Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty

Arrival at Brussels International Airport 2006

How could you say 'no' to Europe?

Or the difficulty of saying 'yes' to a new political entity!


The sign at the airport in Brussels, spotted in 2006, has some ironic ring to it when considering the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005.

Clearly those involved in the European debate have not been able to show convincingly how expansion, integration and reform of EU institutions can be combined with a clear questioning of existing power structures. The way reproduction of power has long been neglected, it indicates political fault lines prevail throughout Europe. In turn, the resignation of the many indicates a further path of still other failures. Altogether it was not possible to communicate a convincing model for European integration, and this despite the work done by the European Convention. Instead, people talk about 'those' or 'they' in Brussels, as if everything is being decided independently from anybody known to oneself, including oneself. Not being taken into consideration is like living in an abstract world. Thus many end up to view European institutions as a clever set-up for some to take a lot of money and this without any clear accountability.

Politics has to do with distribution and re-distribution of resources. For a long time now Europe has been known to subsidize heavily the Agricultural sector. That makes the debate about the European budget pertinent for any intention of reform. However, NGOs recommend before a shift from one resort to another along with an increase in the budget for another e.g. culture is undertaken, politicians should ensure that the money made available is wisely and prudently spend.

Still all these resource allocations reflect not merely practical wisdom but the dominance of vested political interests. They exert an enormous influence upon the distribution of funds. It leaves the European landscape and indeed cities stranded because they fail to meet the objective of sustainable development which is by the way not the same as 'sustainable growth' (the key concept in the EU 2020 strategy paper).

Unfortunately the EU vision for 2020 does not include culture even though there is reference made to the importance of retain social cohesion by combatting poverty and social exclusion. The predicament is to limit knowledge to education and research, hence university based activities even though they should be benchmarked according to the EU 2020 strategy against world universities to remain competitive within the European research area. The diagnosis of the problems fails to identify problems of access to knowledge as being fore mostly of cultural reason and not exclusively tied to only formal education and life long learning as extension of short-term employment and extended training to make the labor market more flexible. Thus this strategy excludes culture once again and with it the self-understanding people have and shape in their everyday lives. The failure to make explicit the cultural dimension of governance is one of the greatest weaknesses of the European Union as also cultural borders explain why the vision of an unified market even in the digital age falls short of reality.

Internationally speaking, Europe faces numerous challenges but the very lack of having a clear voice leaves the position of Europe in a changing world especially after the 11th of September in disarray. By trying to arrange itself with the United States, Europe earns only ironic commentaries by CNN that its politicians would argue diversity is a European strength, but if they are divided how can they articulate their position at world level? Certainly this media perception identifying disagreements as a sign of weakness and indeed disunity reinforces really undemocratic developments, including media manipulations, in order to produce such an illusion of unity. Crucial is, therefore, the paper by Bart Verschaffel about the need for such cultural development which allows us to articulate public truths in public spaces and be questioned as cultural truths by others.

It is known from experiences in Germany that the inability of the general population to follow political debates often perceived as unresolvable differences in opinions and disputes can make many people demand ‘actions, not words’ as if these actions can be decided upon by one person, that is without general discussion before decisions are made. Unconsciously it is the clearest endorsement of not democracy but a tendency towards one sidedness or even worse dictatorship. Interestingly enough EU Commission President Barroso speaks in 2010 of the risk that countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece could slip back into moderate forms of military dictatorships as known in the past if they do not resolve their austerity measures by retaining a sense of social justice.

At the same time, foreign policy has always remained in the hands of mostly secretive diplomatic circles and this without any acknowledgement that in the age of the Information Society communication shall alter. There is to be noticed a shift in the population as to whom they trust to take care better of their vital interests. For instance, the Papandreou institute in Greece initiated such a survey with regards to the issue of sustainable development and the result was that a majority of people put their prime trust into the United Nations and other international organizations rather than into National governments when it comes to resolve these and other outstanding issues.

A European debate would be useful already if these and other mistaken ideas about Europe could be corrected. These preconceptions but also mal-practices should be perceived as valuable lessons to learn from in order to progress both in terms of policy making at European level and in giving feed-back as to the consequences of the implementations thereof or even failures to do so within a transparent and accountable context. Otherwise Europe risks becoming a club of the super-rich while the images projected online seem to mainstream the future into modernised segments of the green economy with a functioning rural, maritime, transport and industrial sector based on gaining access to such knowledge which allows for innovation and sustainable growth.

Subsequently Europe would be better advised, if it can be shown how to pursue much more vigorously the transnational character of unification and while doing so bring about such institutional reforms within Europe so that trust of citizens can become the basis of governance.

Hatto Fischer 28.6.2010

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