Europe: as saviour or of sorrow? – Open Democracy

6 months ago Comments Off on Europe: as saviour or of sorrow? – Open Democracy

Ukrainian students hold an EU flag in Kyiv. SergeiChuzakov/PA images. All rights reserved.

Some twenty five years ago, many in
the disintegrating Yugoslavia clung to the idea of ‘Europe as saviour’;
paralleled by the Union’s own proclamation that it was indeed the ‘hour of
Europe’. Today, those fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere,
or those in Ukraine seeking closer ties with the EU, are similarly-minded.

many, however, the continent has become a ‘Europe of sorrow’; a source of
despondency, frustrated hopes and shattered dreams. Far from supporting the
EU’s break-up, however, many eurosceptics seek its reform. If the Democracy in
Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) is to become a successful pan-European movement,
then it is vital that such voices – including those beyond the EU’s own borders
– be actively mobilized to drive change, not collapse.

One of the impediments to a vibrant
and healthy debate about the EU and its future is the persistence of
Eurocentrism. This unyielding belief in the predominance of Europe and European
culture gives rise to an assertion that Europe’s problems can simply be
overcome by more Europe. Europe is not the problem, but an absence or lack of
Europe. If we could only Federalise Europe, then all its problems would be
resolved. Advocates of such an approach are almost religiously dogmatic in their
avowals of the EU as a panacea. 

Such radical europhiles regularly
deride eurosceptics as being prejudiced, myopic and insular. Eurosceptics are
frequently castigated as anti-migration and anti-refugee. Euroscepticism is
deemed to be the preserve of the populist, with anti-EU sentiment whipped-up by
those simply eager to further their own political ambitions. Expressed concerns
about the European project are rarely tackled head-on, but instead dismissed as
irrelevant or simply brushed under the carpet. In effect, the two sides – the
europhiles and the eurosceptics – persistently talk past one another. 

Stereotyping all eurosceptics in
this manner, however, further complicates efforts to mobilize those who still
believe in the potential of Europe. The twin narratives of Europe – ‘as
saviour’ and ‘of sorrow’ – are not as fundamentally dichotomous as they may
first appear. Contained within the narrative of a “Europe of sorrow” is an impatience
with the European project itself; what it has become and what it might have

Many eurosceptics are deeply-concerned about the EU itself, not about the
idea of Europe as such. Yet this impatience is tending to drive centrifugal
forces, not change. Whilst opponents of the EU in its current form are not
necessarily opponents of Europe per se, this schism within eurosceptics has not
been effectively exploited by those advocating for a different Europe.

This impatience is shared by
increasingly eurosceptic voices on Europe’s margins, both within and beyond its
geographical boundaries. Too many of Europe’s younger generation have
experienced Europe as a ‘Europe of sorrow’ (especially through high
unemployment levels),yet remain largely excluded from debates about the
Union’s very future. Day-by-day they become ever more detached from the
European project.

The youth of Ukraine and other peripheral areas (i.e. north
Africa, the Middle East) also have a stake in the EU’s future, and the ideas
and energy to reinvigorate debates. Yet having stood-up on the streets of Kyiv
to voice their faith in a European future, Ukraine’s youth increasingly feel
betrayed by Europe’s regression and the impact it will have on their own
country’s transition. 

The Dutch referendum on the EU’s
association agreement with Ukraine brought these two competing notions of
Europe – ‘as saviour’ and ‘of sorrow’ – head-to-head. On the one side, those
cherishing Europe’s transformative potential beyond its own borders in its
contemporary hour of need vis-a-vis Russian manoeuvres in the East.

On the other,
those guided by a scepticism about the present European project and its future
course, and eager to exploit the referendum to undermine Brussels. The
passivity of those believing in the former was outgunned by the passion and
populism of those in the latter camp, though only just (the referendum almost
fell short of fulfilling the turnout requirements). To avoid this becoming a
regular pattern, those who believe in Europe’s potential need to better engage
those more sceptical voices.   

The European Union has long
promulgated a narrative of ‘Europe as saviour’ – from fascism, dictatorship and
communism. For many of Europe’s citizens, especially its young people, this
narrative now has only historical significance. Today it is the ‘Europe of
sorrow’ which drives a considerable amount of eurosceptic politics.

Yet many
euro-sceptics remain optimistic about Europe, if not about the EU in its
current form. Many are sorrowful about what Europe could have become.
Exploiting this dichotomy, whilst engaging Europe’s margins both within and
beyond its geographical boundaries, can drive a movement for change that can
once again ensure that Europe becomes a saviour for the contemporary challenges
it faces.

Europe: as saviour or of sorrow? – Open Democracy