The Pathos of Politics (96-5) The European Union continued 3


We don’t have a European people. ~ Italian politician Marco Zanni, member of the European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) is exemplary of how political unity may not unify people. While most Europeans know who represents them in the country where they live, few know who their EU parliamentary representative is.

Many voters treat EP elections as national polls that offer a chance to register a protest against the incumbent government at home. Hence, about a 1/3rd of the EP representatives are Eurosceptics rather than supporters. This inherent disharmony saps the efficacy of the European parliament.

At the same time, the EP knows that most of the political power still lies with member states. Hence, the parliament acts as if it were a lobbying group rather than a legislature, campaigning for more power and bigger budgets. This only makes the European parliament more remote and ineffective.

In 2001, the EU tried to put this right with a constitution to establish the Union as a covenant directly between Europeans rather than a deal struck between governments. The result was a 500-page document with 446 articles and 36 supplementary protocols. English historian Perry Anderson called it “an impenetrable scheme for the redistribution of oligarchic power.”

After being rejected by voters in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland (the only countries to put it to a vote), the new constitution was adopted in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty – so much for democracy.

Writing about world order, Henry Kissinger observed that a geopolitical system must balance power and possess legitimacy to attain stability. Challenges arise when power shifts or legitimacy is brought into question.

Imperial China was overthrown when the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) could no longer command the loyalty of its subjects. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 when Russian power declined.

After the fall the Soviet Union, German reunification gave it additional heft in the EU. The accession of central and eastern European countries into the EU furthered German influence.

The euro strengthened Germany’s hand. When a check needed to be written, the pen was brandished by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The waves of refugees that overwhelmed Europe in the mid-2010s were at first welcomed because Merkel took the moral high ground of obligation – another instance of German leadership among other, more hesitant, member states.

However approved by the governments of member states, the European Union has managed at best a tentative legitimacy among its subjects. Continuing economic stagnation and high unemployment feeds populism and fuels resentment against the ruling elite.

This is a Europe that people are feeling increasingly estranged from. ~ Maltese politician Joseph Muscat in 2016

The European Union is democratic, but in a technocratic and remote way. Societal identities remain nationalistic, and only secondarily European. Besides an open market, which feels like an abstraction to the average person, citizens have little to point to that is beneficial in being part of the European Union. Easy migration, a supposed perk, is resented by the natives, who don’t care for immigrants. So too are regulations that seem to come from afar with no regard to local custom.

We may wake up one day to find that far from solving the problems of our continent, the myth of ‘Europe’ has become an impediment to recognizing them. ~ English historian Tony Judt in 1996