Which way is new Europe headed?

Which way is new Europe headed?

‘An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted” is a phrase from Arthur Miller which applies well to the European elections that have just ended.

What those elections showed was that disenchantment with Europe as an ideal has grown to a dangerous point. This is the first time, since the birth of the European project, that a remarkable part of the electorate has coalesced on parties which identity themselves as enemies or sceptics of Europe.

It is revealing to see the sense of relief with which the system has declared that the anti-Europe parties "only" received 20 percent of the vote. Yet, 20 percent of the vote, with abstention close to 50 per cent, is a remarkable show. And of the 80 per cent who voted for pro-European parties, the large majority does not look on the embodiment of the project – the European Commission – with much sympathy. According to the Eurobarometer, those with a positive opinion of Brussels fell from 72 per cent in 2000 to 37 percent last year. If the present trend continues, in the next European elections there will be only one European in three harbouring some faith in the European Commission and , by extension, the credibility of European construction.

Much has been written on the disenchantment which has ushered in 20 per cent of the members of the new European parliament who are, in fact, internal enemies of the institution itself. It is in fact the programme of austerity imposed by the European Commission (under German instructions) which has given a terrible image of Europe, especially to the millions of unemployed young people. It is true that the Eurocrats have appeared more and more unaccountable and isolated, in a maze of bureaucratic rules: it is also true that the leaders that member states have conveniently installed have lacked charisma and never connected with the people.

Real problem

But the real problem is much simpler, and much more tragic: the sense of solidarity and common destiny which accompanied the birth and growth of the European project has disappeared. In the last four years, Germany has simply ignored any element of solidarity with the other European countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the strongest European politician, but dedicated basically to German interests. Reports abound on how the absolute priority behind the aid given to Greece, Ireland and Portugal was to refund the loans by German banks.

Some analysts think that the policy is not directed towards Europe. They argue that Germany wants to be a big Switzerland, and is not participating in any international policy. It has kept out of all important decisions, from Libya to Syria, and on Ukraine it has been considerably silent. But Germany’s self-centred participation in Europe is now the rule, even with the weaker countries. When it came to rescue Greece, which represented two percent of the European budget, it was considered necessary to punish people who lived beyond their means, and who falsified the budgets that they presented to the European Commission. Then, the same was said for Ireland and Portugal (a very doubtful claim because both countries were in a totally different situation).

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noticed that it was the first time that economy had become a branch of morality, and that in German sin and debt use the same term. Not only there was no solidarity, there was a campaign about austerity as the moral compass necessary to build a sound macroeconomic situation. The issue of immigration is the best example for understanding that the crisis of Europe is one of values, which are well written into the various constitutions and are part of the rhetoric of European identity. Beyond solidarity, those values were social justice, participation and accountability. On those four counts, the European Commission is largely absent.

According to United Nations projections, Europe needs to receive at least 20 million immigrants over the next ten years to remain economically competitive with United States, whose immigrants keep the working population in constant balance. Yet, what has been the lesson of the last elections? That the ant-immigrant theme was so strong that it propelled close to 50 parliamentarians to the Europarliament. In every crisis there is the search for a scapegoat, but then let us abandon the European rhetoric.