Europe after the referendum: the forgotten common cause

Article published on May 29, 2006
community published
Article published on May 29, 2006

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

One year after the French and Dutch voted 'no' to the European Constitution, Europe'sleaders don't seem to know how to restart the integration process. As for the 'nos', they have trouble making a Europe opposed to neoliberalism a concrete reality

But what if this breakdown was not really to do with the European Constitutional Treaty (ECT) but was rather symptomatic of a deeper problem? What if it was symptomatic of a lack of vision and the dissolution of the European project?

Believing that the European project was simply the common market is obviously confusing means with objective. One could believe that the idea of the EU as a zone of shared prosperity is sufficient. That it would mobilise a Europe shaped by a history of grand collective projects.

But such an idea is an illusion.

While such a zone is important, it is not sustainable unless it becomes the place for a shared, collective project.

Initially, a double-engine drove the European project in the 1950s: a desire for peace among Europeans and, in the context of the Cold War, a desire to create a more efficient social model in Western Europe in the face of the Soviet model imposed on Eastern Europe.

Engine failure

With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the events at the beginning of the 1990s, it was clear that these two engines were no longer a sufficient foundation for European integration. The 'Western European social model', founded on a combination of market controls and the social values of solidarity and equality, was no longer staring communism in the face. Instead it was being changed from the inside by a successful neoliberalism which was increasing inequality and provoking the break-up of solidarity. Neoliberalism had been imposed by default as the accepted social model. Ever since, a section of pro-European public opinion has not judged the constitutional treaty to be an acceptable compromise between advocates of a liberal Europe and those of a social Europe.

As for peace, no one in the 1990s could imagine war between France and Germany. But the inability of EU states to prevent the massacres in the former Yugoslavia or to support the peace process in the Middle East, a region so intimately linked to Europe's history, demonstrated a lack of European will and the absence of a shared cause behind which we can unite.

Europe from below

Over and above the constitution, can the European momentum pick up again? Passive but real support by the majority of Europeans for the common zone is one of the starting points for a relaunch. This will not be achieved through limp consensus but through dissensus and lively European debate. Europe's most serious enemies in the future are those who include Europe in the framework of a clash of civilisations - people like the Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen, the Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, and French presidentual hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy. They and others flatter the nationalist and xenophobic demons which have been at the cause of Europe's catastrophes during the last few centuries.

If the next phase in European integration is to develop, the political, social and cultural dynamics will be created through the struggle against these enemies.