Europe needs wake-up call
High living standards cannot be an ideal or even an inspiring goalProf. Mihail Konstantinov
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.