Europe needs wake-up call

High living standards cannot be an ideal or even an inspiring goal

Photo: Picture: Ivailo Tsvetkov

France, West Ger­ma­ny, Ita­ly, Bel­gi­um, Lux­em­burg and the Neth­er­lands aimed for two things with the cre­a­tion of the Euro­pe­an Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty in 1951. The offi­cial pur­pose of this organ­i­sa­tion was to uni­fy the six coun­tries' pro­duc­tion and trade in the sec­tor. But the main goal was left unstat­ed - name­ly, to cre­ate such polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic depend­en­cies in Europe so as to make anoth­er war between France and Ger­ma­ny impos­si­ble.

France, West Ger­ma­ny, Ita­ly, Bel­gi­um, Lux­em­burg and the Neth­er­lands aimed for two things with the cre­a­tion of the Euro­pe­an Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty in 1951. The offi­cial pur­pose of this organ­i­sa­tion was to uni­fy the six coun­tries' pro­duc­tion and trade in the sec­tor. But the main goal was left unstat­ed - name­ly, to cre­ate such polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic depend­en­cies in Europe so as to make anoth­er war between France and Ger­ma­ny impos­si­ble. It was a jus­ti­fied con­cern giv­en those two coun­tries' cen­tu­ries-old and increas­ing­ly pro­duc­tive his­to­ry of try­ing to destroy each oth­er, often drag­ging the rest of Europe into their con­flicts.

Uni­fied Europe's found­ing fathers achieved what they set out to do. What start­ed as the Coal and Steel Com­mu­ni­ty has now grown to what we know as the Euro­pe­an Union, account­ing for a pop­u­la­tion of 500 mil­lion peo­ple and 22% of glob­al pro­duc­tion. On paper, things should look fine, or at least much bet­ter than 63 years ago. They should, but do not. In some respects today's sat­ed and wealthy Europe is worse off than its post­war ver­sion. Because it lacks vision, because high liv­ing stand­ards can­not be an ide­al or even an inspir­ing goal, and because Europe is a liv­ing and breath­ing thing and every live organ­ism either evolves or slow­ly per­ish­es. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, change is not like­ly con­sid­er­ing the absence of will­ing­ness or ener­gy for any kind of change, let alone rad­i­cal.

Last but not least, Europe is in a bad place because it real­is­es that unlike the sit­u­a­tion in 1951 its path is not nec­es­sa­ri­ly for­ward and upward, but per­haps it can lead down­ward and take a slight­ly dif­fer­ent course. Although not yet eco­nom­ic, the evi­dence of decline is there to be seen - the refus­al to elect nation­al and Euro­pe­an lead­ers with much-need­ed ener­gy, deter­mi­na­tion and vision for the future. Those lead­ers would not hide behind the ever-present polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect clap­trap, which has turned from being use­less to down­right harm­ful.     

More than their inde­ci­sive­ness, pol­i­ti­cians' ide­o­log­i­cal impo­tence was exposed by the Euro­pe­an Union's response to Rus­sia's involve­ment in the Ukraine cri­sis. That West­ern lead­ers on both sides of the Atlan­tic have no real under­stand­ing of Rus­sia (and Ukraine for that mat­ter) is no news. But mak­ing the same mis­takes over and over goes beyond incom­pe­tence. You can find strong and rath­er unflat­ter­ing words to describe such behav­ior in any Euro­pe­an lan­guage.

Polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect talk is harm­ful because it is pow­er­less to explain the dif­fer­ence between the case of NATO and Kosovo in 1999 on one hand and Rus­sia and the Cri­mea in 2014 on the oth­er, not to men­tion dis­tin­guish­ing between the North Stream-Poland and the South Stream-Ukraine. Truth be told, no one is try­ing to explain any­thing any­more - Aus­tria, Ita­ly, Greece, Slo­ve­nia, and Hun­ga­ry are say­ing one thing and the UK and France some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Nev­er­the­less, it would be use­ful to study the evo­lu­tion of Euro­pe­an lead­ers' com­ments on these issues. It was stat­ed that the South Stream does not guar­an­tee Europe's gas sup­ply diver­si­fi­ca­tion, but there was no expla­na­tion as to how the North Stream pro­vides such guar­an­tees giv­en that the source in both cas­es is Rus­sia.

For a long time the dis­cus­sion about the two pro­jects was stick­ing to eco­nom­ic and legal aspects when every­one knew it was all about geo­pol­i­tics. Final­ly, Europe sof­ten­ed its stance on the South Stream in response to the increas­ing­ly force­ful Rus­sian demands. More spe­cif­i­cal­ly, it was made clear that if Ukraine does not start pay­ing its gas bills, Gaz­prom will cut sup­plies. The threat seem­ing­ly hung only over Ukraine-bound sup­plies, leav­ing Europe's untouched, but even the kids had to know that that would nev­er be the case. And since Europe has no way of sup­port­ing its ener­gy needs from oth­er sour­ces in the next few years, its lead­ers bowed to the threat of being oust­ed amid pub­lic anger at a cold win­ter as the next one prom­is­es to be.

Europe even mulled the idea of pay­ing off Ukraine's debt to Rus­sia, which would have been Greece's case times five. This is the place to men­tion that it will not be long before the Euro­pe­an Union is called upon to pay the debts of oth­er south­ern Mem­ber States, which would cer­tain­ly not sit well with Ger­ma­ny's future (and cur­rent) tax­pay­ers.

The Euro­pe­an Union's incon­sist­ent and often con­fus­ing for­eign and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cies threat­en the very exis­tence of the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic bloc. Mean­while the Euro­pe­an com­po­nent of the mil­i­tary alli­ance that is NATO is also los­ing ground. The immi­nent defeat from the unit­ed for­ces of the Tal­i­ban in Afghan­is­tan will has­ten the de fac­to dis­in­te­gra­tion of the pact, which began with the tim­id approach to the intro­duc­tion of a mis­sile defense sys­tem in some of NATO's mem­bers.

Euro­pe­an and US lead­ers can­not or will not for­mu­late short- and long-term pri­or­i­ties. Bet­ter immi­grant con­trol, a grad­u­al shift away from hydro­car­bon econ­o­my based on oil, gas, and coal as ener­gy sour­ces, devel­op­ment of hydro and/or ther­mo­nu­cle­ar ener­gy and fight­ing Europe's dem­o­graph­ic cri­sis should be among those pri­or­i­ties.

No one is tak­ing meas­ures to pre­vent a poten­tial tech­no­log­i­cal melt­down, and we mind­less­ly keep put­ting all our eggs in one bas­ket. We keep avoid­ing a pain­ful but ulti­mate­ly inev­i­ta­ble solu­tion - inten­tion­al grad­u­al decrease of eco­nom­ic growth, even to the point of neg­a­tive growth, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the plan­et's poten­tial for nat­u­ral resource renew­al - water, flo­ra and fau­na, clean air and agri­cul­tur­al land.      

The Euro­pe­an Union is a remark­a­ble and, so far, suc­cess­ful social and polit­i­cal project. But it is doomed to fail if Europe does not wake up from its com­fort­a­ble nap. In light of some inher­ent dif­fer­en­ces between the polit­i­cal sys­tems and men­tal­i­ty on both sides of the Atlan­tic, Europe could become the orig­i­na­tor and lead­er of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary change in today's fail­ed par­a­digm for glo­bal­i­sa­tion and eco­nom­ic growth. And I am not only talk­ing about improv­ing liv­ing stand­ards by curb­ing con­sump­tion, but pre­serv­ing life on the plan­et so we can even have liv­ing stand­ards.

The Abduc­tion of Euro­pa (by Zeus) is a beau­ti­ful Greek myth and an inspi­ra­tion for many art­ists and poets. But the count­down for Europe is on and we do not know how much time we have left to wake up and take our fate in our own hands as the found­ing fathers did dec­ades ago. Prob­a­bly not much; I just hope it is enough.

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