Friday, May 7, 2021
This is the third reflection based on the four streams of Sallux. Johannes de Jong
This Sunday 9 May is the annual ‘Europe Day’. And indeed this coming Sunday the grand ‘Conference on the future of the EU’ will be officially launched. This is of course a fitting moment to consider the future of the EU in our newsletter.
The unending debate over the future of the EU has one very strange characteristic that I will try to explain with an example.
If I were to propose that healthcare in The Netherlands should be decided at provincial level instead of national level, people would probably disagree with me and present both good and bad arguments of why we should not do that. People would for example say that it would be inefficient or that it would be impractical for certain types of healthcare. In all these arguments probably nobody would say that I am a ‘Dutchosceptic’, a person fundamentally in disagreement with the existence of The Netherlands simply because I would propose to decentralize healthcare to provincial level.
This is of course an example. I would not really make such a proposal. But the strange thing at the moment is that if someone does not want to move certain competences to ‘Brussels’ or even decentralize some competences back to national level, he or she is quickly seen as a ‘Eurosceptic’. It often seems to be impossible to be both very much pro-EU and simultaneously against too much power vested in EU institutions. Logically that does not make much sense as is clear from my example. It should be possible to be an EU enthusiast while against having too much power and competences concentrated in Brussels.
The big problem with branding everyone who is for more decentralization in the EU or a stronger role for Member States as a eurosceptic, is that it confuses ends and means. The EU institutions are there to serve the overall purposes of the EU. So, the EU exists and should have purpose before and beyond the EU institutions. When the EU institutions become the same as the EU we make the means the ends. Subsequently everyone who is critical of too much power in the EU institutions becomes (also in his or her own view) a Eurosceptic or a ‘soft Eurosceptic’. The result is that many more people who otherwise would have supported the EU become estranged from the EU as idea and reality.
The Conference on the future of the EU would do a great service to the EU if it were to clarify again what the purpose of the EU is before and beyond the EU institutions. What is the EU for?
As Sallux we see the first and foremost purpose of the EU in its values. Upholding human dignity and fundamental freedoms in and outside the EU as well as fostering peace in and outside Europe are the fundamental building bricks of the EU now and of its future. These values are a reflection of the Christian roots of the European Union and the faithful motivation of its founding fathers.
Without these Christian roots and the values coming from them, the EU is nothing more than a mere fight over power. And indeed, in the morning of 6 May there was still a political fight over who would have the power over the ‘Conference on the future of the EU’ a few days from its official launch.
Human Dignity and fundamental freedoms are not only giving the EU its purpose, they also are the necessary common values for the much-needed conversation in Europe. We really do need a real conversation between Central Europe and western Europe. Between northern Europe and southern Europe. We need more true conversation over those issues that divide us and we need conversations that uncover what unites us. The EU has no future without conversation and reconciliation. Europe can only be built from the ground up. Different perspectives must come together on the level of our societies. The corona crisis has deepened differences and simultaneously made conversation more difficult. The online environment has locked us down in our own bubbles. My hope is that post-corona both the Conference on the future of Europe and our own post-corona activities and the work of many more actors in Europe can contribute to reviving true conversation. However a real conversation will only then be possible if we do not allow ourselves to be locked down in our own ‘being right’. This is why common recognition of our mutual human dignity and our mutual right to fundamental freedoms, is necessary for any conversation. These notions transcend ‘me being right’ as I realise that the other is a human being of the same value and having the same rights as I do.
We need a more relational Europe based on common values. If we have more mutual understanding and trust and real common ground, we also can have more joint decision-making in the EU institutions. Because we will have ‘more Europe’ before we have more power in EU institutions. And even then it should not be an ideological but a practical and democratic issue to ask which competences we place in Brussels and which not (anymore).
‘An ever closer Union’ should not be about more power in Brussels but about the relation we have with each other as peoples and people in Europe. The future of Europe depends on it.
With sincere Christian greetings,
This is the third reflection based on the four streams of Sallux.
Johannes de Jong