Europe lacks a “grand design” and must move on from utilitarian concerns by becoming an “ideological project” if it is to have a significant impact at global level, argues prominent author and historian Elie Barnavi in an interview with EURACTIV.
“If Europeans want to achieve […] a coherent and strong political entity capable of carrying weight on the world stage” then the European Union must develop a political dimension to trigger more enthusiasm for the bloc among its citizens, argues the Bucharest-born Israeli.
Barnavi, a professor at the University of Tel Aviv, believes “there is no politics without a common ground of values” or a common project. But such a political dimension is “painfully lacking” when it comes to European integration, he asserts, outlining the thinking behind the title of his recent book, ‘Frigid Europe‘.
The EU is perceived by its citizens as a “bureaucratic machine incapable of inspiring love,” Barnavi states. “In my mind, Europe is frigid because it does not work, because it does not inspire Europeans any more,” the author declares.
It comes as no surprise to Professor Barnavi that citizens rejected EU treaties in referenda in France, the Netherlands and Ireland (EURACTIV 13/06/08) in recent years. By choosing not to assign historical and symbolic dimensions to the Union, Europeans showed “a lack of respect for their own endeavour,” Barnavi underlines.
But the professor is not surprised that the constitutional treaty was abandoned, describing it as a “miserable document,” which was too “long, heavy, technical and boring”. “A bit more simplicity would be greatly beneficial to Europe […] People do not understand it, and when they don’t understand, they say ‘no’.”
Barnavi questions the legitimacy and usefulness of putting such texts to popular vote at all. “When a [national] referendum fails, it is as if nothing happened. The same people stay in the same place,” while “the whole European machine, in the name of democracy and half a billion people, comes to a standstill because a few people decided, for different and contradictory reasons, to say ‘no’,” he declares.
Instead, referenda should simply address the issue of whether or not a country wants to be a member of the EU, Barnavi says, “with the duties and rights that such belonging entails”. “You say ‘OK, ‘no’ it is. Suspend us.’ No-one is obliged [to take part in the EU project]. These are very simple rules of behaviour that should be implemented in order to have something that respects itself.”
Another problem the historian identifies is the lack of leadership at EU level. “The new generations of European leaders are not natural Europeans,” he says, declaring the “dual method” of communitarian and intergovernmental cooperation to be “finished”.
“A generation of Europeans who try to promote Europe not only because it is a utilitarian thing, but also because of its value as an idea” in the mould of Jacques Delors “does not exist for the time being,” Barnavi laments.