As part of our Europe Day celebrations we are delighted to welcome Roger Casale who joins us a contributor for Europa United. Roger is the founder and Secretary General of New Europeans, a civil rights organisation which champions freedom of movement, non-discrimination and the principle of solidarity in Europe. Roger takes us on a journey though the history of the the union of Europe and shows us the many different aspects that have all worked together to form the Europe we know today and askes if civil society should play the most prominent part in the future of the EU?
After the Second World War, European citizens could not, would not and did not return to their own countries – the places that had been occupied and/or destroyed by Nazism, Fascism and war.
Instead they created a new country – a country called Europe.
The Europe that emerged from the ruins of 1945 was not an elegant, fully articulated construction, the fruit of the collective deliberations of founding fathers, eminent men of letters, philosophy and law.
Instead, the first practical steps were taken with the merger of the France and Germany’s steel making industry through the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. We might call this the socialisation of the means of destruction.
Hannah Arendt, the pre-eminent critic of totalitarianism, described this as the “pardon and the promise of the post-war world”. Out of the rubble grew the institutions of what I call Europe 1 – the Europe of Nations, the Europe that Churchill had called for in his Zurich speech although it was never clear whether he wanted Britain to be a part of it. What produced Europe 1 though was not grand political speeches – impressive though some of these were – but a series of practical steps borne of a new sense of what it meant to be European. The key actors had one thing in common – they were from border regions of Europe, communities of linguistic and cultural diversity that had been artificially separated by state boundaries and then smashed apart by the war.
These figures included French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, from Alsace Lorraine, the Italian Prime Minister De Gasperi who was from Tyrol, and the Belgian Premier Paul-Henri Spaak from Flanders. They saw European identity not as a threat but as a gift – an added value. They were first of a new generation of modern Europeans. They understood that it was possible to be Alsatian, French and European. In fact it was of existential significance to do so. Without this sense of a common European identity the destructive power of nationalism could once again overrun the rich patchwork of regional identities that bound their communities. It was equally clear that national borders also had to become a thing of the past.
It was pragmatism again, not ideology that led to the removal of border checks with the creation in the 1980s of what I refer to as Europe 2 – Europe not just as a union of nations, but also a union of markets – the Single Market. The emergence of Europe 2 coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Europe – a new era of freedom and opportunity. Europe 2 though has not fulfilled its promise. Today, the cracks are clear for all to see as populists easily exploit the reality of growing inequality in Europe. Many communities that were rebuilt in Europe 1 feel hollowed out or even decimated by Europe 2 as jobs and economic activity has moved elsewhere.
Europe 1 stands proudly on the right side of history. But for too many, Europe 2 is sitting on the wrong side of the debate about globalisation. If Europe 2 is to survive it will need the strength that can come from a deeper level of integration, from the creation of a new Europe, or Europe 3.
Europe 3 is the Europe of the citizens, the Europe that Albert Camus refereed to as a “country of the spirit, a Europe of equality and social justice, anchored in human rights”. Will our Europe of today move beyond Europe 2 or will it regresses to Europe 1, the Europe of nations?
There are at least three key tests that will decide the answer: The first relates to the issue of migration.
Migration into Europe is a huge opportunity to meet the twin challenges of falling competitiveness and an ageing population. And yet the prevailing narrative sees migration as a threat. This has to change and it is citizens and civil society groups that are spearheading that, and rarely the politicians. Angela Merkel was a rare exception in 2016 when she opened Germany’s borders to migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Others have pandered to those in their domestic constituencies that want to close the doors to Europe? Secondly, how will the European Union deal with growing social inequality? This will require much bolder steps than are currently envisaged.
Perhaps the introduction of a European Pension funded by the growth divided of economic integration could be though about as a solution or a universal basic income? Again these ideas are under discussion in civil society but not yet by the politicians n power. Thirdly, there is an urgent need to renew Europe democratically. This requires urgent and far-reaching change but is essential if the term a “Europe of the citizens” is to have any real meaning for people in their daily lives.
National parliaments play a much under-stated role in shaping European decision-making – this can be developed as part of a more federal approach to governing Europe, where federal means inclusive and appropriate and not, as some mistakenly view it, as the code for a power grab from the centre. Reforms are needed at every level of European governance, not just in Brussels. Local and regional authorities are just as much part of the democratic fabric of the European polis as the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg.
None of this can happen without mobilisation, organisation and agitation by the citizens of Europe at every level of European governance. Is it not time for we, the citizens of Europe, to save Europe from the misfortune of its own shortcomings? Otherwise, to quote WH Auden from his poem 1 September 1939:
“The habit –forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief,
We must suffer them all again.”
Like it or not, Europe is a reality in the globalised world of 2018. The European Union is not going away anytime soon although it could be pared back to Europe 1 quite quickly were there to be a demise of the Europe and the reintroduction of border controls and end to the Single Market (Marine Le Pen’s agenda). The greatest hope for Europe is not the strength of its institutions (still relatively weak compared to those of the nation state) but the aspirations, energy and hopes of we the Europeans and especially young Europeans.
Young people growing up in Europe see themselves not just as Europeans but citizens of the world. It is hard to understand that from the perspective of a generation that did not grow up with the Internet and mobile phone but it is nevertheless true. Young Europeans are not going to let go of their European citizenship and identity without a fight – the British experience shows these rights can never be taken for granted.
In the nineteenth century and following Italian unification, Massimo d’Azeglio, a Senator from Piedmont, famously said “We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians.” On Europe day 2018, we might well paraphrase d’Azeglio’s maxim we might say this “We have become Europeans, now we have to create the new Europe.”
That work has only just begun, and it is being carried out just as much in civil society by organisations such as New Europeans and others as it is in the political arena. With the prospect of a nationalist backlash in next years’ European Parliamentary elections, we need to hurry. Otherwise there is a real danger (to quote another Italian expression) ‘we will not get the roof on before the rain comes down.’
This article is adapted from a TEDx Talk given by Roger Casale in Oxford on 4 March 2018 on the subject of European identity.
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