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Memories from the Future of the European Union

Memories from the Future of the European Union Forecast, foresight, foretelling – with some economic interpretations

The “science of future” (future studies, futurology) represents, at least, a paradoxical expression. Before anything else, the future’s flaw is not the fact that it is a too complex web of events, but that it… has yet to happen; we can see it/dream about it, but we cannot “know it” because it neither disseminates “news”, nor emanates “science”. Afterwards, the future is (will be) just one, although there are a lot of probable and plausible futures in the minds of the professional visionaries; and, ironically, absolutely all of them are cursed to never match the real future.

But the human reason is set towards the future. Whether we ponder something from the past or timeless issues, we do it by preparing the ground for our endless struggle with an uncertain tomorrow. In each of us, on longer or shorter horizons, clearer or less clear, there is volens nolens a budding futurist. The Conference on the Future of Europe, an EU civic initiative, is therefore dedicated to this faculty of Europeans, invited to think about the(ir) common destiny. But here, too, there are double discourses, double standards and, yes, double-edged swords. 


Are we in search of it or building it? 

Accused of and apologizing for, even from its inception, a “deficit of democracy” and the marginalization of the European citizen from deliberation and community decision mechanisms, the Union has tried once again, through the recent “Conference on the Future of Europe”, to establish a space for civic dialogue through which the European citizens may have the opportunity to speak, to say what kind of Europe they want to live in, in order to help the Union to adjust its future. The “future” as a topic of discussion, rhetorically or practically involving European citizens in the public debate, is a recurring event, and is found in the title of at least two other recent events/documents: The Convention on the Future of Europe and The White Paper on the Future of Europe.

The Convention, launched in 2001 and commanded by Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, aimed at nothing less than the development of a Constitution that would warrant the more and more complex construction of the Union. Rejected by the plebiscites in France (read as an “affront” to cultural identity and national sovereignty) and Netherlands (read as a blank check for eternalizing its “net sponsor” position to the EU), the document has been carefully cleared of constitutional references and has become the more modest and inoffensive Lisbon Treaty. It was another signal that, to the fundamental question “How much Europe is wanted?”, the answer differs at European level between elites and the population, as well as between elites, as well as between populations.

The White Paper, launched in 2017 by the European Commission chaired by Jean-Claude Junker, was prompted by intra-EU polarizations (N-S, for reasons of budgetary and fiscal discipline; W-E, over migration-related indigestion). The fundamental question had remained the same, and five predefined scenarios answered it – “Carrying on”, “Nothing but the single market”, “Those who want more do more”, “Doing less more efficiently” and “Doing much more together” –, which gave the appearance of an ascending hierarchical order, since the Europeans are tutored (by the same Brussels suspected of supranational centralist inclinations) to reflexively think that that political oneness is “the way”. 


More or less? 

Although it extends and intensifies the public debate, the Conference launched this year seems to equivocate (in line with the deep roots within the official European discourse): the meanings and the consequences of deepening/integration/unification are heavily discussed, while neglecting or obliterating/abolishing the fundamental distinction between the economic and political component of the process. This requires elementary logic (which must then be lucidly contrasted with the many illusory historical narratives). In short, on the one hand, economic integration elaborates the inter-personal and inter-regional division of labour, accelerating the productivity of participation via the market (freedoms of movement in the internal market); on the other hand, political integration involves territorial expansion and the concentration of (supra-) state power of taxation and regulation (the litany of European policies and regulations). The political integration erases the space for “institutional competition”, leaving the citizen relatively more vulnerable to the new political European cartel/monopoly, regardless of the democratic control manufactured by way of compensation.

The historical evidence (especially drawing on Europe’s past), brought to the fore to help launder the need for political integration in order to reinforce the economic one, is overstated. Historian Ralph Raico noted that, beyond the geographical continuum, the key to Western development lies in the fact that Europe was a unique civilization – “Latin Christianity” –, but radically decentralized, a system of divided and competing powers and jurisdictions (unlike other cultures such as China, India and the Islamic world). This polycentric system performed a control (through a system of checks-and-balances) over the feudal aristocrats, but also over the politicians of the bourgeois order: the artisan and the merchant could move to another jurisdiction if they were excessively taxed or regulated. Even if certain forms of uniformity can be considered virtuous, in a heterogeneous cultural conclave, such as the EU, they feed feelings contrary to unity/cohesion, because the effects of the artificial uniformity will be felt differently. And the whole ends up being eroded.

Labelled as nationalist/populist/sovereigntist, the reactions of those who disapprove of “too much Union” can be imputed to the flaws of the “intellectual project” that accompanies a European ethos which otherwise, in all its diversity, has enough native anchors for unity. As long as they derive from the responsible order of individuality and freedom (as premises for sociality and solidarity), they are legitimate, and their bearers are not enemies of Europe/the Union. The economic area of ​​the EU project best illustrates the… economic logic expressed above. The politicization, perhaps even with good intentions, of the community building can nurture an infinitely more acute hostility than in the case of the analogous phenomenon at the national level. For example, political priorities that are generously defined (with digital or green goals, or general recovery and resilience), but which do not identify a sweet spot that balances costs and benefits, awakening suspicions of rent-seeking, will weaken the Union. 


A stock or a flow of values? 

Europe/the EU is also about values. Programmatically, the Union is built on a sextet of fundamental values: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including those of minorities. These values are presumed to be shared by (or in) all Member States, representing the foundation of a European society self-characterized as one of the pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity, non-discrimination and equality between men and women. These precepts are outlined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. Of course, the sequence without other qualifications is a good opportunity for philosophers, logicians, sociologists, anthropologists, historians to find large or small logical incoherencies and/or factual inconsistencies. But even so, regardless of colours and shades, bright or faded over time, Europe has a clear pedigree of principles.

Europe was the place where, after evolutions, involutions and revolutions alike, the road to freedom began, as an endemic state of society, not as an exotic or erratic one, as it had been the case elsewhere. In Europe, the values of individualism, liberalism, and autonomy have risen from history, a measure of steady progress (or sustainable, as it is called in contemporary verbiage). However, such values and institutions are deformed/malformed or have been traumatized without complete recovery, under the pressures of political centralization, nationalism, statism, socialism and fascism. It must be honestly acknowledged that the Union is preparing its own claim on rewriting the basic code of Europe, under the rule of agonizing and “agoneous” values (“without parents/history/roots” – an expressive term proposed by Professor Emil Dinga). 


About Europe’s becoming 

For those who believe that the future of Europe is the European Union, it is impossible not to notice the tension that exists between the two spirits that must be reconciled with wisdom. Europe is an “emerging phenomenon”, not orchestrated, eminently spontaneous, of the voluntary and free convergence of true individualisms. The European Union, however, is an “intellectual project”, based on a community/centralized plan. As the plan goes beyond guaranteeing and protecting natural freedoms, the EU could risk harming Europe’s future.

Regardless of the fact that in the EU Member States, by different degrees, we find the implantation of a more social, more dirigiste, more constructivist vision of freedom/individuality/autonomy – through the “implicit social contract” at national level –, the blunt extrapolation and export of such a perspective, across the breadth of a Union which is heterogeneous in culture/identity/nationality, is not viable. The otherwise dormant passions and pitfalls are suddenly activated when (economic) opportunities are adulterated (politically), developing winners and losers.

The Conference on the Future of Europe hosts, in principle, at least three archetypes of European citizens, who can be brought, through mediation by honest elites, to the table of educated dialogue: there are the “canonists” (adherents of the European political vision and social values in their quasi-totality), the “utilitarians” (favourable to those parts of the EU which constitute superior resources for their ends) and the “refractories” (ready to censure the whole common package, even with its good features, for any bad outcome). And the future of a Europe for all will be the victory of reality over illusion.




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