A union reconciled to rancorous division

Published by Reimagining Europe

If coal extraction and steel production were held in common – pooled at source and distributed without borders – never again could one fractious state rise up against another. That was the theory.

And so, after half-a-century of industrialised carnage and bloodshed, preceded by centuries of internecine Frankish-Germanic conflagrations in which countless millions were sacrificed on the altar of Charlemagne, the founding fathers of the European project came together to fuse the ways and means of war: to forge, they hoped, a common European identity to nullify the nationalisms of enmity.

Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman designed the supranational European Coal and Steel Community – the ECSC – to make it an economic impossibility, if not a political absurdity, for Europeans to wrestle against their fellow flesh and blood. And if coal and steel, why not agriculture? And if agriculture, why not fisheries? And if fisheries, why not justice, workers’ rights, welfare, energy, airspace, judiciary, an army..?

You get the picture.

The vision was one of European reconciliation, and that was good. The process was to be is ‘ever closer’, and that had virtue. But the ultimate design – the teleological consummation of confederation – would be ‘union’, and there we hit a snag. Because no matter the differing apprehensions of society, interpretations of history or diversities of culture, the European memory is being merged into an inviolable social contract of enlightenment with contingent human rights, by which all things were apparently made, and without them was not anything made that was made.

I paraphrase St John not out of glibness or impiety, but because secular political philosophy has supplanted Christian history: the European Union has usurped the Word. We have wrenched a thousand years of adapted theology from our national foundations, and hammered in an abstract philosophy. And now it is apparent that the Monnet-Schuman vision for peace and reconciliation has vanished in anti-democratic assertions of infallible dogma and immutable truths.

We hear so much about the EU’s institutional ‘democratic deficit’ that we seem to have forgotten (if we ever knew) that Europe’s political union was never predicated on democracy: indeed, at its inception, the ECSC/EEC was designed to circumvent the inconvenient vicissitudes and capricious wills of the peoples. They’re diverse and plural, you see: there is not and has never been a common European determination or demos – except those forged at sword-point and mass slaughter, and then sustained by coercion and torture. You can’t have true peace without organic feelings of loyalty and fraternity.

But the European Union doesn’t do populism any more than it does God (who, to be fair, is generously incorporated into the ‘Soul for Europe’ bureaucracy, but only to the extent that the Transcendent is firmly subject to the values of the Temporal). We’ve witnessed the anti-democratic outworking again and again: in Denmark (Maastricht Treaty, 1992), France and Netherlands (Constitution for Europe, 2005), and Ireland (Treaty of Nice, 2001; Treaty of Lisbon, 2008). In each instance, the people were offered a choice between ‘ever closer union’ or not, and they gave the wrong answer, so they had to be asked again (and again in Denmark’s case).

We saw it again in 2005 in Greece, with the appointment of Lucas Papademos; and in Italy, with the appointment of Mario Monti. Both were EU technocrats, and neither was democratically elected, yet there they were, governing entire countries without anything so crass as a general election. No matter who Greece seems to vote for, the fiscal rules of ‘economic governance’ are immutable. The ‘No’ votes delivered in referendums, and the ‘yes’ votes delivered to anti-austerity / anti-EU parties, are tiresome and, in the last analysis, inconsequential. The euro trumps democracy, you see. The people will love this European project – because it’s good for them.

How can there be peace without populism? How can there be prosperity without the pursuit of happiness? How can the House of Europe be built on a foundation of rancour and bitterness? Isn’t the logical end of all this not unity and peace, but economic hardship and social strife, if not civil war?

Call me a pessimist if you like, but I’m not one for strutting around saying, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” People are perishing. It’s time for something new.

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