By Pieter Cranenbroek, International Politics Blogger
In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to out yourself as a pro-European.
The hosanna accompanying the European project in the 1990s that culminated in the move towards a political union seems to have vaporised. Rather than being forced to promote its policies, the EU has been forced to defend its existence and far right parties reap the harvests of this situation. However, it is important to remember that extremists have never got us anywhere; nor will they.
The EU started out as the European Coal and Steel Community, an organisation aimed at stabilising the continent by sharing the coal and steel supply among six nations, thereby making another war highly improbable.
In normative terms, European integration has been an undivided success. The ongoing Pax Europaea is the longest period of peace in Western Europe since the second century. In addition, up until the economic downturn of recent years the EU has brought considerable wealth to all member states for decades.
Although the present economic crisis has often been compared to the Great Depression, Europe stays calm. Despite the economic woes and high youth unemployment rate, the continent has never been more stable. This is not to say that the EU is not in a desperate need of reforms, but there certainly is no reason to give up on the European project in its entirety.
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Since the economic slowdown there has been a tendency to judge the EU purely on its economic policies. To a certain extent this is fair. Starting an ambitious project like the Eurozone with economically weak countries such as Greece was always going to be risky and should have been met by necessary precautions.
The European Stability Mechanism that was set up after the economic crisis painfully showed the lack of a safety net and we all have had to pay to right this wrong. The EU may be criticised for its economic policies but its strongest feature is that it does not base all its decisions on economic merit.
Spain, Portugal and Greece were not ready to join the European Community but they were allowed to accede to prevent a new dictator taking hold of these countries. Similarly, the inclusion of various Central and Eastern European countries helped stabilise the continent further. Naturally, people’s views are highly influenced by the news of the day but it would be rather short-sighted to blame ‘Europe’ for all that is wrong.
This one-dimensional view of supranational co-operation plays into the hands of right-wing parties. Populists are very skilled in pointing out flaws and often exaggerate existing problems for their own benefit. They present a distorted reality and the solutions they offer are equally crooked.
Right-wing parties are a metaphorical time machine: they refer to a nostalgic past without immigrants and with the old national currency without having the means to bring us back to that supposedly ‘better time’. Their promises are empty, unrealisable and most of all not the way to improve society.
In an age of globalisation, an immigration stop and a reintroduction of national currencies simply does not make sense. The far right merely offers pie in the sky ideas and it is not a coincidence that only in desperate times these pies sound pretty delicious to people.
The problem is, who is going to stop them? Far right parties are sprouting like weeds in untended gardens. More importantly, the ‘anti’-campaign seems infinitely more dedicated to tearing down the entire system than mainstream parties are to preserve it.
The French Front National and the Dutch Freedom Party recently made an alliance and invited nearly all Eurosceptic parties to join in order to win big in the upcoming European elections. Additionally, Ukip donor Paul Sykes has spoken out that he will do everything within his means to have the British Eurosceptics win the European elections. A worrying trend, especially if you look at what they are up against a bunch of self-conscious politicians cowering away instead of jumping to the defence of the political structure that their own parties helped build.
Like a sports team that is losing, the EU now needs its supporters to be more vocal than ever. It doesn’t mean you have to agree about the current line-up, but you cannot start supporting a different team either.
The EU undoubtedly suffers from an image problem. Visual communication agency Old-Continent started the campaign ‘European elections: We’re not sexy and we know it. But screw it. We still do stuff.’
Most political factions are reluctant to come to the EU’s defence for fear of damaging their own reputation. It may not be ‘sexy’ to defend the EU at the moment but consider the alternative. Let’s suppose the extremists manage to defeat the ‘monster’ of Brussels as Dutch MP Wilders calls it, then what? Go back to the nation-state? There is not much to look fondly back to.
Europeans have fought for centuries to create their own nation-states and when they were finished, they started fighting each other. The last time there was a severe global economic depression we turned to the far right for help. Let’s not make that mistake again. The EU has brought peace and, bar recent years, prosperity to the continent. If your chicken laid golden eggs for years, you do not slay it if it fails to provide one for a day. You have it checked, determine the problem and cure it.