Thursday, 17 January 2013

Do we feel Europeans?

Over the last few months, after watching most of the recent developments (either positive or negative) in the EU, what made the greatest impression on me is our ability to shift our minds and opinions from one end to the other. This should normally be considered as a positive, yet being ready to alter our words and actions in the blink of an eye has to mean that we are in fact being affected by those who express these opinions more than we should have; in addition, it also means that we had formed our mind about our previous conviction(s) without being sure of the subject.

There are of course plenty of examples in recent history: notably the case of Greek exit or Greek default. In the summer months, almost every media source in Europe was roaring with stories about Greece exiting the Eurozone, the EU or defaulting; the stories were either by economists, analysts, journalist or even politicians and heads of states. Speculation had reached its maximum. In mid-August or early September, the EU decided it had had enough of this and spoke strongly against those who were exploiting the situation in order to promote themselves. Then all of a sudden voices of support arose. People stopped thinking that a Grexit would be good and started supporting the Greeks. Can these two groups (those who were in favour of a Grexit and those against it) consist of different people? Or is it just that we have changed our minds over some time?

Overreaction and mean-reversion, some may state, may account for this situation. Maybe. Yet, what is an even more probable explanation for this is disintegration. We are not yet a family. Have a look at the following example: let us say that you have a brother whose business has failed and faces prison time because he owes money to the bank. What do you do? Wouldn't you feel bad if he had to go to jail and wouldn't you try to do anything to help him stay out? Most of us would do so. Now, how about this scenario: a person in the next town (unknown to you) is in the same position as your brother. Would you feel the same you would feel with your brother if that person went to jail?

The answer would obviously be no (OK we exclude the case were you would not really like your brother). The above scenario bares many similarities with the present state of the EU. Even if we hate to admit it we do not consider ourselves Europeans. Geographically, it makes sense. To a large extent, a person is much more a resident of Granada or Marseille than a resident of Spain or France. You may imagine how someone might feel when Europe is merely a notion. 

This situation is exacerbated by the lack of truly European ideals and policies. A simple case is the debate on whether we should have an EU army. If not, how would we react if for some strange reason a foreign nation attacks Cyprus, Poland or Romania? What will the EU do then? Condemn the action and just stand by watching or take military action against the assailant? People feel united if they have something to look and say "This is ours" instead of mere notions. 

We have obviously gone a long way since the early 2000's. Largely thanks to programs like the Erasmus student exchange we have destroyed many barriers to uniting the people. It is quite uncommon to find people today who have never traveled to another EU country, or do not have any friends or acquaintances in another EU nation. Yet, although people are more European now than ever before, we still do not feel it as strongly as we should have. This is the main difference between the EU and the US. Ask someone in Alabama, Texas or New York if he/she feels American. The answer will be a definite "Yes".

Another example is the large number of foreign embassies. If I am from the Netherlands or the UK and wish to travel and work in Denmark why should we need a whole embassy to take care of diplomacy and etc when by definition there should be no diplomacy amongst equals? National governments would in fact save many billions if their staff in each country was reduced. Yet we still hold the notions of previous decades and we refuse to give way to change. 

Thus we come to the main problem which tantalizes Europe, especially nowadays:
We are afraid it will not last. 
Europeans do not think that the EU is permanent. Why? Because many nationalist media sources in some countries say so, because deep down we are still afraid that we will not support each other when time is hard, because others in foreign states bet against our survival. Traders in many countries had put large bets against the euro surviving during the months when the Greek crisis was at its peak. Instead of condemning such actions our media said that it was something to worry about. As if we did not have enough already. In the end, all these investors ended up losing money. And instead of being happy that we have survived the first major crisis in the history of the EU and making sure we have understood what went wrong so as not to repeat it we just do it again (Spain). And again (Cyprus). And we believe that it was right the first time (Ireland), the second time (Portugal) and the third time (Greece) although each and every one of these examples pointed to the exact opposite. As if this was not enough we always brought the IMF to assist us, because the ECB did not have the "power" of doing so. We do not even seem to care about a country exiting the euro (be it the UK, Cyprus or Greece), or whether that should have any non-economic consequences in the Union.

We are undermining the EU from within. We are not allowing it to function as it should. Even worse, we  are preventing the proper functioning based on irrational beliefs and strange rationales derived from obsolete notions of the world. To paraphrase Warren Buffett "the flat world society will always exist". It is our choice whether we adhere to their beliefs or not.

If we cannot help ourselves no-one will. It is about time we show, first to ourselves and then to the world, that we are really united. This cannot happen with politicians and mentalities of the Cold War era. We need fresh blood, we need idealists and we need unison.

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