A bittersweet Europe

Article published on May 8, 2006
Article published on May 8, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

This year’s Europe Day on May 9 will be a snapshot of a Europe which views the EU with suspicion and fear. European governments have found no solution and civil society is in unrest

9 May 1950 – the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presented his idea for a European Coal and Steel Community. In 2006, the year of the 20th Europe Day, Europeans will commemorate Schuman’s vision with Europe Day. In 2006, the Europe that hosts this event is, more than ever before, a Europe in crisis.

Not just because the ratification of the European Constitution was blocked by a No from the French and the Dutch last spring. Not just because, in the meantime, no political leadership capable of proposing a way out of this situation has emerged. It is simply because, increasingly, people are scared of Europe.

Fear of the future

There is a great fear of Europe as a liberalising, globalising force. It is this fear that led to the European Constitution being branded a Trojan horse of forthcoming liberalisation by those who voted no to the constitution. Yet it was through economic interdependence and the abolition of trade barriers that Europe has been able to start afresh after each of its countless wars. Despite this, the fear remains.

Then there is the fear of a Europe without borders: a Europe open to all, which lets Amsterdam and Berlin become full of people who arrived as stowaways in Sicily or Spain. Yet this fear ignores Europe’s need for a fresh working population. For if the current trends continue, by 2050 40% of the Dutch population will be over 65.

Finally, there is the fear of the Eurocrat. More than anywhere else, Great Britain is scared of a Europe run by bureaucrats and intrusive legislation. This seems to be an irrational fear if you think that the European Commission in Brussels employs less people than the local council of Paris.

Europe's justification

Yet the fears of European are not completely unjustified. The European economy grew by just 1.6% between 2000 and 2005, Europe has an unemployment level of 18% among young people, which extends to a 36% youth unemployment rate in Poland. In such a context it is understandable that the European left is hostile to trade liberalisation and its promises of cutbacks and efficiency.

The 60’s saw immigrants arriving in Europe to work, only to be placed in large concrete high rises outside of European cities, outside of European society; given such a history it is not surprising that immigrant integration often fails and anti-immigration voices are duly adduced.

The national leaders of Europe frequently choose the easy way out blame Brussels for all the unpopular decisions they make. In this context it is unsurprising that the European public views the EU as a super-bureaucracy.

The eurogeneration

Thankfully, there is another Europe. This is the Europe of Erasmus, which since 1987 has enabled more than a million students to study abroad. This is the Europe of civil society and of a genuine European media. To overcome the fear in our society, our leaders must have faith in this Europe. This is the first eurogeneration, and it continues to grow. Even with an EU which is in trouble. Even on Europe Day.