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    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    The aspect which appealed me the most in TGA's proposal was the fact that it exposed the current process of European political unification as a replica of the nineteenth century nationalistic formulas. I agree that these formulas are bound to fail. However, I base this belief of mine not on the assumption that these Romantic principles that fuelled the foundation of modern European states and regimes are outdated and ineffective, but on the opposite assumption that they are still very active and fully effective. I will try to illustrate this point of view as I comment TGA's six goals.

    The six goals themselves are to a great extent part of that political and philosophical heritage. The title I chose for this exposition is a reminder of this. Of course, this sort of synthetic argumentation has its pitfalls, which I will also try to illustrate.

    The most obvious one is that these basic tenets, either the three mots of the French Revolution or TGA's six goals, tend to conflict with each other; the pitfall is not that they contradict themselves, I would go so far as to claim that these contradictions are proof of their reality, as only fictional systems are completely coherent, but rather the opposite, that these contradictions may be taken as proof that these tenets do not apply to reality.

    A less visible, and therefore more dangerous, pitfall lies in the gap between speech and action. It is not enough to believe in these high principles if we do not act accordingly. Many of the reactions to TGA's proposal were criticisms to European governments and institutions. I would like to see a little bit more of self-criticism, and I am under the impression that so would TGA. How have we, as European citizens, contributed or failed to contribute to a better Europe and a better world? It is easier to assign blame than to assume it.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Freedom is the most easy to defend of all six goals. Everyone agrees that freedom is good and that everyone should enjoy it. As long as the debate is confined to the abstract principle of freedom. Once discussion moves on to the realm of the concrete, of individual freedom, all sorts of problems and conflicts arise. In fact, freedom may be the only one of TGA's six goals that does not need one of the other five to begin generating contradictions; it is perfectly capable of contradicting itself.

    The main reason for this is that there is no such thing as absolute freedom, but, obvious as this may have sounded, often we act under the unspoken assumption of such an absolute freedom. As if freedom were a black and white issue, either present or absent, with no middle ground between. Yes, Europe has gone a long way in the course of freedom, further than any other region in the world, probably. But freedom becomes a vice when it becomes self-centred. It becomes selfishness. In this aspect, we, citizens, are as much to blame as our governments. Freedom entails responsibility, a responsibility to respect the freedom of others above our own.

    Yes, I know I am not saying anything new here. But it is a lesson mankind is still unwilling to learn. We continue to selfishly put our own freedom ahead of that of others. We fail at a personal level, when we put our needs ahead of those of others around us and are unwilling to understand their position, let alone to compromise. We fail at a national level, when we make political choices based on benefits and not beliefs, when we insist in defending granted rights which we recognise, or should recognise, as being not entirely fair. We fail at European level, when individual countries persist in seeing only their own side and not the global picture, when negotiations lose sight of the common good and boil down to an incessant haggling for funds and quotas. We fail at world level, when we maintain our right to a disproportionately high status towards other nations, particularly third-world countries, and impose our models and values as unquestionably superior.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    I believe peace in itself can be a goal, and an attainable one. We should not confuse the goal with the means to attain it. Devoting ourselves to peace does not mean that we destroy all our weapons; this is but a caricature which those who oppose the cause of peace reduce it to.

    There are several examples of countries which at some point devoted themselves to peace. After World War II, Germany and Japan consecrated in their constitutions that their armed forces would not be allowed to engage in military action outside their territory. Switzerland, committed to peace to the point of belligerent neutrality, maintains his citizens in combat readiness in case the need to defend the country arises. Denmark and New Zealand have armed forces, but refuse to engage in aggressive actions and exclude themselves from alliances that could lead them to such actions. These examples, unfortunately rare, prove that it is possible to keep a commitment to peace, if we are willing to do the necessary sacrifices, and that there are many different ways of keeping that commitment.

    On the other side of the scale, it is beyond all reason why certain issues are still unresolved, and these examples speak loudly on how ineptly Europe handles difficult situations. Northern Ireland is a scar of Ireland's war of independence in the early twentieth century; the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are both democracies, both belonging to the EU and NATO; yet, undoing this century-old mistake is not even on the table. Gibraltar, Ceuta and Melilla are vestigial enclaves of a colonial past and a constant source of attrition; their owners, the United Kingdom and Spain, are in good terms with the surrounding territories, Spain and Morocco; all three countries are democracies; no solution is foreseeable, with Spain managing to be incoherent to the point of demanding the devolution of Gibraltar and refusing to return Ceuta and Melilla. Cyprus is a divided island; the nations behind this division, Greece and Turkey, both belong to NATO and the latter wishes to join the EU; the EU could have profited from this situation to pressure both sides to a consensual accord; instead, it chose to take sides…

    Europe's unwillingness to commit to peace is not based on impracticality, but on reasons of two orders. On one hand, there is the defence of economical interests, which covertly justifies diplomatic and military actions, or sometimes, the lack of action, when they protect our prosperity. On the other hand, and in this case, the left hand often knows what the right hand is doing, we are driven away from peace by irrational fears. These justifications for war have walked hand in hand throughout European history, from the Crusades and Religion Wars of past centuries to the Cold War in the recent past and the War on Terror in the present.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    It struck me as curious that TGA chose the word 'law' and not 'justice', the more abstract and general noun. Of course, 'law' can also be associated with 'order'. There can be manifold meanings behind the choice of a simple word. It is up to TGA to clear this ambiguity.

    It is clear that general abidance to the law benefits both the individual and society. It may be generally agreed as well that Europe benefits from a more regular application of the law than most societies in the world. However, it remains true for most of Europe as for the basest dictatorships that those who uphold the law are capable of maintaining themselves above the law, the difference being more in degree than in nature.

    If this seems an outrageous statement to make, note that many European governments, who should set an example, disrespect the very same laws which they enforce on their citizens. The examples are too numerous and diverse to name but a few: double standards regarding payments to the State and by the State, lack of transparency or outright ambiguity in tax regulations, irregularities in public finances, public violation of construction codes, urban planning, labour laws, …

    Externally, Europe's stand on international law has been characterised by double standards as well. Europe supported the right of self-determination for several republics of former Yugoslavia, but many European countries have laws which prevent any part of their territories to declare themselves independent, even if done peacefully and democratically. Some European countries tried to prosecute in their courts deposed foreign dictators with whom they maintained good relations when they were in power, and Europe maintains good relations with many dictatorial states who act today much in the same manner the deposed dictators did in their time.

    These incoherencies and inconsistencies regarding the application of the law undermine Europe's credibility, both domestically and internationally. The EU should follow a less ambiguous path in its international policy and be more forceful in demanding the member-states to act in accordance to their law and European directives. But this seems unlikely, given that the EU is ruled by the same governments which it should monitor.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    I would say prosperity is the focal point of all European affairs, in part because the three previous goals work towards it and the two remaining ones can be seen as depending on it, and in part because it has been Europe's driving force for the last 50 years. Much of what I said before about freedom applies to prosperity as well.

    In 1995, if I am not mistaken, the German chancellor Helmut Kohl said in Berlin, during a follow-up conference of the 1992 Rio conference on the environment, that Europe should rethink its priorities, that perpetual growth was not a feasible goal and that the European economic policy should shift from quantity standards to quality standards. I am paraphrasing, but the general gist I got from his speech was that Europe could no longer think in terms of increasing its prosperity, which was and is virtually impossible, and should think instead in maintaining its prosperity. This was in the days when the EU was still the EEC and climate change was more than just global warming.

    In my opinion, things went awry shortly after. Dreams of a united Europe have been present since the very beginning of the European process, probably since the end of World War II. But during the initial decades, it was believed that political union would stem gradually from economical convergence. The EEC motto could have been "Prosperity will unite us". The idea is still sound to me. The mid 90's, however, brought about a political change of the guard, and the new generation of politicians precipitated events, trying to decree both political union and economical convergence. I think this crucial mistake is the source for the current EU crisis, by interfering with the processes of economical convergence and introducing political union too soon. It is symptomatic that Europe was unable to achieve any sort of fiscal harmonization during the last 50 years and yet believes that a European constitution is a feasible project.

    As Europeans, we need to ask ourselves what sort of prosperity we seek and are entitled to seek. Is it reasonable to demand for more prosperity when we are already so above world average? Is it wise to defend so eagerly our prosperity when are neighbours are so poor? Is it moral to maintain our still immense prosperity at the expense of the third world? All humans seek to prosper, this is true, and Europeans should expect no less. But we should seek a new model of prosperity, one that is ethical and sustainable.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    If prosperity is the European dream's founding stone, diversity is its latest fad. I call it so not because I do not believe in diversity, but because I do not believe that Europeans actually believe in it. If there is an issue where the old nationalistic forces can be felt in their full strength, this is it. Diversity was the enemy of the nineteenth century newly founded countries and regimes. It was a reminder of a previous disunion which should be crushed mercilessly, and so it happened.

    France is the best example of this centripetal phenomenon. To replace the unifying figure of the king, the Revolution elected flag and language as the nation's symbols. As such, all languages other than French should be discouraged. All those who insisted in speaking them were barred from public office, often persecuted. Children who spoke them in school were punished. This went on well into the twentieth century, with drastic effects: in the beginning of the century, despite all persecution, some minority languages were still widely spoken; now, they are all but vestigial or gone.

    It is not my intention to bash France with this example; all European countries experienced a similar phenomenon to some degree, and experience it still. Yes, today minority languages are respected and even encouraged. But language was just a symbol for a uniformity trend that still lies very close to the hearts of Europeans and their identity. Again, it is symptomatic how we expect those who come to Europe to speak one of our languages and at the same time expect to be understood in one of our languages when abroad. I know it is convenient, but do we even try to change this? Do we even want to? How many Europeans can speak a non-European language? I am not saying that all Europeans should be able to speak Arabic. But, given the fact that they are our neighbours and that so many Arabic immigrants live in Europe, a larger percentage should. The fact that it does not betrays our still strong belief in uniformity, which undermines the entire European process.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Which brings us to solidarity, and here Europe offers a contrasting picture. Yes, Europe probably has some of the best welfare systems in the world, which include economic aids, healthcare, free education… But if we consider how much is yet to be done, it is not something we should be bragging about.

    Our unwillingness to accept those different from us is the first breach to our alleged solidarity. Is it not a paradox to defend that Europe should uphold its cultural diversity while forcing non-Europeans immigrants to conform to European culture? Is it not a paradox to uphold different sets of rights for Europeans and non-Europeans? If we deem certain rights to be essential for our dignity, we should extend them, within our capacities, to all human beings.

    Our solidarity breaks apart within our societies as well. We do have welfare systems, some better than others, but their functioning is plagued by a series of vices, the worst of all being the heartlessness of a heavy bureaucratic machine who reduces people to figures. It is an old problem, I am aware, and one without an easy solution, or any solution other than palliative measures. But still, it should rank higher on our priorities.

    Solidarity among member-states is grudgingly reduced to the barely functional, and among citizens of different member-states is weaker still. We continue to assign more value to strangers simply because they were born on our country. This is not only absurd, but vicious, in a way. It prevents us from seeing people for what they really are: people. If solidarity among member-states and their citizens is to become a reality, we have to stop labelling people according to their nationality, be it European or non-European. Honest people should praise honest people, even if they were born on the other side of the world, and berate dishonest people, even if they were born on our native land.

    Finally, the solidarity of Europeans should not stop at the EU borders. If a solution is good for us, it may be good for other parts of the world, and should they want our help, and many do, we should be willing to give it. It is time we start turning our words into actions, and forcing our governments to do the same. Or else, Europe will continue to be a synonym of noble speeches void of any meaning.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Caro Seileach, o seu extenso texto merece uma leitura mais cuidada. Assim que puder escreverei as minhas notas sobre a perspectiva que expôs.