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Problems of Us Who Live in Europe and the EU Agenda

English Pages, 2. 6. 2005

It has become fashionable to discuss the current problems of us, who live in Europe, as technical, organizational and administrative issues of the EU. This is a mistake, because the real problems are different. My main worry is about the future of freedom, democracy and prosperity on the European continent. Everything else is – at least for me – of secondary importance or is only instrumental. I am certainly not the only one who fears that freedom and democracy, these special and unique characteristics of Europe, have been gradually losing ground. I am, however, probably in a minority when I dare to say that the recent developments in the EU may be important vehicles for these undesirable tendencies. Let me say a few words about this.

When participating in discussions about Europe I am getting more and more nervous. Both because of what the discussion contains and because of what is missing in it. The European intellectual space and the European political discourse have become occupied by topics relevant mainly for EU politicians, bureaucrats and with them "packed" public intellectuals. This gives a very distorted picture of reality. The discussion should be open and unrestricted and nothing should be a taboo. The free market for ideas is even more important than the free market for material goods. The European market for ideas is, however, highly imperfect, which worries me.

Let’s make a list of evident trends and tendencies we see in Europe these days. There may be even a relatively high degree of consensus as regards their selection:

- already several decades lasting low economic growth (both in relative and absolute terms);

- not only aging but – without exaggeration – depopulating of the whole European continent (at a rate unseen since the epidemics of the 14th century);

- increasing regulation and control of more and more aspects of human activities, which radically diminishes our freedom and liberty;

- snobbish preaching of moralism and preoccupation with moral abstractions accompanied by growing emptiness and pragmatism of everyday´s life in a "Konsumgesellschaft";

- the increasing fragility of society after the victory of multiculturalism;

- the belief in the possibility to preserve traditional European values when abolishing the original institution (nation-states) that made them possible;

- losing of positive working ethic and habits and of performance-oriented personal motivation;

- loss of responsibility due to the attempts to insulate people from the consequences of their own errors and of their negligence;

- forgetting, romantizing about the past and misinterpreting it;

- growing shortsightedness, accompanied by unconscious and unstructured fears of the future;

- growing successes of radical, nationalistically or populistically oriented political parties and movements;

- the manifold manifestations of NGOism, of radical humanrightism, of aggressive environmentalism, of unrestrained tolerantism, of self-serving political correctness, etc.;

- loss of leadership, the depersonification of decision-making in the public sphere, and the shift to collective (ir)responsibility, which is made possible by the naive conception of governing and by unawareness of the Public Choice school arguments;

- the growing disbelief in politics and in politicians in an era when increasing range of human activities is becoming subject to collective (or public) decision-making procedures;

- the increasing opportunity for rent-seeking as a result of the weakening of traditional democratic institutions and procedures within Europe;

- undermining of national identity and because the authentic search for identity has been caricatured as an obsolete, long-defeated nationalism, the emergence of symptoms of new nationalisms;

- the growing belief in international institutions (without the awareness of the inevitable vacuum of legitimacy above the level of the nation-state).

Turning attention to the EU, as a result of the EU deepening and widening, the inherent failings of the current system has become more visible:

- both the democratic deficit in the EU and the lack of democratic accountability of the EU institutions are more apparent than before;

- the composition of decision-making procedures shifts from a democratic type to a hierarchical one and the anonymity of decision-making increases;

- majority voting instead of unanimity dominates the decision-making in more and more fields;

- the distance of citizens from the centre of power, from Brussels, is increasing;

- attempts to get rid of all existing deviations from the “norm” lead to more intervention from above;

These defects should be removed but they will not be eliminated by the European constitution, which – on the contrary – amplifies them. It is because the authors of this document had based their approach on very dubious assumptions. They probably believe that:

- Europe existed as a collective identity in the past and should, therefore, exist as a collective identity again;

- Europe has a common history which can be – similarly as national history – implanted into the minds of people by means of fairy tales, textbooks, preachings and political speeches;

- the positive gains from homogenization of the whole continent, from elimination of all kinds of differences, from harmonization and standardization of many facets of human behaviour, are indisputable;

- competition is not the most powerful mechanism for achieving freedom, democracy and efficiency but an unfair and unproductive form of dumping which endangers protected groups and, eventually, the whole societies;

- big is beautiful and centralisation is inevitable in the current world of globalization;

- bureaucratisation and masterminding of the whole continent will make us stronger;

- regulation, ruling and intervening from above is necessary because market failure is more dangerous than government failure, because markets need the visible hand of omnipresent administrators in order to be efficient, and because bigger markets require more regulation;

- regulators at the EU level are better, more efficient, less inclined to listen to special interests than their colleagues at the national level, or to put it differently, the more remote (from individual citizens) the government is and the bigger territory it governs, the better the government is.

I do not share these views. I do not believe in this conglomerate of ideas, which I call – waiting for a better term – Europeanism.

I see it differently. We should not europeanize issues but fight for the preservation of basic civil, political and economic liberties. We need institutional framework which makes it possible. We need unregulated markets, we need states to guarantee and safeguard the rule of law. The alternative is a non-state, post-democracy and administered society.

We need Europe of economic freedom, Europe of small and non-expanding government, Europe without state paternalism, Europe without political correctness, Europe without intellectual snobbism and elitism, Europe without supranational, all-continental ambitions.

Václav Klaus, Speech at Paasikivi Society, Helsinki, June 2, 2005


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