMF have become synonymous - joint scapegoats for the country's woes. In Ireland, with the passing of the recent referendum on the austerity agreement, the mood is one of resignation. What choice do we have... we have so much invested in the EU at this stage, there's no turning back. Am not sure either country's emotions towards the EU will return to the glory days of positivity any time soon.
Tereza Horejsova's picture
Tereza Horejsova
Mary, that is an interesting observation. I mean when the EU is viewed as a "giver" only and a scapegoat, it is scary. So much damage has been done to the European project that I share your careful pessimism on returning to viewing it positively in the near future. It is sad, though. Increasing the positive image of the EU and communicating it properly would help.
Jovan Kurbalija's picture
Jovan Kurbalija
Your evolution from EU-enthusiast to EU-indifferent (not yet Eurosceptic) worries me. Thank you for an excellent post stressing the importance of emotions in politics. Trust and believe in vision can make miracles. Sometimes a bit of utopia could be useful as well. I do not know if and how we will "re-fill" this fast depleting reservoir of positive emotions. I only know that it will make-or-break European Union.
Tereza Horejsova's picture
Tereza Horejsova
Jovan, the EU will not break but let us see what we make out of it. Will it be a "technical platform" for co-operation or will we have emotions and ideals part of it?

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