European Union – it is priceless. But something needs to change.
The greatest value in the European Union lies in its ability to change people’s standpoints. It is the people, not states or institutions who negotiate treaties, decisions and solutions. Cooperation takes place of competition. Compromise, dialogue and understanding push out the politics of pressure, threats and blackmail. Of course, it is not possible to attain the ideal in 100%, however, the very pursuit of this ideal is an achievement in its own merit, particularly if we consider the violent history of our continent. Let’s look for a moment at the EU as a peculiar organisation, the organisation of states. In a way, the founders of the European Union made an attempt to build constructive organisational culture. In other words, together we undertook common effort to become ‘civilised’.
To become ‘civilised’. Indeed. This is a point worth noting. We very often hear, particularly in the anti-immigration rhetoric, the motif of the ‘European civilisation’. Obviously, in contrast with the Arabic or Islamic civilisation. In his excellent article called ‘There is no such thing as Western Civilisation’ in The Guardian , Kwame Anthony Appiah proved how historical and political interdependencies rather, shape together one civilizational circle (not to confuse with the cultural circle) based on its characteristic dichotomy. I would like to point out here that all these splendid European values often referred to, particularly by the extreme right and considered as civilizational superiority, are rather a fresh product of the European Union. Let’s be honest, our now peaceful part of the continent, was once soaked in the sea of blood.
European Union therefore fulfils its fundamental purpose. It, so far, has effectively protected us from the war, keeping a firm grip on the naturally antagonistic humans, transforming ‘differences’ into values, crisis into opportunity. We now ‘ bicker’ about the form of cooperation, once we dropped bombs on one another. Obviously, we want more. As a result, peace, which we treat as something given to us for good, ceased to fully satisfy everyone. This is the question of expectations. Expectations and as I said before, appetite.
In addition, some have conveniently forgotten that the European Union is here for the first time. Unless, we assume that the League of the Nations set up after the WW1 was its ideological prototype. As history shows, rather a feeble one.
As we know, the process of making new entities (political, social or other) is often linked with a string of mistakes and even failures. Thus, assuming that the European Union is a process, not a constant (exactly like democracy), it is normal that in so rapidly changing a world, it has to be adjusted and be re-defined again.
Another thing worth noting is the fact that conflicts and crises are normal. They have happened and always will. Presently, the most serious and the most dangerous appears to be immigration crisis. ‘Appears to’, doesn’t mean that it is so in reality. Perception imposed on the society by the media, shows selected subjects in a selective way, this influences what people consider to be key, decisive and important. Who knows? Maybe this is globalisation, multilateralism and neoliberalism which make the actual conflicts and crises rather than ‘multiculturalism’. Unfortunately the former, don’t have ‘colours’, therefore it is more difficult to imagine (intentional sarcasm).
European Union requires reforms, or better still, it requires re-defining. In a sense, it requires democratisation, being closer to the citizen. Let’s call it, for the sake of this text – ‘citizen-isation’. This does not have to be the reverse of cooperation and disintegration. The changes do not necessarily relate to the conflict over control and competencies of the state versus EU institutions. The society can be given authority at the citizen’s level, for example, by introducing even broader consultations with the civic organisations and more serious acknowledgement of their opinions in decision making process at the EU. To all the EU critics, who see the EU as a monolith too far removed from its citizens (opinion with which I agree), this idea should be satisfying. We often use, the argument, particularly in a populist form, ‘elites distanced from reality’, this is not entirely untrue. As a social activist, in my recent years of work, also with the representatives of the European Union institutions, I had an opportunity to personally experience that sense of the ‘glass ceiling’. It is difficult to state firmly that this sense of isolation among certain social groups stems from the way that the European Union is structured or from the construction of ‘liberal democracies’, which still have a problem with unequal distribution of wealth, opportunities, rights and also access to accurate information. The following is the question about the question worth asking: is this a problem of liberal democracy or is it also a fact of its potential transformation to the ‘neoliberal democracy’?
In the neoliberal socio-economic relations, a person becomes subordinate to economy. Material gain is the dominant value and the winners take it all. How is it possible then, to place the fundamentals such as human dignity and human rights in the centre of attention in the system that exacts something different, likewise opposite?
In the context of the world furiously fast and dense (in communication, transmission and interaction), it seems essential to work out a constructive (not necessarily positive!) and realistic look at the European Union. The basis for this approach would be the continuation of the intention to shape human viewpoints, this was the proposition we commonly agreed on in the European Union framework. This basis so far, kept a lid on the human nature and protected us from brotherly fight for domination, at least ‘at home’. On the other hand, however, one should actively seek places where the EU could potentially deepen (albeit unwittingly) structural inequalities and to provide in such places better distribution of opportunities, communication or even ‘awareness’.
In a complex reality of informational chaos, it is essential to provide the individual with the sense of security as this, in turn, is related to how one understands the world one lives in.
photo: Tomáš Lacika, European Youth Event, European Youth Media Days , 2014