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Those responsible for the risk in which the unity of the continent is nowadays are not the national populists, but the mistakes that we, the supporters of that unity, have made.

THE FIRST number of the renewed Italian weekly L’Espresso brought to its cover an exemplary investigation by Giovanni Tizian and Stefano Vergine in which secret negotiations were uncovered between Vladímir Putin and Matteo Salvini aimed at Russia financing with three million euros the campaign for the European elections of the Lega Nord, the most booming anti-European right-wing party in Europe, led by the politician with the greatest capacity to command the national-populist International that seems to extend unstoppably through the old continent. At the end of their text, Tizian and Vergine denounce a “clamorous paradox”: “A nationalist party, financed in its next European electoral campaign by a Russian state company”.

It is a paradox, but only an apparent one. In international politics Putin is now a hooligan actor, who tries to sow in other countries a chaos favorable to his interests; it is also the main enemy of the European Union, which explains its support for Brexit or Catalan separatism. Putin’s Russia, however, does not represent the only danger for the EU; it is also represented by Trump’s United States, which prefer a weak, divided and manageable Europe to a compact Europe capable of dealing with them. But the main enemies of the EU are not outside, but inside, and their power has grown so much that it is not an exaggeration to say that the May 26 elections are the most important since the Union was founded, because in them it will have to be resolved the ‘to be or not to be’ of the most ambitious and necessary political project of the 21st century, perhaps of the whole history of Europe. This certainty – that of the intrinsic goodness of the EU project – was accepted at the beginning of the century by the vast majority of Europeans, but the 2008 crisis, only comparable in intensity to that of 1929, was enough for some demagogues to take advantage of the despair and the fear of so many people to convince many of them that it was best to forget the European dream and take refuge again in the old and illusory certainties that, like nationalism, led after the crisis of 1929 to the second suicide of Europe.  That said, let’s not deceive ourselves: the main people responsible for the risk in which the united Europe is today are not the national populists who want to end with it; they are the consequence, not the cause. The cause is the mistakes that we, the supporters of a united Europe, have made. Starting with the one that constitutes perhaps the main error, from which all the others derive. I refer to the fact that the European project was primarily an elitist project; from the beginning until today: it was an elite which, after the apocalypse of the two world wars that devastated Europe, had the visionary intuition of a continent where different people, endowed with different cultures, languages ​​and traditions, who for centuries and centuries had killed each other in bestial wars, could live peacefully in a single political unit. And at this moment it is only an elite, very weakened by the anti-elitist rancor fueled by national populism, which accepts the blatant evidence that only a united Europe will be able to preserve peace, prosperity and democracy in our continent, saving it from global irrelevance. That is perhaps the bottom of the problem: that the project of a united Europe has been unable to stop being a project of the elites to become a popular project; and the public need of this project should be felt by citizens with the same urgency with which they are aware of their private needs, because it (the project) is not different from them (their needs).

And the solution? Obviously, it does not consist in ending with the EU, watering it down or dismantling it as the national populists from inside claim, but in giving it all the power that foreign nationalists rightly fear; for this it is quite essential to turn it into a federal state able to reconcile, through an unprecedented historical experiment, political and economic unity with linguistic and cultural diversity. It is the success or failure in this experiment that is at stake on May 26.

Javier Cercas

7 APR 2019 – 00:00 CEST


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