As I was watching the results of the Greek elections on TV I realised that beyond the immediate importance of the outcome itself something much more important has been unveiling before our eyes; the European project is finally, and despite everything, a reality.
Never before the elections in another small European state have been followed with so much attention –and preocupation- by all the other EU member states. Indeed, the fate of the European project depends on the solution found to the Greek crisis, but it is also dependent on the results of the French elections and on the economic measures taken by Italy and Spain… and Germany! The interdependence between the EU member states is not the boring Brussels rethoric anymore but a sobering fact that is now clear to all Europeans.
The European project has been accused of being a project of the elites, disconnected from the peoples of Europe and with no impact on the everyday life of its citizens. An expensive visionary dream justifiable after WWII but essentially unnecessary in the XXI century. Millions of euros have been spent by the EU to try to communicate what good is it doing for the Europeans; all in vain. The national elections continued to take place in national terms and on national issues and even the European Parliament elections didn’t talk much about Europe. Since the begining of the crisis the EU has unwillingly stepped up to the latest stage of its construction. Today all national elections, all national decisions, all national media talk about the EU –and this time the Commission is not paying for it!-. We are seeing spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity emerging between Europeans. It is finally clear to everybody that the Union is really a union in its widest sense; if one falls, we all fall.
Today the most eurosceptic countries and media are screaming out for European federalism. From the Tory government in Britain to The Economist are urging Germany and France to deepen the fiscal and economic integration after decades of calling for the opposite. And the most amazing thing of all is that Europeans now understand what this is all about. Mutualisation of debts, single deposit insurance, Eurobonds appear in all European newspapers and most Europeans are aware of what it means and what it entails economically and politically.
It is true that some extreme nationalist and populist parties have emerged here and there calling for the dismanteling of the EU, however their results in the latest elections in France and Greece indicate a stabilisation at rates below 10% of the electorate. In other words, despite the current extreme situation one can say that there is a big majority who believes that the future is to be resolved together in Europe and not withdraw to the national borders. Albeit highly controversial, the European project has a purpose in the eyes of the public. Indeed, a big number among those who believe that the EU has followed a neo-liberal policy during the last decades seem to understand that the solution is not to break-up but to change the majorities in the European institutions and create more democracy and accountabilitable to change the economic policies. The EU, with all its weaknesses, is seen as part of the solution.
The project of a European Constitution failed because the Europeans –and above all, the politicians- didn’t understand to which extent our economies and our fate were interdependent. Only a handful of people in the Brussels bubble were among the few to understand this and this is why the proposal to move towards a political union was logical. But looking back we can now understand that what was clear for some was incomprehensible for the majority. The Dutch and French “no” but also the Spanish “yes” to the European Constitution can be explained in this context. Nobody understood what were they really being consulted about. Ten years later the time has come to ask the same question once again with the difference that now the citizens –Greeks, Spanish, Germans, French, Italian, Irish, etc…- know what is this all about. If we have to live or perish together we Europeans need to create a European political sphere; we need to be able to elect and monitor the European government that is going to decide on economic policies and administer the European solidarity. It is in the interest of no one to have Germany acting as European Government- not even in the interest of the Germans themselves! We need to give a lot more importance to the European parliamentary life and we need to continue discussing “Europe” in our everyday politics, like we are doing today. Finally this reality is understood by the European citizens.
Whatever happens during the next weeks one of the most important steps of the process of European integration is being accomplished: Europe is starting to find its soul.