Monday, 11 March 2013

Becoming True European Citizens: The Only Way out of the Crisis (and beyond)?

Citizens of the European Member States seem to be resorting back to Euroscepticism and show clear signs of cold feet regarding the single market / single currency project (reality?). According to the December 2012 Eurobarometer, 40% of the population of the EU Member States is against the European economic and monetary union with a single currency (with an additional 7% showing scepticism or, simply, lack of knowledge about the project).

Source: Standard Eurobarometer 78, December 2012, p. 16.

Moreover, 29% of the citizens of the EU Member States have a negative image of the EU—and the breadth of disenchantment with the EU project may be increased to 68% if one adds those that have a neutral image (surely, neutral means that the project does not match their expectations and can easily change into negative, particularly if the economic crisis continues to worsen).
Source: Standard Eurobarometer 78, December 2012, p. 15.

These are very worrying data and some are using them to support anti-EU movements. I think that is both opportunistic and dangerous. Talks about taking steps back and pulling out of the Eurozone and/or the EU usually do not follow a thorough consideration of their ultimate implications (some of which are unknown because the construction process has always been considered irreversible).

In my view, the only way out of this accelerating vicious circle is to stop being citizens of a Member State of the European Union and start being EU citizens. Only when most (all) of us realize the massive space of personal freedom and liberties created by the EU project will we be in a position to understand the fundamental importance of remaining involved and to continue working (and sacrificing) to further the EU and finally consolidate it.
The European Commission is working clearly in that direction and has declared 2013 the European Year of (EU) Citizens. A series of informative materials have been published to try and raise awareness of our rights as EU citizens, in the hope that a better informed citizenship will appreciate the benefits of the EU project and will be in a better position to accept the sacrifices it demands at certain times.
However, as stressed by some analysts like Kellner, if one wants to prompt (short term) action, taking a positive approach may not be as effective as exploiting the ‘fear factor’. Indeed, citizens are more likely to react and vote or demonstrate out of fear (or rage) than fuelled by optimism, compromise and good intentions. Extremist parties know this far too well and tend to take advantage of it (as will be discussed in full in a relevant and much needed event).
So maybe the EU project is doomed after all, because it goes against the very essence of the EU project to use threats and dark horizons as a tool to promote integration. The situation is starting to look like a street fight were the polite citizen just does not know what to do to escape from the raider with a flicknife. And the answer seems to be the same as always, he will be rescued by a group of neighbours walking by the dark alley and scaring off the attacker.
That is why I think it ultimately rests on each of us becoming a true EU citizen and to actually get involved in the EU project. I think that this applies specially to younger generations (those of us below 40 now), since we are taking the existence of the EU for granted—much as we take for granted peace and development in this continent, or our constitutional and fundamental rights (given that most of us are ‘post-constitutional children’ and consider that our liberties and personal freedoms are grandfathered and nobody can take them away from us). It would be a disaster if we were proven wrong and, at some point, we had to start telling bonfire stories about the long-gone EU.

Albert Sanchez Graells
Lecturer in Law, University of Hull

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