Sociologist, local councillor, activist from Malta

Monday, November 28, 2016

Can we still dream of Europe?

(appears as 'Any dreams of Europe?' in Times of Malta 28 November 2016)
Picture by Max Henkell
As if the European Union is not experiencing its own share of crises, Donald Trump’s election as US President is underlining existential questions which have been troubling the European soul in these past recent years.
If Trump stays true to his word on foreign policy and globalisation, the EU has no choice but to alter its transatlantic view, which has been in place since World War II.
Let us keep in mind that Trump has raised questions on Nato’s role in Eastern Europe, has expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin and does not seem much concerned about the catastrophe in Syria.
If Trump does not keep to his word on foreign policy, it is only because he seems to be unpredictable, for better or for worse. We can only wait and see.
Within the EU itself, the spectre of Trump seems to be haunting many electoral campaigns. On December 4, Austria might elect its first far-right President, Norbert Hofer, and on the same day Italy’s Matteo Renzi risks political demise if his proposed constitutional referendum is beaten. His main political adversaries include a mix of populists and far right demagogues, mainly Beppe Grillo of the 5-Star Movement and Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord.
In the near future, Denmark may experience snap elections, to the benefit of the far right People’s Party, and, on March 15, the controversial Geert Wilders may end up kingmaker in the Dutch general election.
The best is yet to come in France and Germany. Marine Le Pen seems increasingly likely to win the first round of French presidential elections next April and might only be kept off power if a grand coalition of other political parties keep her out. Then again, the likely winner, namely the Republican Party, will likely do its utmost to attract voters from Le Pen’s National Front.
Germany will have its general elections on August 27, and once again, the populist right may achieve a historic result through the Alternative for Germany Party. It is highly unlikely that they will be in some governing coalition though and some see Angela Merkel’s decision to contest for the fourth time as a blessing. The more progressive social democrats and greens have less support than Merkel’s Christian Democrats but as things stand at least one of them might well end up in some form of governing coalition.
Do we really want Europe to break apart, to move in a direction of competing nationalisms and populist divisiveness?
Could Merkel be the last (wo)man standing to defend the European dream? Surely, the EU, and Merkel herself, have made their fair share of mistakes in recent years but do we really want Europe to break apart, to move in a direction of competing nationalisms and populist divisiveness?
Let us keep in mind that the EU has made various achievements, including peace within its borders, progressive extension of rights and liberties, as well as relatively high investment in social security compared with other blocs around the world.
There were times when the EU has also worked with the US and also with other blocs from a position of strength and this includes areas such as climate change, competition policy and privacy.
Those forces who believe in the European dream and in realistic reform should move away from defensive defeatism. This includes a broad range of parties from different sides and colours within the political spectrum, which believe in dialogic democracy and who resist the absolutist and populist nationalism of both extremes.
Unless those who believe in the European dream are assertive and speak an evidence-based language, which is closer to people’s aspirations, everyday life, hopes and fears, the language game will keep being won by the populists who bank on simple solutions that are often not backed up by evidence.
In this regard, a political case for Europe should be expressed in concrete terms, and not in abstract language with limited appeal.
The EU should also move away from rigid policymaking and instead decide to adopt more flexibility within shared EU-wide goals. A positive example in this regard concerns the EU climate goals, where different countries have different goals within the general EU framework.

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