Is the end of European greatness in sight?
Prof. Uffe Ostergaard
19 May, 2017
I adore Europe and I feel European but I am forced to concede the obvious - many Europeans think differently. The very fact that there is not a common European identity hampers the process of finding joint solutions to problems and crises. Instead, conflicts are born. We went through four different crises recently.
The first was the euro crisis, which, to a certain extent, was self-inflicted. Then came the migrant crisis, which became a reflection of the EU’s weakness. Add to that Russia under Putin and the US under Trump, who lost interest in cooperation with the EU. The fourth one stems from Brexit and the bloc losing one of its pillars in the UK.
The EU’s predecessor was an organisation regulating the coal and steel production and introducing cooperation in ostensibly harmless areas such as free trade. However, the process of integration gradually spread to other areas and freedom of labour mobility in particular turned out to be a revolutionising principle.
Initially, it was believed that it would affect men between the age of 20 and 40 but then women came to the picture, followed by families, the number of unemployed grew and the result was that illegal migrants were granted social rights. Clashes with the local population, triggered by growing nationalistic attitudes ensued. Meanwhile, the EU’s heavy regulatory presence is perceived as a loss of sovereignty.
The big problem was that the EU was “talking” like a state when in reality it was not one. This is why I completely understand voters and have the utmost respect for their position. They recognise falsehood when they encounter it. Prime ministers of European countries maintain that they have a plan even though they know fully well that it is wishful thinking.
As someone who is pro-European, I was shocked to realise how much of a gulf there actually is between societies in western and eastern Europe. Let me give you an example - the minimum salary in Bulgaria is lower than the child benefits In Denmark. Nearly 50 years of communism have resulted in the sceptical view of western liberal democracy we now see in Hungary and Poland. We have been profoundly naive in thinking that we have managed to create a truly united European community.
Still, I believe that one fine day Europe will have a common identity and it will come about because of weakness. It will happen when Europe finally loses its place on the global stage and we find ourselves performing folk dances for Chinese tourists. Then we will have to put on our traditional costumes, and studies show that there is nothing more unifying than national dances and costumes.
The era of European greatness began in 1492 and ended in 1945. The EU is simply a mechanism to artificially prolong it but the end is in sight. The economic power is not bolstered by a political one. The EU is the “strongest economy in the world” but its population of 500 million is constantly shrinking, whereas other regions are growing. We could live in ignorant bliss for a while longer. It does not have to be a bad life. It simply means we will find it very hard to set the moral standards for the world because this feat requires actual power. (abridged)
Prof. Uffe Ostergaard is a historian and a professor emeritus at the Copenhagen Business School. The article was originally published in Berlingske.