Why I want to live in an EU superstate
Despite the rising tide of Euroscepticism, the idea of an EU superstate gets my vote. This is not because I wish to organise a transfer of sovereignty to murky eurocrats or that I desire to live under the tutelage of a Brussels dictatorship. I cannot help feeling that those Europeans who pine for the ‘glory’ of the nation state and call for the downsizing or dismantling of the European Union don’t know a good thing when they see it.
Despite certain successes, I find the idea of the nation state is generally overrated – and I should know I come from Egypt, the oldest one on earth. Not only is the European model of the nation state so last millennium, during its turbulent lifetime, it has caused countless heartache and pain – endless conflict and war, untoward competition, colonialism, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mindset. The EU has, of course, inherited many of the failings of its smaller national prototypes, but it also has certain distinct strengths, as well as some very singular complexities, including its institutional set up.
There were, or so the rumour goes, only three people who fully understood Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Although I think the Union scores higher in the comprehension stakes, I would hazard to say that at least a PhD and years of study are required to understand its intricacies. I sometimes find the complex workings of this bizarre contraption bemusing and even amusing: in fact, reliable tabloid sauces have it that some obscure Eurocrats spend their time pondering such meaty questions as when a lumpy source actually becomes a vegetable.
Many of the navel-gazing exercises carried out in the darker recesses of Brussels appear entirely self-possessed to the casual, and even the professional, observer. But, where certain critics see the menacing machinations of a multi-headed hydra, I see the mediocre creaking of a badly oiled and overly complex machine. I don’t believe that the European Union’s institutions – though their democratic credentials may need to be sharpened – entertain Napoleonic designs, and delusions, for domination of the continent, as some Eurosceptics would have us believe.
On the contrary, the Union’s lumbering nature was partly down to deliberate design on the part of member states to ensure that not too much power migrated to Brussels. Its intricate inefficiencies are also due to the haphazard nature of their evolution, the often-conflicting interests of European leaders, and the elaborate compromises they reach to break impasses.
Recent ungainly wrangling over the European ‘constitution’ and who should succeed Romano Prodi as Commission president hasn’t done much for the EU’s reputation.
Despite certain bureaucratic inefficiencies, the EU is quite effective. Half of all national legislation – in terms of volume, but not necessarily importance – originates at EU level. It has done away with borders – at least, for EU citizens. People can travel and do business, more or less, freely anywhere within the Union – often using the same currency.
Recently, we were in Germany visiting friends. The trip was a case-in-point of what makes modern Europe work for me – you’re always one short and simple train or plane ride away from a different culture or language. We took the high-speed Thalys train to Cologne and, from there, we glided to Frankfurt in the super slick ICE train.
The only clear indication that we had gone to another country was the change in language – of course, there were subtle changes in the landscape and architecture. In some parts of the world, including my native Middle East, visiting neighbouring countries – even if they share the same language – can involve a lengthy and time-consuming paper trail.
In Frankfurt – the financial pistons of the motor of the European economy – we witnessed the ghost of another, darker Europe. The city’s ultramodern skyline rose out of the ashes of the firebombings of World War II. Although the town has done well to cover those deep scars, the trail of destruction can still be traced by following the modern architecture – not all of it pretty.
For that reason alone, and despite all its failings, the march to unify Europe over the past half century has not only been laudable but also necessary. This should have been even more apparent as Europe celebrated the 60th anniversary of World War II’s end game, which began with the march of the Red Army on Berlin and culminated with the biggest-ever naval landing on the beaches of Normandy. The nearest a peaceable Europe has come to it since was the massive security operation launched by the French government to protect the army of dignitaries that invaded a sleepy coastal town in June for the D-Day celebrations.
That devastating conflict left an estimated 50 million dead, of whom 20 million or more were Soviets, and some estimates put the economic toll at approximately $1.6 trillion in 1945 money. Six decades on and the EU – with 25 member states and 450 million people – is booming.
Of course, I share concerns over the uglier face of globalisation – the corrosion of workers’ rights, job migration, sweatshops, the runaway depletion of finite resources, the destruction of the environment, the rise of corporate nations, the bullying of small countries by the major powers, the standardisation of culture, etc. I also realise that the EU’s economic monolith does not look so benign if you happen to be a Developing World farmer or a member of another marginal economic group living in the shantytowns surrounding the global marketplace.
But despite all this, multilateralism is still better than unilateralism or, worse, isolationism. It helps build understanding and avoid tricky situations getting out of hand – twice in the last century competition between European nation states dragged the world down into bitter conflict. Talking shops may be dull and not very media-genic, but jaw-jaw – as one famous statesman put it – is better than war; and many Iraqis will vouch for that. In fact, I would say that most Arabs look with envy at what Europe has achieved and dream for an Arab Union of their own one day.
Dismantling the EU, the UN, the WTO or any other intergovernmental body will not make the bad things in this world go away. Reform and giving these multilateral organisations enough power to do their jobs will enable them, one day, to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules and is held to account by the same standards. It is only by struggling for a system of fair global governance can we address all these massive challenges. And I think that, handled correctly, the EU and other regional blocs can, in the very long term, pave the way to such a system.
In the shorter term, I feel that Europe will only be able to guarantee continuing peace and prosperity for its citizens through further and closer integration –which does not mean giving up on national cultures, languages and eccentricities. Eurosceptic calls for an EU Light are alarming and could set the continent back decades. Europeans should react to them with scepticism. Sadly, even pro-European national leaders defend the EU in half-hearted whispers – as if it was a dull but reliable bastard child. They even join in the slagging matches when it’s convenient.
On the other hand, the anti-Europeans have glamour and gleaming smiles – as well as scary levels of national chauvinism – on their side. In the UK, there is former daytime talk show host Robert Kilory-Silk who, following the dubious success of his anti-Arab op-ed in the Daily Express, decided to make a career out of xenophobia by fronting the anti-EU UKIP party. During the European elections, Czech porn star Dolly Buster – born Katerina Bochnickova – campaigned in a revealing milkmaid’s outfit because she did not want her country to be “milked” by Brussels.
Boobs and blistering soundbites might be difficult weapons to counterattack, but Europhiles should not be ‘cowed’ by the anti-EU camp. It’s time they talked with pride about their greatest political achievement of the last century.
ă2004 K. Diab. Unless otherwise stated, all the content on this website is the copyright of Khaled Diab.