Image Source: The Olive Press.
The crisis in Europe intensifies. The headlines are desperate: Italy accepted new austerity measures; today, "The [Italian] minister in charge of pension reform broke down and cried as she tried to spell out the detail of the changes." Old Europe is dead, and EU advocates say a new United States of Europe, "a single, robust Brussels government for all EU countries -- or at least for the euro zone," must rise from the ashes. Merkel and Sarkozy are unveiling a euro rescue package this week that will likely require members of the euro zone to relinquish economic sovereignty through changes to the EU treaties. The Guardian expects that a number of EU countries will drop out of the union. The FT is thinking the unthinkable on a European breakup. The Economist reports that the chance the euro will disintegrate in the coming weeks is alarmingly high. The UK has told its European embassies to brace for riots if the euro collapses. The Telegraph is talking about "Eurogeddon" and says that Britain should close its doors to European immigration. The Dow Jones FX Trader has prepared an EU crisis roadmap for key milestones ahead.
This is "Europe's toughest hour since World War II." There is panicky talk of deeper integration - a new Reich - or conflict? I have long wondered why Continental-wide empire or the spectre of war are Europe's default alternatives. Couldn't the powers in Europe simply, for the first time in over two thousand years, choose not to invade their neighbours, euro or no euro, European Union or no European Union? How many non-Europeans died in the twentieth century for the sake of saving Europe from itself? And how many Europeans died in those conflicts and as well before that, in the fourteenth and fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries? And now we hear hints that nothing has been learned on that score? There's a big difference between an EU striving unsuccessfully to apply federalistic American or Canadian models - and a neo-Roman empire conceived at best in Bonapartistic dreams. Speaking of the EU as the New Rome was once the specialty only of religious eschatologists. Yet it slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.
This is not just a crisis of the economy and political power. It is a crisis of values and ideals. What does Europe stand for? I have seen some pro-EU blogs talking of the potential loss of Europe's singular greatness, encapsulated symbolically in Beethoven's 9th as the Continent's cultural touchstone. There was always some hubris and misdirected envy of America in the EU project. The choice of EU anthem made Daniel Hannan recall A Clockwork Orange. It's a sin, using lovely Ludwig Van like that.
Philosopher Jürgen Habermas, labeled the 'last European' by Der Spiegel, defends the European idea against evil market forces and inept politicians.
Habermas sees Europe at a turning point; but his vision for a democratic Europe, whose international citizens have a covenant with themselves as national and local citizens, is murky:
Jürgen Habermas ... bangs on the table and yells: "Enough already!" He simply has no desire to see Europe consigned to the dustbin of world history.
"I'm speaking here as a citizen," he says. "I would rather be sitting back home at my desk, believe me. But this is too important. Everyone has to understand that we have critical decisions facing us. That's why I'm so involved in this debate. The European project can no longer continue in elite modus."
Enough already! Europe is his project. It is the project of his generation. ...
And then he's really angry again: "I condemn the political parties. Our politicians have long been incapable of aspiring to anything whatsoever other than being re-elected. They have no political substance whatsoever, no convictions." ...
Habermas wants to get his message out. That's why he's sitting here. That's why he recently wrote an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, in which he accused EU politicians of cynicism and "turning their backs on the European ideals." That's why he has just written a book -- a "booklet," as he calls it -- which the respected German weekly Die Zeit promptly compared with Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch."
But does he have an answer to the question of which road democracy and capitalism should take? ...
"Zur Verfassung Europas" ("On Europe's Constitution") is the name of his new book, which is basically a long essay in which he describes how the essence of our democracy has changed under the pressure of the crisis and the frenzy of the markets. Habermas says that power has slipped from the hands of the people and shifted to bodies of questionable democratic legitimacy, such as the European Council. Basically, he suggests, the technocrats have long since staged a quiet coup d'état.
"On July 22, 2011, (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel and (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to a vague compromise -- which is certainly open to interpretation -- between German economic liberalism and French etatism," he writes. "All signs indicate that they would both like to transform the executive federalism enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty into an intergovernmental supremacy of the European Council that runs contrary to the spirit of the agreement." ...
He is a child of the war and perseveres, even when it seems like he's about to keel over. This is important to understanding why he takes the topic of Europe so personally. It has to do with the evil Germany of yesteryear and the good Europe of tomorrow, with the transformation of past to future, with a continent that was once torn apart by guilt -- and is now torn apart by debt. In the past, there were enemies; today, there are markets -- that's how the historical situation could be described that Habermas sees before him. ... He speaks of a lack of political union and of "embedded capitalism," a term he uses to describe a market economy controlled by politics. ...
He says that states have no rights, "only people have rights," and then he takes the final step and brings the peoples of Europe and the citizens of Europe into position -- they are the actual historical actors in his eyes, not the states, not the governments. It is the citizens who, in the current manner that politics are done, have been reduced to spectators.
His vision is as follows: "The citizens of each individual country, who until now have had to accept how responsibilities have been reassigned across sovereign borders, could as European citizens bring their democratic influence to bear on the governments that are currently acting within a constitutional gray area."
This is Habermas's main point and what has been missing from the vision of Europe: a formula for what is wrong with the current construction. He doesn't see the EU as a commonwealth of states or as a federation but, rather, as something new. It is a legal construct that the peoples of Europe have agreed upon in concert with the citizens of Europe -- we with ourselves, in other words -- in a dual form and omitting each respective government. ...
Last week, Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, told the Germans that a breakup of the euro zone would be "apocalyptic" and the choice lies between deeper integration and collapse."If the European project fails," he says, "then there is the question of how long it will take to reach the status quo again. Remember the German Revolution of 1848: When it failed, it took us 100 years to regain the same level of democracy as before." A vague future and a warning from the past -- that's what Habermas offers us.
And like Habermas, Sikorski spoke of a crisis of values if the euro collapses. Where Habermas would see the markets as a source of corrosive and corrupting attitudes, Sikorski acknowledged that failed markets create an even greater erosion of civic trust:
They evidently disagree on economic and political values, but both men referred to Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative as their ethical baseline: it is the universal application of the individual's moral responsibility to him- or herself. Both see Europe standing at the heart of an even older ideal, since Europe is the cradle of democracy and associated values. Who will help Europe find its way to higher ground, whatever that ground may be? The USA (despite the past few years of rampant European anti-Americanism)? China? Or the Europeans themselves?Let us be honest with ourselves and admit that markets have every right to doubt the credibility of the euro zone. After all, the Stability and Growth Pact has been broken 60 times! And not just by smaller countries in difficulty, but by its founders in the very core of the euro zone. ... [T]he entire practice of lending money presupposed at least the honest intention to repay. If this condition were universally ignored, the very idea of lending and sharing wealth would be undermined. For [Immanuel] Kant, honesty and responsibility were categorical imperatives: the foundation of any moral order. For the European Union, likewise, these are the cornerstones. I would point to the two fundamental values: Responsibility and Solidarity. Our responsibility for decisions and processes. And Solidarity when it comes to bearing the burdens. ... Once the logic of "each man for himself" takes hold, can we really trust everyone to act communitarian and resist the temptation to settle scores in other areas, such as trade?
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