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    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008 edited
     
    The European Union is often referred to as the most successful agent of freedom promotion in recent history. But how relevant is the issue of freedom – or the lack of it – in today’s Europe? Is more “freedom” needed? And what kind?

    Many Europeans are still living under various forms of “unfreedom”. These range from a full-fledged dictatorship in Belarus to fragile democracies in Ukraine and some Balkan countries. But should the EU care anymore? Leaving aside security considerations, what motivations should be driving the EU to spread freedom to geopolitical peripheries such as the Balkans or the post-Soviet space? Europe’s impressive record of freedom promotion – culminating in the Eastern enlargement of 2004 and 2007 – is no doubt an integral part of any version of its “story”. Yet, there seems to be no clear agreement on whether Europe’s decades’ long struggle for freedom has finally come to an end, or whether and how it should continue. Thereby, there does not even seem a European agreement on what freedom actually means.

    Within the EU itself, some citizens are living in societies that are less free than others. The deficiencies with respect to independent judiciary and the rule of law in Romania and Bulgaria are perhaps the most instructive cases. Again, should we be concerned?

    Democracy, individual human rights and the rule of law are valued by many current European leaders who still remember what it means to be “unfree” from their personal past. But is freedom really only about the absence of harm or tyranny?

    The member countries of the European Union have attempted to define common ideas of the Good. Equality concerns and the welfare state in particular are important expressions of such common ideals associated with the success of European states. Thereby, to implement such ideals does not only presuppose support and consent from citizens; it also assumes the acceptance to infringe upon their liberties as in the case of taxation.

    But if member states instigate ‘freedoms to’ should the EU not as well introduce a common tax or elements of a welfare state? Thus far, the European Union was more successful in promoting negative freedom – freedom from tyranny, the rule of law and peace. Increasing prosperity for many European citizens has been the result of the ongoing economic integration. However, solidarity, the ideal of ‘freedom to’ social security and equality “falls painfully short of its aspiration”. Whereas Europe’s diversity is as colourful as culturally rich, tolerance is not always exercised successfully if we look for example at the situation of European immigrants.

    Entering the discourse on what kinds of positive freedom the European Union should foster is necessary for a variety of reasons. We do not believe in discussions in the light of 19th century Hegelian perfectionism, European nationalism or even European patriotism. Thinking about freedom for us means to reclaim the European project as a political one. To enter a pluralist discourse within Europe on values that exceed economic or stability concerns could create deliberation on what kind of Union Europeans want, highlight its role in every citizen’s life as well as embody a first step towards the so often lamented demos.

    In short, it seems that promoting freedom – both “negative” and “positive” – still remains an important issue for Europe in the years to come.

    Florian Hoffmann, Michal Simecka
    Oxford graduate students
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
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