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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
     
    One of the greatest liberties the EU has brought to the ordinary people in recent years was the Schengen agreement. It is absolutely fabulous to drive across Europe without limitations.This, however, is a rather practical freedom and may not be the answer you were looking for. (It would maybe help to formulate ONE clear question). You were mentioning unstable countries in Europe and whether the EU should care about them. I believe that the EU should care but I think it is those countries in question that will ultimately care and try to implement reform for the sake of joining the EU. In terms of negative and positive freedoms, I believe that every country/state/supranational entity should have the right to infringe on civil liberties within the context of democracy and human rights, otherwise there would be anarchy. It is the simple "social contract" theory put forth by Rousseau and Locke that should define modern political entities such as the EU. I believe the EU should slowly start introducing a common tax and elements of a welfare state. These duties, however, do obviously come after promoting negative freedom which precede positive freedoms. One has first to be on neutral terms with another person to claim the person later as a friend. This is the same concept: Negative freedoms are the foundation for the next step. It is just a question of time when we (Europeans) will decide to take it.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    I agree with many points made and disagree with many others.

    In my view, Europeans have to care about freedom in other countries. The spread of freedom is in the best interest of every free country and region in the world. It is the unfree world that is responsible for most misery, wars and refugees. Even in apparently successful unfree countries such as China there is oppression and there are victims of oppression. With the world becoming a more multipolar place with several core regions with equal clout and importance, it is in Europe's best interest to ensure that the world will be governed by free countries and not authoritarian regimes. The world's problems need to be tackled by means of cooperation among free countries and not by means of wars among authoritarian regimes.

    Obviously, the EU should be concerned about any deficiencies with respect to the rule of law in EU member states. Obviously the EU can't plausibly proclaim the single market and freedom of movement for EU's people and businesses, but with the proviso that some member states may be so deficient that it is safer to stay away from them. Such "quality control" is also important because no one wants the EU to be associated with corrupt and failing regimes.

    I'm not sure how to react to maf's discussion of negative and positive freedom. I find this terminology quite confusing. If we want to refer to the welfare state or increased taxation, perhaps we should use those plain terms as opposed to hiding their true meaning under the label "positive freedom". Perhaps the reason for choosing such label is that these ideas are likely to be politically extremely unpopular? I mean, for example, most Western Europeans would be really mad if they thought that Eastern European welfare systems are to become in part funded by Western European taxpayers (I mean the fact that Poles living in England can take advantage of certain public services already seems to be very unpopular but that's nothing compared to the situation where kindergartens in Poland would be in part funded by British and French taxpayers :-) The current levels of Europeans' collective identity and economic conversion probably do not support this kind of solidarity. It seems to me that the most one could hope for nowadays is to achieve a situation where EU member states keep their separate systems but will not be able to discriminate against other EU nationals, green card holders and their family members (in some cases perhaps subject to a reasonable residency or length-of-residency requirement). The advantage of this approach is that it is somewhat easier to implement and at the same time this approach creates healthy competition and a de facto pressure on the member states to work towards a gradual conversion of their welfare systems/systems of public services (because otherwise there's a risk (i) that overly generous welfare systems will be abused and (ii) people will leave those states that do not provide a satisfactory level of services, which will affect such states' development and prosperity). To sum up, in reclaiming the EU as a "political project", we should focus on tackling discrimination and protectionism but shouldn't get carried away with common taxation and welfare state.

    Gheryando - I mostly agree with you but don't agree in that "every country/state/supranational entity should have the right to infringe on civil liberties within the context of democracy and human rights". That's what the Strasbourg Court is for in Europe, isn't it? The only problem is that the Court lacks teeth as is repeatedly demonstrated by its ridiculously low money awards (I mean clearly most people in most situations won't go to court with the prospect of winning 5,000 Euros after 5 years of litigation).
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Oulematou,

    I was confused by a number of things in maf's original statement too, but I thought that meant I must be stupid, glad someone else didn't get some of it :-)

    I was confused by the tying together of "freedom" and "democracy". "Freedom" does not require democracy and democracy does not imply "freedom".

    I was confused by the general use of the singular "freedom" rather than the plural "freedoms". There is no one "freedom" as far as I know. Rather a measure of "freedom" is how many "freedoms" are available.

    I was confused by the "negative" and "positive" terminology too. For me a "negative freedom" would be the "freedom to be racially abusive", "freedom to sell unsafe goods", "freedom to pay slave wages". "Negative freedoms" are something I would like to remove (thereby reducing the number of "freedoms").

    I was confused by the use of the word "freedom" when I would probably have used the word "right". I'm not sure I have a "freedom to social security" but I'm sure I have a "right to social security". I may have a "freedom to apply for social security" but that does not mean I'll get it. Having the "right to social security" means that I will get it.

    Hopefully maf can clear up my confusion(s).
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    I agree with GaryLondon - I could use some clarification too :-) Btw., I'm sorry for contributing to the terminological confusion myself, by incorrectly writing "conversion" instead of "convergence" :-)

    I think what's meant by the distinction between positive and negative freedom/rights is that negative rights end where other people's rights begin (e.g. freedom of speech doesn't include the freedom to abuse other people) whereas positive rights end where the government's purse ends (e.g. the right to high-quality medical care free of charge assumes that there's a health-care budget available for it) (one could refer to those as social rights although I find that quite misleading). While there's no rule of law and democracy without a certain number of negative rights, the decision on positive rights is more political - it's mostly a matter of the cost-and-benefit analysis/solidarity of the rich with the poor/functioning economy. Therefore, in my view, enforcing a certain uniform minimum standard of negative rights at the EU level is much more readily justifiable than enforcing a minimum standard of social rights (which depend on highly changeable factors such as political mood, economic situation and availability of financial and human resources).
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Freedom: to respect diversity.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    jm,

    We could use another "1984" reference here of course, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four" when the state says that 2+2=5

    Freedom: the right to reject diversity if that diversity is harmful to others (i.e. diverse sexual practises could include paedophilia)
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Gary:

    you know what I mean with diversity...