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10 January, 2013

The Year of the EU, a Year of Anxiety

2013 must be the year to regain moral guidance and the political instruments to unify Europe

This is the conclusion I drew after I started out by assuming this was a crisis of the Euro, which I realized was, and continues to be, a crisis of the entire economic and political project of the EU.

That a fiscal union cannot be viable or enduring without a political union is a sheer fact of life which cannot be denied by anyone who more or less sticks to reality instead of living in a fantasyland. That much ink has been and will be spilled over the future of the EU to determine whether we face its demise or an unprecedented era of unification is an undeniable fact as well. Yet one small nuance is lost in translation here: namely, the question of what kind of EU we will have in 2013, if one is still there.

George Soros hit the bull’s eye when he described the ongoing drama of the European Union. In his article “The Tragedy of the European Union and How to Resolve It” published in The New York Review of Books (September 27 – October 10, 2012, Vol. LIX, No. 14, pp. 87–93), he offers a clue to the problem. Putting it in black and white, Soros says the tragedy of the EU is that it originated as a global open society pursuing the ends to create a club of democracies with their full commitment to human rights and civil liberties; yet what we can expect to emerge after the Euro crisis is likely to be a deeply hierarchical system with two classes of member states – creditors and debtors.

How can we expect political symmetry, equality, and reciprocity in a system with such an asymmetric balance of economic power? And it seems this class differentiation will become permanent because it will be impossible — for economic policies and fiscal reasons — for debtor countries to catch up to the creditor countries. Soros said, “Germany has actually benefitted from the euro crisis, which has kept down the exchange rate and helped exports.” Instead of doing the bare minimum necessary to resolve the crisis, he said Germany should “lead or leave the EU.”

Needless to say, the demise of the EU would deal a nearly mortal blow to the global social and moral order. It would be a blow to civilized politics, peace, and our hopes to have a century of the fulfilment of humanity and its enormous creative potential, instead of a century of destruction and moral apocalypse as was the case in the 20th century. The EU represents a continent which has done its utmost to overcome a suicidal and self-destructive pattern of politics that shaped the tragic past of the modern world with its two global wars, deep internal divisions of Europe, mental blocks, social gaps, and the loss of memory and sensitivity.

And here we encounter another formative and crucial event of 2012 – the decision to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU. That event split and polarized public opinion not only in Norway but also in most European societies. The fact that José Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy, and Martin Schulz came to Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize and then announced that it was the entire community of European Citizens that received the supreme peace award did not sound terribly plausible, to say the least.

The fact that a faceless organization, instead of a flesh-and-blood human rights activist or a dissenting intellectual, received this supreme award tells us something even more disturbing about Europe's profound crisis than the ongoing crisis of the Euro. True, the EU is a symbol of peace and the potential to change and this is the only hope for humanity in the 21st century. Europe represents soft power and respect for human rights after centuries of devastating religious conflicts and two world wars – what else, one would think, could be added to the story of our powers of critical self-questioning and adjustment to new political sensibilities?

Yet the question remains what happened to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee which did not seem to care that it almost consecutively selected two top American politicians whose sole merit was that they were not George W. Bush and that they represented an opposing power. With all due respect, selecting former US Vice-President Al Gore for a slide show on global warming and then the new US President Barack Obama, credited for not being Bush, seemed a bit overstretched even as far as anti-Republican partisan sentiment and resentment was concerned.

It is with sound reason, then, that the latest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature calls for a comparison with those recent recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in terms of the loss of criteria and moral compass. Instead of Milan Kundera whose name was and continues to be on the lips of a number of academic and literary critics as a most convincing and richly deserving candidate for the supreme award in literature, a favourite of the Chinese Writers’ Union and, in effect, of the Chinese Communist Party was selected for the award, which was a slap in the face to all dissenting Chinese writers, artists, and naysayers.

It remains unclear which crisis is more devastating and dangerous for our future – the crisis of markets and fiscal union or the crisis of our moral imagination. China and Russia seem to have firmly established themselves as two versions of a social alternative to the EU and the West in general – forging a variety of crony capitalism that lacks liberty, plurality and human rights.

2013 must therefore be the year in which we regain moral guidance and the political instruments to unify Europe. Otherwise, we will be at risk of losing everything we won after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


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