2015. 08. 22.
Whether it’s the Greek crisis, the common currency, sovereign debt or the Russian-Ukrainian war, we are held hostage by the myths that have taken hold over the last 70 years. I don’t have anything against myths by themselves, if they function well and make the community stronger. The problem is that these myths destroy us.
Let’s start with the strongest one, which leads to a series of false conclusions: we owe it to the EU that Europe has spent the last seventy years in peace. This is the strongest argument today for the Union’s existence. There are several problems with this statement, problems that are strongly interconnected. The peace of the European community has not been granted by the heavenly harmony of the union or the tireless bureaucrats of Brussels working for more than half a century, but the peace has been granted US arms. More precisely, Europe has lived in peace because that was in the interest of the United States. During the Cold War, the external threat called the Soviet Union brought NATO to life, which was led by the US and organized the European states against an external threat. Even if the European states had considered making war against each other after two exhausting World Wars, the Soviet threat and the US would have prevented it.
Thanks again to the Cold War, France and the UK became nuclear powers, which minimizes the possibility of a European war in itself, as nuclear powers usually don’t wage wars against each other, not even limited wars.
When we talk about preserving the European peace, it is important to note that Europe was the world’s center of power before 1945. After that, Washington and Moscow became the centers. France, the UK and Germany were no longer world powers so their possibility to provoke conflicts on a global scale decreased. They had simply no reason to do so. A possible European war would bring small profit, and Washington and Moscow were already calling the stakes on the roulette wheel.
When discussing the European peace, we always think about the lack of internal conflicts among the European states, and we overlook the fact that there were no external military threats to Europe either. This might seem natural, but in reality, without the security of US arms, the Soviet Union would have easily torn up the continent, despite French and British nuclear weapons. Our peace, therefore, is not secured by the Union but the geopolitical interest of the United States and its military ability to enforce it.
However, an under-emphasized fact arises from the previous point: the European Union is not a sovereign entity. To state it more sharply, the European Union is an organization established by American will and protected by American arms. Considering all this, can the Union have an independent geopolitical will? Is it possible for the Union to follow its own interest in a geopolitical question, even against the US? One has to be either naïve or stupid to answer yes. This also means that in the most important questions concerning Europe – whether Greece should exit the euro zone or how the EU should approach the situation in Ukraine – the European states can assert their intentions in only a limited way.
If it is not the European Union that is securing the peace for European citizens, the Union has to look for other forms of legitimacy. This would be the legitimacy of welfare, which also has two problems. Only fools and economists believe that it is possible for something to grow in an unlimited way. Until September 16, 2008, it seemed that the previous two groups were right. However, the bankruptcy of Lehmann Brothers changed everything. The EU has still not recovered from the global financial crisis that erupted seven years ago. What’s more, southern Europe has declined hopelessly, and it is only a matter of time before another crisis emerges in the region, a crisis similar to the one we’re witnessing with Greece, but even greater.
But there is something else here too. The central and eastern European states, after breaking free of Soviet oppression and working hard over the past 25 years, still have not managed to achieve the standard of living of the core European states. One can make clever economic calculations about whether Slovakia or Poland is more developed than Hungary, but the truth is that Hungarians, just like their central and eastern European counterparts, are working in Germany and the UK as foreign workers. The Poles are working abroad in even higher ratios. While the German economic miracle needed only 25 years after WWII, the central and eastern European states have had the same amount of time, and they still wonder why they do not live at a standard similar to their western European counterparts.
The European Union has another, even weaker self-legitimizing argument or promise, one that is not shared by everyone, and that is that it will eliminate nation states. The Treaty of Rome established a tight Union. The Treaty of Maastricht went even further, and it wanted to bring the citizens, not the nations, closer so as to establish a kind of United States of Europe. Let’s not even discuss how misguided it is to consider a Europe without nations and how lacking it is in popular support. The idea of a deeper Union became such an obsession that the EU cannot get rid of it, despite the visibly contradicting facts. The last seventy years have not loosened the nation state bonds at all. What’s more, we are experiencing a renaissance of nationalism in recent years. This continued obsession has a series of practical and adverse consequences.
Instead of finding practical, realistic, achievable and beneficial solutions that are supported by the people, solutions addressing problems like migration or unemployment, the European states are fighting desperately to come up with solutions that would also contribute to a stronger integration. Even if it is impossible. They are enforcing a more and more integrated European Union even when the problem is caused by an EU institution (like the common currency). Brussels thinks that the Union project would be damaged beyond recovery if they had to demolish some poorly constructed walls of the great “house of Europe.” The walls of the Union should never demolished because the European elite thinks that it would otherwise lead to war and poverty.
And finally, the most severe mistake might be the fact that they entrusted the protection of all these walls to an extensive, labyrinthine system of institutions, believing that strong institutions can limit the ambitions of ‘raging nationalism’ and strong leaders. Well-functioning institutions are essential. Skilled, sharp-eyed, responsible and accountable leaders are also necessary to govern them. However, Europe has sent the real leaders into exile from the continent. And even if it finds such a leader, it unleashes its full rage against him.
As long as the European elite is held captive by these dogmas, that particular fly will continue to fly against the wall of the bottle more and more furiously. And it doesn’t have much more time to find its way out.
The author is a political scientist and leading analyst at the Századvég Foundation in Budapest.