A Last Chance for Europe; Forget the Breast-Beating. All the EU Needs Is a Dream

Newsweek International, June 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Last Chance for Europe; Forget the Breast-Beating. All the EU Needs Is a Dream


Byline: Claude Smadja (Smadja is president of Smadja & Associates, Strategic Advisory.)

Could we stop the crocodile tears? The French non and the Dutch nee are the best news Europe's had in years. They give the EU a last chance to shift gears and get back on track.

Europeans are not morons, confused by the issues. The reality is simpler: if you've been told for years that "ever-closer union"--the process of integration--is the best medicine for Europe, and instead you get sicker and sicker, with unemployment and anxiety growing, you have to conclude at some stage that (a) the prescription is wrong, (b) the doctor is incompetent or (c) that he's fooling you.

Rejecting the European constitution is best read as a strong act of defiance. It should come as no surprise. Europe's man in the street understands only too well what the establishment has long ignored: that for more than a decade European integration has been conducted in a way that misses the only question that counts--how to generate growth, jobs and hope across the continent. Instead, Europe's leaders have offered only so much gargle--visions of a common foreign policy, a European foreign minister, and so forth. Ordinary Europeans dismiss such talk for what it is: an irrelevant distraction.

As one whose family immigrated to Europe from Tunisia 40 years ago in search of a strong civil society, a system where the voice of the people would really count, I am distressed by the political autism of European leaders. Almost every time a major question of European integration has been put to the people in a popular vote, their answer has either been "no" (as previously in Denmark and Ireland, and now in France and the Netherlands) or a tepid "yes" (as in the French referendum on the 1992 Maastricht Treaty). Participation in Europe-wide elections has steadily dwindled; polls show a growing alienation. Yet political, business and opinion leaders are besotted by the notion that they, the elites, somehow know best--and that ordinary people should just follow along.

Time to wake up. Europe today is paying for three major mistakes. The first is that European integration has for too long been a top-down, one-way street. The establishment has never listened to the people, let alone attempted to involve them to such a degree as to make integration their project. Yes, in the beginning Robert Schumann and Konrad Adenauer played for public support to create the European project. Had they not, it would never have come to life. But as Europe became a reality, over the decades, it also became more and more remote. After the referendums I heard one of my friends who is part of this establishment complain that "we have failed to sell Europe." Here in a nutshell is the problem. It is not a question of "selling" Europe through some well-rounded argument or PR gimmick. It is a question of creating a dream and keeping it alive .

Because Europe has remained so much of a top-down, technocratic exercise, there is no European dream. The American Dream is alive and kicking. A Chinese dream is emerging, and an Indian dream. But a European dream? An abiding sense that an individual can shape his future, that tomorrow will be better than today, that opportunities are opening rather than closing? I don't hear this from young people in Europe today. They are glad to have so-called diploma equivalence so that they can spend a year in some other European university. They appreciate being able to travel throughout Europe without having to show a passport. But these are technicalities--not the stuff dreams are made of. Where are the will and the way to reinvent the future? Where is the kind of unbridled optimism that helps people think big, and achieve great things? Nothing is more alien to a genuine dream than discussions about feta cheese or rules of origin.

Perhaps Europeans (or at least their leaders) have grown too complacent to dream. …

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