Anti-EU feelings do not surprise me

Posted on 14. May 2014


Konstantina Karydi

For me, Europe is above all an idea. To be more precise, the EU is a novel idea, about uniting nations, nation-states and citizens. So novel, in fact, that 60 years down the line, we have not managed to define it. The European Union remains an U.P.O. There have been several interesting attempts to define it, a cosmopolitan empire is a particular favorite; even if the term ‘empire’ would never work. The EU is also a project, some say that it is a solely economic one. I completely disagree. While I am not blind – indeed, in 2014 it seems that markets and products move around the Union much more easily than people – however, the EU is certainly not just an economic project. Our lives, at the local level, are governed by policies and laws debated, designed and drafted within the EU framework. This is politics; social cohesion, energy, waste management, R&D, and numerous other policies are co-defined at the EU level; along with economic policies too. How do you feel the gasping void between the EU as an idea and policy making in practice? I would argue for the empowerment of the cities, the closest authority to the citizen, which could provide a bridge over that gap.

What I don’t like about the EU is that is not political enough. The EU does not allow sufficient political “wrestling” to come to play. While the European Parliament could fulfill that role, abstention, on the one hand, and nationalised EU election campaigning on the other, seriously downplay the chances for a truly EU political debate. And what do I mean by “political”? That, citizens’ divergent views, are not only heard, via the several available channels, but also that they are represented in the European Parliament, by political parties, that are not only defined by white-black dilemmas along the “yes/no” to the EU, “yes/no” to the euro, axes; to give a couple of typical examples. It is not surprisingly at all, that anti-EU feelings are growing, coupled by an alarming rise of nationalist or even, fascist views. Take Greece. The media debate has “simplified” choices between austerity and EU on the hand or a complete rejection of this policy mix and in parallel, a rejection of the Union as a whole. Of course there are voices that counter this oversimplification. But they are hardly heard. Who can blame, then, the everyday citizen who has seen his or her life, turned upside down who longs for a “safe, nationalist heaven”?

What has to change in Europe is a whole lot of things. Yet, they all go through one road. Put politics back on the table, place the citizen at the centre. Not political parties, not executives. Allow the voice of the citizen to be directly heard and acted upon. I truly fear that Habermas’ “post-democratic federalism” is not far from reality. And this is certainly not the EU I would fight for. I would actually fight against such an EU. Does this make me an anti-European? Since when the EU, a democratic entity, became an either/or policy object? Either you like it, as it is, you are in and play by the unchangeable policy rules, or if you do not like it, well, you can always opt out. This is a problem. And the more we become integrated citizens of this entity, the more we are going to run against this wall. As such, it is imperative that we, as EU citizens, understand that there are choices out-there, there are tools available to enhance participation and that political parties at the EU level, are certainly not convergent; at least not all of them to say the least. The EU is an experiment. A truly progressive, democratic experiment that we need not only to safeguard, but to develop. Intergovernmnentalism, is not the answer I am afraid. Governments at the national level, already suffer, in my opinion, from lack of legitimacy -which is not only a question of voting by the way.

I vote, because I consider voting as a fundamental democratic act. Needless to say that I absolutely understand all those who choose to abstain. Lack of information, mistrust, disappointment are only few elements on a long list of reasons. When speaking about EU elections, disengagement is, yet, another element on the list. Voting, however, does matter. The upcoming EU election is a characteristic case. While many around me, still think of this election as a national affair, I actually  find that it is a unique opportunity to express what kind of Europe we want, and how far we believe in direct representation at the EU level. How can we expect to have a functioning democracy, at all levels of governance, how can we ask for more participation tools, if we do not even defend the basic act of voting? Even if we do not like the way the system functions, we can express this view via the way we vote.  Voting is the first step to a long process that allows democracy, in its contemporary sense, to function.

Prejudices I am confronted with… and how we really are…

Prejudices are all over around us. They start from the way we judge people around us, and reach the fundamental distrust we have against all politicians, political institutions, and of course the EU. There are prejudices between women and men, prejudices between nationalities, and it can go on for ever. The question is how we treat these prejudices and how much we allow prejudices to influence the way we act. I am sad to say that five years in the EU economic crisis, I see national prejudices on the rise. I am aware of a number of cases where prejudices against Greeks have prevented them to work or study in other member states. Similarly, prejudices against “the other”, have led to outbreaks of extreme right wing violence, in Greece and all over the EU. Obviously, this is not how we really are. All of us have positive and negative characteristics. But prejudices start when we choose to isolate some of these characteristics and focus only on them. We have struggled in the EU over the past several decades to built a community embracing  our differences, a community based on an advanced and progressive civic civilisation. And to be honest, I just thought of yet another prejudice, maybe the most interesting of all. The idea that the EU is only an economic project. I believe this to be far from reality. The question is how much we are willing to realise that whether the EU will evolve, upholding the values on which it has been built, depends on our degree of involvement, and how far we are ready to understand that remaining closed to our national boundaries is, a prejudice.

What do young people feel when they think of Europe? What would they want to change, where does the EU plays on their nerves? Handelsblatt Online and FutureLab Europe joined forces to bring up a set of young voices. The respondent today is Konstantina Karydi (30) from Greece. Read the original article on Handelsblatt Online.