Can Europe Make It?

Europeanizing failure and nationalizing success

Nikolay Nikolov
17 February 2014

According to José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (EC), in a speech given at the London School of Economics on Friday, Europe is firmly on the way to overcoming the economic and financial crisis. United and together, Europe, according to him, is more respected by the big players of US, China, and Russia, than it was ten years ago; because “size matters.”

The European Union has implemented an intensive programme for better economic governance, focusing on regulation and supervision, structural adjustment programmes, effective tools to supplement structural change and deal with budget irresponsibility, and a European-wide Stability Mechanism (ESM), with a budget of 700 billion Euros.

In a word, President Barroso’s message was this: the EU is not in decline, in fact “Europe has taken the bull by its horns.” At least in terms of economic recovery - the on-going political and normative crisis flowing from Ukraine through Bulgaria, to Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is barely mentioned. President Barroso only said that we shall not take for granted the urge by over 500 million people across Europe to voice their opinions on the future of Europe through democratic elections. “Just ask the people waving European flags on the streets of Ukraine. They look to Europe for freedom and security. They know what Europe is for.”

“The EU should be big on big things and small on small things” according to the EC President as he outlined the insurmountable importance of upholding the founding pillar of freedom of movement. He spoke out against the on-going discourse of ‘first’ and ‘second’ class citizens and indirectly criticized the UK government for their indecisive yet very negative take on immigration. It is “completely unfair” to disappoint new member states in the goal of absolute freedom of movement. And that is a strong and valuable statement to make in London, especially when for the countries concerned, getting a passport and freely moving around was almost impossible just twenty-four years ago.

Integration, a single market, and freedom (of movement) were the three main things focused on with regards to a future in Europe worth living in. In a recent article for openDemocracy, David Held and Kyle McNally, hail these ideals, which come together in making the EU a successful embodiment of a contemporary Kantian peace project. They write:

The EU in its most robust form stands at the pinnacle of this vision – an integrated Europe with a single market subject to common rules and a shared framework of human rights and justice. The plurality of European nations could flourish within an overarching shared commitment to democratic rules and human rights standards.

So it seems, both politically and economically, that we are still in possession of our vision – back to the initial Enlightenment project. I was invigorated by the passionate speech by President Barroso. But then it was time for questions.

The first three were directly about Ukraine and #Euromaidan. Barroso quickly responded that the EU and EC condemns the violence and has advised President Yanukovich to broker new and fair elections, allowing the people to choose in which direction they want to go (surely Europe, he added). Either way, in direct response to a question asking if/when the EU will offer the ultimate hand of liberation to Ukraine by offering them accession, Barroso replied coldly – ‘they are not ready’.

I followed up with a question regarding the general democratic deficit, ‘a democracy without choice’ as Ivan Krastev calls it, that is present in all the countries where protests are flaring up or ploughing on. I wanted to know how we can speak about integration, when these nations are so deeply embattled in their post-socialist hybrid regimes. Who ought to help with getting them back on track with their democratic consolidation?

The answer was a straightforward and expected one: “One step at a time” - while the Balkan countries move towards meeting all the criteria required for EU accession. In other words, the common theme is that countries ought to decide on their own, democratically, but it is better to be on the inside than out, and we are here to patiently wait and support them in the meantime.

You do need a benchmark to foster a disciplined society and a committed political elite. I am just afraid that countries like Bulgaria or Ukraine are not able to get back on the horse. Too much time has been wasted waiting for reform and letting each and every single democratic institution rot away before it was barely born.

If integration is such a key priority for the future of the EU, then the Balkans are a key priority for the EU. That much is well-known; but when protests are spreading and all of them unite around the idea of resisting a façade democracy and invincible oligarchic models, then the statement must be stronger and support must be more active. 

Because as important as it is to talk about how to stabilize the euro, with every day that #Euromaidan and #ДАНСwithme protests continue, the normative foundation of a political unity in Europe crumbles. If the dream is a single market and an integrated political community, the crises in eastern Europe must go much higher up the European agenda.

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