Eu­ro­pe at the brea­king po­int, by Ga­bor St­ein­gart.

Handelsblatt Global Edition Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY GA­BOR ST­EIN­GART

The one thing ci­ti­zens across Eu­ro­pe sha­re is their skep­ti­cism. The gre­at dit­he­ring star­ted when they be­gan to see the rea­li­ties of the euro, the bil­li­ons in bailouts for sou­thern Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, and li­fe wi­thout bor­ders. To­day’s Ci­ti­zen of Eu­ro­pe is a no­mad of world his­to­ry — home­l­ess, dis­sa­tis­fied, un­ar­med. He knows whe­re he co­mes from, but not whe­re he wants to go.

The Eu­ro­pean idea its­elf can­not ha­ve be­en the pro­blem. A past pain­ted in blood across Eu­ro­pe’s bru­tal cen­tu­ries is a warning to em­bra­ce cross­bor­der un­der­stan­ding and uni­ty. Too of­ten, fe­ve­rish na­tio­na­lism had left people with the choice on­ly to be mai­med, de­s­troy­ed or for­ci­b­ly dis­pla­ced.

In 1945, a Eu­ro­pe in as­hes swo­re“no mo­re war.” It was the ze­ro hour of the Eu­ro­pean idea, ad­van­ced sin­ce then with grim de­ter­mi­na­ti­on, as if the po­si­ti­ve ener­gy of the new pro­ject could so­mehow neu­tra­li­ze the past.

The Eu­ro­pean idea be­ca­me the new re­li­gi­on. Not ge­ne­rals, but bu­reau­crats we­re now in char­ge. The di­ver­si­ty of so­ci­al and eco­no­mic po­li­cies, edu­ca­tio­nal tra­di­ti­ons and food cul­tu­res was sus­pen­ded by an ela­bo­ra­te pro­gram of Eu­ro­pea­niza­t­i­on. Brus­sels en­er­ge­ti­cal­ly went about the task of har­mo­ni­zing ever­y­thing, even ever­y­day li­fe. It even sought to co­di­fy com­mon sen­se:“Lad­ders must be so po­si­tio­ned as to en­su­re their sta­bi­li­ty du­ring use,” in­structs Di­rec­tive 2001/45/EG. What the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­si­on did not re­gu­la­te, it pas­sed on to the Eu­ro­pean Com­mit­tee for Stan­dar­di­za­t­i­on, an Or­wel­li­an bo­dy with bound­less crea­ti­vi­ty. It on­ce pro­po­sed an EU standard for con­doms. The cri­ti­cal night­time ses­si­on, in which Ita­li­ans, French­men and Ger­m­ans wran­g­led over the ap­pro­pria­te di­men­si­ons, can on­ly be ima­gi­ned.

Yet the con­ti­nent’s de­ve­lop­ment was full of con­tra­dic­tions. The Eu­ro­pean Uni­on was pro­clai­med, yet Eu­ro­peans still spo­ke two do­zen lan­gua­ges. An in­ter­nal mar­ket was crea­ted that stan­dar­di­zed goods, ser­vices and va­nities. The sing­le cur­ren­cy was born, with no heed to high­ly di­ver­gent eco­no­mies. Bor­ders we­re eli­mi­na­ted, but wi­thout pro­tec­ting the EU’s ex­ter­nal fron­tiers. Sin­ce then, we ha­ve sha­red mil­li­ons of re­fu­gees, tril­li­ons in debt, and ill hu­mor in high do­ses.

And yet it is ne­ver enough for the eli­tes in Brus­sels. They re­spond to every new cri­sis with the call for“mo­re Eu­ro­pe” and less na­tio­nal sta­te. The crea­ti­on of a Eu­ro­pean ci­ti­zen is a gre­at work of com­pres­si­on, res­ha­ping and com­pac­tion. But just as con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als crack un­der on­go­ing pres­su­re, so­cie­ties too can buck­le. In both ca­ses, the da­ma­ge ap­pears in un­pre­dic­ta­ble pla­ces.

The cracks brea­king Eu­ro­pe do not ap­pe­ar along old na­tio­nal li­nes. The ap­peal of xe­no­pho­bic ti­ra­des does not stop at the French bor­der. So­me Ca­tho­lic Ger­man con­ser­va­ti­ves ad­mi­re their Po­lish bre­th­ren for dar­ing to say out loud what they are me­rely thin­king.

The Ger­man left sym­pa­thi­zes with the Greek left; both re­ject the po­wer of fi­nan­ci­al num­bers as in­hu­man.“If Eu­ro­pean po­li­cy is on­ly uni­ted to­day by the cri­sis and the bru­ta­li­ty with which it im­po­ses cra­zy aus­te­ri­ty pro­grams, no one should be sur­pri­sed if ma­ny now per­cei­ve the Eu­ro­pean pro­ject as a cur­se,” says the Ger­man Left par­ty’s Sah­ra Wa­genk­necht. For­mer Greek Fi­nan­ce Mi­nis­ter Ya­nisVa­rou­fa­kis speaks in the exact sa­me terms. Anxie­ty has be­co­me Eu­ro­pea­ni­zed.

At­temp­t­ing to in­te­gra­te the new­ly-ar­ri­ved Ori­ent in­to our pro­ject re­pres­ents one stress too ma­ny. Af­ter an in­flux of clo­se to 2 mil­li­on mi­grants and re­fu­gees, most­ly from Is­la­mic coun­tries, a fa­ti­gue frac­tu­re is at hand.

A on­ce-com­p­li­ant midd­le class is in­cre­a­sin­gly un­wil­ling to be thrown in­to this mel­ting pot. The post-na­tio­nal Eu­ro­pe of the EU’s foun­ding fa­thers is being trans­for­med in plain view in­to a pos­tWes­tern Eu­ro­pe, who­se con­cept-car ver­si­on is on dis­play to­day in the su­burbs of Pa­ris, Ber­lin, Lon­don and Brus­sels. Now­he­re is Eu­ro­pe con­fron­ted with a mo­re ali­en ver­si­on of its­elf than the­re.

The­re is just as litt­le de­si­re to add the new ar­ri­vals to the lo­cal army of un­de­rem­ploy­ed. The Wes­tern eco­no­my’s ra­pid bursts of mo­der­niza­t­i­on of­fer po­or­ly qua­li­fied im­mi­grants few pro­s­pects of em­ploy­ment and self-sup­port. The mi­gra­ti­on rou­te across the Bal­kans leads di­rect­ly in­to our so­ci­al wel­fa­re sys­tems, on­ly ex­a­cer­ba­ting their exis­ting strains. As the phi­lo­so­pher Pe­ter Slo­ter­di­jk puts it, the­re is no moral ob­li­ga­ti­on for self-de­struc­tion.

Iro­ni­cal­ly, in this ti­me of cri­sis it is the much­wea­k­e­ned na­ti­on sta­te that is de­mons­tra­ting the li­fe blood it still has coursing th­rough its veins. De­spe­ra­te ci­ti­zens are not loo­king to Brus­sels for help, but to their elec­ted go­vern­ments in Pa­ris, Ber­lin, Ro­me and Lon­don. But law­ma­kers the­re are at a loss, be­cau­se what’s nee­ded to ad­dress the pro­blem of 60 mil­li­on re­fu­gees world­wi­de — bar­ri­ers, passport con­trols and de­por­ta­ti­on — don’t match the vi­si­on of a Uni­ted Sta­tes of Eu­ro­pe.

The Eu­ro­pean hou­se, un­wil­ling to be a for­t­ress, is sud­den­ly be­co­m­ing un­s­ta­ble. If the hou­se’s ex­ter­nal forti­fi­ca­ti­ons aren’t sta­bi­li­zed soon, its sta­bi­li­ty could be at risk.

What’s sca­ry is not the co­m­ing wa­ve of pro­tests, but that ma­ny ci­ti­zens ha­ve stop­ped thin­king about re­for­ming the Eu­ro­pe in which they li­ve. They are turning their backs on it wi­thout even say­ing good­bye. Eu­ro­pe is not un­der attack from po­pu­lists and law­ma­kers, but from a stan­ding army of the in­dif­fe­rent. In this re­vo­lu­ti­on, the bar­ri­ca­de would fall wi­thout ha­ving be­en set on fi­re.

To­day’s Eu­ro­pe nee­ds to be pro­tec­ted from its­elf. It wan­ted too much too fast. Per­haps re­al pro­gress will ent­ail dis­pen­sing with ad­mi­nis­tra­ti­ve pro­gress for a whi­le. Per­haps it would then be pos­si­ble to re­co­ver a buil­ding block from the wre­cka­ge of the na­ti­on sta­te that has not be­en used in the Eu­ro­pean hou­se. The word de­mo­cra­cy is writ­ten on that sto­ne. An­yo­ne who has pre­ser­ved an app­re­cia­ti­on for the be­au­ties of Eu­ro­pean his­to­ry will see how much it shi­nes.

Ga­bor St­ein­gart is the pu­blis­her of Han­dels­blatt.

Newspapers in German

Newspapers from Germany

© PressReader. All rights reserved.