My European Friend,
I want to ask you something.
We both know Europe now faces incredible challenges. Some of these problems can be traced back to incompetent decisions made several decades ago (the poor set up of the Eurozone, and its banking supervision); while other problems can be specifically traced to bad policies in response to the financial crisis (like massive forced austerity to vulnerable semi-sovereigns). But these challenges are nothing compared to the history of Europe. Our antecessors of four or five generations ago took part in killing millions of each other across national borders. Yet now there is stable peace, and even freedom of movement for people. We cannot and must not, lose grip of this and start sliding back.
Look at what’s happening to us. Border controls are slowly coming back, extremist parties are on the rise, immigrants are seen as problematic and sometimes violently assaulted, and the support for the European project has sharply declined. For example, in the UK (where I now live) there is a totally empty debate about leaving the EU, and a strong feeling that immigration is a cost to the economy – despite the fact that immigrants, with their taxes, are net contributors to the welfare system, while national Brits with their pensions, are net receivers. Stereotypes are commonplace: Greeks and Portuguese are lazy – in fact they work hundreds more hours per years than the average German Germans are ruthless and unsympathetic – in fact they are more supportive of using their money to bail out the periphery than the French. There’s enough resentment to go around.
The main culprits of the mess we are in, are not the peoples of Europe Of course we made mistakes: we voters, we the people. We turned our backs on European politics, on European institutions, and we were not vigilant – we took it for granted. As a consequence, some politicians, bankers, economists, and planners made much bigger mistakes and even crimes. These stupid mistakes and crimes are first and foremost their fault, not the fault of other European peoples. The fact that the banking sector of Europe grew out of proportion, and became much more leveraged than the american banking sector, is not the fault of the Greeks, or of the Dutch, or of the French as individuals or as a nation – this is the result of specific bad policies and bad or criminal decisions. Are we really going to let the elite erode the solidarity that we’ve worked so hard to create?
We also have to accept that European economic hegemony is a thing of the past. But this should cause no animosity between the European peoples. The rise of millions of highly skilled workers in the developing world, is not the fault of northern Europe or of the periphery. This is a challenge to be worked and solved as a group.
We should not be manipulated. Politicians are always, to some extent, anti-immigrant, and anti-outsiders: immigrants and foreigners don’t vote, and can’t get them in power. Blaming “the Other” is the oldest trick in the book to evade their own responsibility. Are we really going to let the specific mistakes of the last 20 years (particularly of the last 5 years) turn us against each other? We, other Europeans, are not an enemy. The Greek people did not cause the European recession, and the German people are not the cause of lack of competitiveness of the portuguese economy. Protest austerity, demand competitiveness or fiscal consolidation, blame policies, vote people out of office, take control, take power!,… but let us not blame other peoples.
To conclude, my friend, the European project deserves our commitment. There is a group of politicians (that we, as peoples, voted for) that has failed us. We need to get them out of the way, and get back to work. We need to reshape the old European institutions and get our project going again. A project of solidarity among peoples, of progress, of culture, of technology, of education, of work. Slowly we need to rebuilt a shared vision for a multicultural, peaceful and open Europe. Once we’ve sorted out the current mess, there is still a lot of work to do.
So, let’s not blame each other. And please, let’s not give up on each other.