After three months of travelling, I have now covered 25% of my itinerary. I am happy and grateful that I have the possibility to get to know so many different people, different places and different habits. I think Europe is unique in the endless diversities it offers on such a small piece of land. So many languages, philosophies, cuisines, landscapes all within a few hours reach. But so many gaps to bridge if you all want them to work together in a sensible way.
The idea of the current European Union goes back until the early 1950s. Close economic collaboration between European countries would be a perfect way to provide stability and peace. Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg started economical integration in 1957, while another impressive list of 21 countries joined between then and now.
`It`s quite a challenge to try unite such a diverse continent`
For each one of those countries and for each particular expansion stage, the interests for joining have been different. In the same way, the public opinion about the European Union varies from one country to another. With the exception of a general indifference that can be felt in any of the member states: Brussels is far away and nobody knows who is pulling which string. The EU presents itself as a mass of overbureaucratic and inefficient connections between unidentified individuals who spend their days producing multilingual yet inaccessible information about God knows what. While that addition about God would probably be a good source for another endless debate about religious heritage of the EU.
I don`t think that the French `non` and the Dutch `nee` against a European constitution were coincidences. France and The Netherlands were both founding members of a union that would increase trade between member states. They did not to intend the creation of a huge bank account that served to first pay its public representatives, then in cash for the new member states` economic development. Over 50 years time, citizens of France and The Netherlands, have had the impression that they had no say in whatever happened in Brussels. The whole political circus moving from Brussels to Strasbourg and back every now and then? No influence. New member states? No influence. Introduction of the Euro? No influence. All legislation made in Brussels is seen as the result of some behind-the-scene discussions between Finance Ministers.
The rejection of the constitution had hardly anything to do with the legislation itself. Voters in The Netherlands and France just felt like making their existence known. It was a `no` against some countries having ungrounded privileges over other countries (e.g the United Kingdom), a `no` against overpaying to the European Union (e.g. Netherlands, Sweden, Finland), a `no` against interference in domestic politics (e.g France), possibly a `no` against the entry of another set of member states and a `no` against the further dilution of power over a group of endlessly disagreeing politicians and nations.
European politicians could have taken this as a warning sign, and a reason to design a new treaty. Instead, they embraced their own tradition of making things overly complex and incomprehensible. The result is a set of insertions into current treaties that will become unrecognisable as a constitution once it has been ratified by all member states. So far, only the Irish Prime Minister has promised to issue a referendum. Ireland has the advantage of being one of the few identifiable EU success stories. It joined as one of the poorest states of Europe and now competes with the richest. But while Ireland is slowly moving from being a net receiver to a net contributor, the local public opinion about further European integration may change overnight. All other member states risk getting the minced constitution through their throats.
We have got used to that by now, but could anybody explain us how we will benefit from it? The constitution is an important crossroad in European history. Combining my views of the countries I`ve visited so far, I`d say we have the following two scenarios as extremes:
1) A union where the Irish supply music and alcoholics, the Lithuanians negotiate with Russia, the Latvians invent reasons why the new union is special, the Estonians protect the environment, the Finns promote public nudity, the Swedes provide everybody with building packages for houses and furniture, the Scots send rainbows across the continent and the Portuguese do the cooking;
2) A union where the Irish regulate sexual behaviour and its possible consequences, Lithuanians all become taxi drivers, Latvians impose Russian as a second language for everybody, Estonians dictate the maximum speed of speech, Finns teach passion, Swedes all become salespeople, Scots decide on the daily menu and the Portuguese send in managers of football clubs to help fight corruption.
Under scenario 1) we will all be happy Europeans within three generations from now. Scenario 2) which somehow seems more likely under current circumstances, it should not take longer than five years before the first countries will try to regain independence. Anything in the middle would be more likely but whatever the outcome: we as European citizens can at least say that it wasn`t us voting in favour of the reform.
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