Europe has a history of being defined by what it has achieved in the decades of its institutionalised existence. It has ensured peace, reintegrated the Federal Republic of Germany into the arms of Western nations, and made friends out of former enemies. By offering a democratic and free alternative to the inhabitants of the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe it has contributed to establishing stable democracies throughout Europe and well into the East. The European idea of individual freedom, democracy, and peace continues to act as incentive to the peoples of the Balkans even now, in Europe’s most difficult times since World War II and the birth of what we call the European Union.
This manifestation of Europe nonetheless has to live with criticism of how it works, or more precisely how it does not seem to work smoothly. Most of all, the Union is confronted with the justified charge of not being democratically legitimated. Now, this can actually be translated into more positive language and this language in turn is at the core of why I, personally, believe in Europe, or to be more precise, the European ideal. Even in its most critical time of life, Europe and its faults encourage all of us to talk about democracy, what it entails and how it can work. It forces us to consider ways of living together and ensuring that this can be done safely and in freedom in the future. In times like ours, Europe ensures that no-one forgets what it is all about. We want to secure our individual rights, our collective rights, our region’s or nation’s cultural peculiarities and at the same time live contented in the knowledge that there is something out there that protects all of this. Those who say ‘put an end to the union’ do so on the grounds of the democratic deficit and national sovereignty. While it can be argued that such a thing as national sovereignty in Europe does not exist anymore, not even for Germany and far less so for the countries of Southern Europe, even these critics are forced to talk and think about democracy when presenting their arguments. On the other hand, those who believe in Europe and simultaneously propose reforms argue with Europe’s proven record of achieving more democracy on the fringes of Europe and of peacekeeping. When these consider necessary reforms, they invariably end up at some stage in their deliberations to talk about democracy, the right to vote, the Parliament of the Union and so on. In short, both critics and supporters talk about democracy and how it can be promoted.
It is very understandable that people all over Europe fear that the European Union will lead to regional and national sell-outs of culture and history. But this is not what the European idea is about, and this is also what I hope critics of the Union can come to understand. A strong Europe will be able to ensure regional diversity. In times of Globalization, we all seek for security within structures we know and mostly this leads us to organize ourselves in smaller rather than larger entities. This in turn leads and has lead to a resurgent regionalism. This is no bad thing. Smaller units are easier to govern democratically and in the interest of those living and working there. But if Europeans believe they want to influence the world for the better and at least want to lighten the burden on the people of more repressive and poorer countries and if they want to make sure their regions survive global competition, they need an overarching structure to do exactly that – to channel all the regions’ resources and strengths to protect them while at the same time lending their collective weight to the promotion of a minimum of democracy and individual freedoms.
So there are two core themes to my love of Europe – and they coincide with justified criticism of the European Union, but turn them into positive rather than negative thoughts: It protects rather than hinders regional and individual cultural freedom and diversity while at the same time enabling us all to get in touch with each other without hindrance. And it forces us to consider how democracy can work, how we can live together in peace and prosperity and simultaneously give us the opportunity to channel our strength into promoting these ideas worldwide.
Image “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” courtesy of the Senate of Berlin via antaldaniel on Flickr, released under creative commons 2.0 attribution.