A European future of Europe?

The key problem of Europe is ontological. We are not sure what the European Union actually is. Is it a free trade area, a giant NGO based in Brussels and doing good for Europe and the World, or perhaps a country in the making? The compromise answer, popular in Brussels, is that Europe is a project. The project is something that is not static, which is being developed, and has not yet reached its final form.

Brussels vs. Bratislava

As long as Europe is a project, it is possible to talk about the future of Europe. As long as Europe is a project, it can be illustrated as a bicycle – standing upright until it moves forward. The Euro crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit have slowed down this bicycle or even reversed its direction. One cannot drive a bicycle backwards. This is in fact the problem to be addressed by the leaders of the EU Member States this week in Bratislava: how to get the bicycle going again.

They will, as many times before, debate the future of Europe, more precisely the future of the European Union. The point of this writing is that if the European Union has an ambition to be more than a free trade area or a non-governmental organization, if it will be getting attributes of statehood, it needs a solid foundation for that.

Many agree that the EU should move in the direction of an ever closer union. And everyone agrees that a solid foundation is needed. The disagreement is in what is the essence of this foundation. One disagreement is between the right and the left. The right sees the EU founded on the common market. The left sees it founded on social justice and solidarity.

This article is about another kind of disagreement. I will argue that the future of the European Union cannot be based on an ideology, neither left nor right; that ideology cannot be a foundation of a union with an ambition to get some attributes of a country.

Ideas vs. Feelings

I understand ideology as a rational system of ideas – the product of an enlightened human mind. Examples of such systems of ideas are socialism, free maket, environmentalism, multiculturalism, framework of human rights and the rule of law etc. Ideologies are the results of reflection. Many are good, some are also bad.

That ideology cannot be the foundation of a country is the main message of Samuel P. Huntington’s (of Clash of Civilizations fame) book Who we are. He argues that countries based on ideology failed. For example Czechoslovakia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This author’s former home state of Yugoslavia was held together by the socialist ideology and the ideology of brotherhood and unity of nations. Similarly, Czechoslovakia and the USSR.

Alternative to ideology are feelings, instincts and culture – everything that is pre-rational, subconscious, which is not the result of complex intellectual exercise, but people simply have it in their blood and genes. Those moral foundations provide, according to Jonathan Haidt, the basis for group cohesion and are the basis of nation states. These foundations include kin, religion, language, history, nation.

Therefore, Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrans, Macedonians and Bosnians wanted to live in different countries. Stronger than the cohesive effects of the socialist ideology, Yugoslav common market, free movement of people within Yugoslavia and common currency, stronger were the disintegrating feelings based in language, history and religion. In Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union too, instincts trumped ideology, common market and common currency.

Elites vs. the Rest

This superiority of stone age instincts over intellectual achievements is hard to swallow by intellectuals and other reasoning people. It seems impossible that in the 21st century pristine senses of tribe and nation prevail over the achievements of the human mind, such as free market, common currency or social justice. But only to intellectuals. Most people do not bother trying to understand the reasoning how “good” is to have the widest possible community to achieve social justice (or free market). Ideologues of both central left and central right have a common problem.

The majority of people take a shortcut and listen to their instincts. These instincts tell them that Germans will not pay for social justice in Greece, while they may be willing to tolerate taxes to achieve social justice in their German homeland. These instincts tell them to charge customs on imported goods if this helps save German jobs. It does not help much if intellectuals explain that open markets (or social justice) are good for all. Somewhere deep down, people feel something. And there is a limit to how far and how deep political elites can run counties against such feelings.

This divide between the reason of the elites and the instincts of ordinary people explain Brexit, Sanders, Trump and the whole host populist movements in the EU member states. In good times, most people tolerate or largely ignore ideology. The elites may be convinced by the rationality of the arguments even in bad times. But not the rest.

It is intellectually appealing to base the future European Union on the common market, human rights, social justice and solidarity but, in my reading of Huntington, it will not work.

Geography vs. Civilization

If the European Union should become a closer union – and I think in some areas it must become stronger – then this will not be possible only on ideological, rational, enlightened foundations, no matter how much are the intellectuals are fond of them. More Europe is necessary for the protection of external borders, maintaining security, ensuring free market and the rule of law. But the foundation should be the European identity: who we are, how we are, and how we are different from that which is not Europe. Elements of this identity are religion, civilization and culture.

A closer Union can be accepted by the European citizens if this Union is seen as a guardian of European culture and civilization. Or, if is sounds more politically correct, European “values”. It can be only as much closer as much intuitive awareness of European civilization exists within Europeans. Multicultural Europe seems a good idea to those who are not part of European culture and to the enlightened minority that hopes noble ideas can trump basic human instincts.

In reality, however, Europe founded on ideology is bound to fail.