XAVIER MAS DE XAXÀS, BARCELONA
Updated 04/07/2020 03:01
Cleaning employees disinfecting the European Parliament in Brussels before the plenary session on May 13 (ARIS OIKONOMOU / AFP)
The countries that founded the European Union 70 years ago were failed empires that had lost it or were on their way to losing everything after dominating the world for five hundred years. Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, especially Germany, had nothing but Europe, no other refuge outside the nation state.
The Third Reich was the last attempt to create an empire and failed. When Britain joined the EU, it had lost everything, too. In Spain and Portugal the loss of the last colonies coincided with the end of dictatorships and incorporation into Europe.
The EU was founded by failed empires that had run out of horizon; the pandemic just gave them one
In the 1990s, the European Union created a space for countries that were born after World War I, such as Austria, the Baltic and Balkan republics, the ancient satellites of the Soviet empire. There was even a time, between the collapse of the USSR and Putin’s access to power, that the EU also somehow considered accommodating post-imperial Russia. It could not be, however, because Putin preferred to rebuild Russia on the romantic myths of eternal innocence, something that, on the other hand, all countries have always done. It is enough to have a magical mountain that links the landscape with God and invent fables of chosen peoples who are victims of everything and guilty of nothing.
The countries that founded the European Union 70 years ago were not nation states that, having survived two world wars, were integrated to prevent the atrocities of the twentieth century from being repeated. They were empires forced to reinvent themselves after losing Indochina, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Mozambique, Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia, Libya, Namibia, Algeria, Morocco and so many other countries that for five centuries had been their colonies. It is from this imperialist failure that the European Union emerges.
Since the beginning of time, countries have struggled to expand their dominance and influence. They need more territories, more material resources, and more power. The world still works that way. China, Russia and the U.S. prove it. They are empires and today they are enemies of Europe because Europe has shown that there is life beyond empires.
For five hundred years, Europe committed all sorts of atrocities from a false moral and racial superiority. The last one was the Holocaust. Today, however, Europe is the world’s first economy, a network of democratic states, a space where, despite all the injustices about the most vulnerable people, the rule of law and the well-being of citizens are protected more than anywhere else.
A year ago, on Vienna’s Judenplatz, the American historian Timothy Snyder spoke of the birth of “something new” in Europe from the failure of empires and nation states that had run out of horizons. This novelty was the European Union, “the best answer to the crucial question of imperialism”.
The EU remains a solution and an alternative to exhausted American, Chinese and Russian imperialisms. The EU is an exception. European citizens know that the nation state, as the pandemic has shown and the latest European Council on Foreign Relations survey, will not meet any global challenge. That is why they are calling for a strong and emancipated Europe.
Against this Europe with values and a voice of its own, is the rise of nationalpopulisms, governments and parties that attack the EU also from within.
Snyder identifies three characteristics of imperialisms that are as effective today as in Mesopotamia four thousand years ago. The first is “ecological panic”, the need to seize other people’s resources to ensure their own survival. The second is the dehumanization of the different, which is only valid based on its economic value. And the third is conquest, the destruction of the state and the imposition of terror on new subjects.
Europe’s enemy imperialists suffer ecological panic, deny climate change because they make money from hydrocarbons, dehumanize immigrants, enemies who come to destroy their national identity, and erode democracy because they believe authoritarianism is a more effective form of government. Putin, Trump and Xi, as well as Erdogán, Orbán, Kackzinski and all populsm, from Vox to M5M, fit into this mold and also use Silicon Valley-based digital technology to bend the EU.
The future they deny is the same as the EU must build. This is an inevitable responsibility at a time of utmost urgency. Faced with the worst economic crisis since its founding, the EU must strengthen member states to save itself and thus remain a hope for the whole world. This is what founding fathers like Robert Schuman wanted, “a Europe not only for Europeans but for everyone,” a Europe for people, not for states.
When the EU legislates to protect the digital rights of its citizens – something no empire has done – when it proposes a green and digital economy, when it asks partners like Spain to invest more in health, it is thinking about people, not states.
And this is where the tension lies, the fear of many rulers, that their states will dilute, especially if they are small and frugal, and they are diluted with their states. But this has always been the natural evolution of Europe. Maintaining the nation state’s flame is not governing for citizens but elites. This is something that most Europeans are very clear about. Now all the rulers need to fall for this so obvious.