Quelle Europe pour le future?
Friday 27 January 2017

Que sera, que sera, the future is not for me to see, que sera… - that song of 1957 - what shall be, shall be, que sera, que sera, thy future is not for me to see, may well apply to Europe.

Said differently, the philosopher Bart Verschaffel, would call Europe a fiction, but a necessary one. He uses fiction in a special sense since Brussels and all the other EU institutions, including the double seat of the European Parliament in both Brussels and Strasbourg, are not just an illusion. However, for most of the people in Europe they hardly exist, if at all. Is that why it is so easy for Populists to claim the European Union is superfluous, so that they can argue, it is time to go back to fully fledged national sovereignty? Such initiatives from Le Pen to Wilder take their cue from the BREXIT of the United Kingdom, and now find support from Trump along with Steve Bannon from Breitbart News. Unfortunately due to an absence of an alternative on the Left, the only political challenge to the Neo-liberal Establishment seems to come only from the Extreme Right.

The odd thing about that is the neo-liberal policy of the EU Commission has been implemented by those who have no illusion as to what Europe is all about. Precisely against of this rule by experts who consult far less citizens and far more lobbists of the companies profiting from globalization, there is not just any revolt under way, but one with epistemological consequences. For political terms are being reformulated best described by Benedict Anderson in “Imagined Communities” in which he describes the process to new nations in the 19th century as outcome of the pilgrimages of the disgruntled, or those who were excluded from the system of privileges linked to high posts in the administrations which prevailed at that time.

The current debate about Europe reflects in its pessimistic tone a reality best described as a governance by nearly 'invisible' EU laws. Although it affects daily lives from the European health card to environmental standards, this combination of Directives and Regulations has been implemented by 'soft power', so that member states can claim to be the real law makers. This soft power based on Enlightenment and human compassion, and moral persuasion, can easily be underestimated by those who are driven by anti-politics and a belief of the Alt Right, that life is tough and only the fittest will survive. For them real power has to be so strong as only Erdogan can imagine right now to be within his reach. It leads to authoritarian rule.

That this anti-democratic strategy does not work, has been made evident by the ruling of the High Court in the UK which stipulates the government has to consult parliament before initiating Article 50. Also the failure to enforce the distribution of migrants right across the board of the whole of Europe reveals much more a lack of human solidarity by those who wish to continue to live in a world of illusions as portrayed by Asterix. It was the Polish philosopher Kolakowski who predicted once people seek the lost paradise of national sovereignty, and this without any critical reading of history which includes the two World Wars, the outcome shall be a caricature of reality.

Hence if the EU is to have any future, the current crisis has to be perceived in realistic terms. One crucial factor is that the EU has no real legitimacy to govern the whole of Europe. Until now it was derived from a claim of success which the EU has equated with continual expansion, and thereby ignored an insight of Hegel, who said the bourgeoisie society can only exist by expanding. Lately that expansion drive has come to a halt and even with BREXIT been reversed. To reverse this trend, the EU Commission and Council together with the EU Parliament would have to regain in legitimacy of a special kind. Especially if the EU is not to be integrated solely by economic and monetary forces, needed is a cultural consensus across the board, so that all citizens feel to be equal in Europe. That sense of equality has a special meaning, for the EU institutions have lost in moral legitimacy when the EU Constitutional Treaty was not ratified first in France, then in Holland and after that never been put to a vote in the UK in 2015. The Maastricht Treaty has merely papered over the cracks. Thus to have future, the marginalisation of culture, or its instrumentalization for the creative industry has to be stopped. Otherwise the late Zygmunt Baumann shall be proven right that we have become complete strangers in Europe.

About the author


Hatto Fischer, poet and philosopher, coordinator of the NGO Poiein kai Prattein has been involved with questions of culture in various ways: European projects, advisor for the Greens to the Cultural Committee in the European Parliament, study for the European Commission on how culture in Greece has been financed through the structural fund. Besides his own writings, he is engaged in dialogue with poets and coordinates the world wide Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth movement with children and youth painting peace murals on a canvas having the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m). His latest research work has been on how Europe is connected through culture as exemplified by ECoCs since 1985.