Europe's four futures
The dividing lines in any debate often fail to pinpoint the key issues at stake. This is increasingly clear in the debate about the European Union as we look back on its past development over 50 years and – with the recent Berlin Declaration and the proposed “Reform Treaty” in our minds – to Europe’s future. It is remarkable how narrow are the bounds in which debate has hitherto taken place.
Broadly speaking, there are two key questions that lie at the heart of the European issue:
- Should decision-making be principally at the national level or the European level?
- Are we promoting a closed, bureaucratic and illiberal future, or an open, democratic and free future?
Until now, most debates about 'Europe' have focused on the first question: more integration or less, issues of sovereignty, subsidiarity and EU 'competencies', or concerns about national identity versus the European project. However, it is equally – if not more – important to tackle the second question: what kind of society and social organisation would we like to see across Europe as a whole?
If we take these questions as forming two axes, we can identify four different scenarios for Europe's future: Divided Europe, Bureaucratic Europe, Open Europe and Common Europe.
Let us look at each of these in turn.
(a) Divided Europe - The nationalist scenario
This is a retreat from any idea of 'Europe' at all. It is the bunker mentality of 'Little Englanders' who reject engagement with the wider Europe on principle and seek to protect themselves from its encroachments. It calls for strict measures on immigration, trade protection and a policy of 'Britain for the British'! (There are of course comparable views in other European countries.) This position is narrow and defeatist and would ultimately consign us to irrelevance.
(b) Bureaucratic Europe - The post-democratic scenario
This idea puts the drive for European integration before all other concerns. As such, it considers economic and social policies not from the standpoint of their intrinsic benefits but in terms of whether or not they promote integration. Similarly, democratic pressures are an obstacle to be surmounted, hence the shielding of European Commissioners from any democratic accountability. Its approach to integration is mechanistic, not organic. This is very much the scenario upon which the EU is currently embarked - with great risk to Europe's future prosperity as well as personal liberties and democracy.
(c) Open Europe - The liberal scenario
In this scenario, the democratic states of Europe form an association based upon the 'four freedoms' – free movement of goods, services, capital and labour – and flexible co-operation in other areas. Programmes of co-operation can develop organically without coercion by, for example, enabling member states to opt in or opt out of programmes. This would allow member states to maintain their freedom of action and participate in those activities that will most benefit their own citizens.
(d) Common Europe - The visionary scenario
This is the prospect of Europe developing into a free, democratic society with genuine pan-European political parties and a sense of European 'identity'. It would mean the growth of a European public, or demos. Essentially, Europe would completely supplant individual nation states, but would do so on the basis of the consent and commitment of its people.
We are a long way from witnessing this last scenario but it must be viewed as a future possibility. If people want this future, is it not better to start from a position of building open and flexible co-operation and allowing it to grow organically – the 'Open Europe' scenario – rather than trying to force integration through bureaucratic and mechanistic means which may prove to be counter-productive?
In this simple scheme we can see some of the fallacies of the present debates. The anti-EU movement, for example, includes people of fundamentally opposing views about the nature of the society they wish to see. The ‘anti-EU’ movement makes everything an issue of being for or against Europe - thus seeming to confirm the claims of their opponents who would present them as nationalist die-hards.
At the same time, the ‘pro-European’ movement has been captured by those who would sacrifice democracy, personal liberty and economic freedom in the cause of further integration. In doing so, they make common cause with the nationalists they seek to oppose.
Our commitment to an open Europe, based on the 'four freedoms' and flexible co-operation, separates us from those with a nationalist bunker mentality who are anti-European, as well as those who consider themselves pro-European but are averse to Europe's liberal ideals.
The open Europe approach can unite people who would like to see Europe integrate further, but in a more organic fashion, with those who are happy with the liberal democratic state but who reject protectionism and xenophobia.