EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

USSR Reloaded?

Sir,

Regarding ‘Lisbon referendum just one of many hurdles for Dublin‘:

In an historic second referendum on a treaty changing the way the European Community functions (the Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community [1], alias the Lisbon Treaty), today the Irish people will determine the future of united Europe. As a European, I am very much concerned about the direction that the Community will go tomorrow.

Unfortunately, my government did not give me the chance to say what future I want for me, thus robbing me of my right to free choice. Therefore, I would like to share with you and your readers some observations on the most recent development of the Community in the hope that they will help the citizens of the only nation that stood for democracy make the right decision when they go to the ballot box. However, before that I’d like to make a little historical detour in search of the roots of the European Community, which stands at a crossroads today.

People have long recognised the fact that it is neither guns nor balance of power but free trade that is the best means to preserve peace. Various unions and alliances at different levels have been formed, and various trade agreements and treaties easing trade between European nations have been signed over the centuries with the ultimate goal of sustaining peace on the continent.

Trade agreements have been documented as early as 1496: “Henry VII refrained in general from foreign war, but sought by other means to promote the international welfare of his country. He negotiated several treaties by which English traders might buy and sell goods in other countries. One of the most famous of these commercial treaties was the Intercursus Magnus concluded in 1496 with the duke of Burgundy, admitting English goods into the Netherlands. He likewise encouraged English companies of merchants to engage in foreign trade” [2].

The idea of peace through alliances of nations is developed further by the German philosopher I. Kant in his 1795 essay “Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf” (Towards Eternal Peace: A Philosophical Blueprint) [3], [4] is an unofficial translation in English], in which he postulates that eternal peace can be achieved, inter alia, by public international law founded on a federation of free states (league of nations).

Probably inspired by Kant’s ideas and by Victor Hugo’s vision of peaceful and prosperous United States of Europe [5], in his famous 1950 speech French Foreign Minister R. Schuman called for the “foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace” [6], thus laying the cornerstone of the united Europe.

The latest incarnation of the above two concepts at the European level is the European Community (the new name of the European Economic Community, commonly known as the European Union) established in 1957 between six European states with the goal of promoting amongst its members “a harmonious development of economic activities, […] an increase in stability” [7]. In addition, in its Preamble, the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community explicitly states that the founding states are determined to “preserve and strengthen peace and liberty” [7].

Initially a trade agreement establishing and regulating a common market amongst its Member States, the European Community gradually evolved to an entity regulating even more and more aspects of the life of its citizens, including even areas such as democracy and human rights [8].

To me as a person who has lived half of his life in Bulgaria – the country often referred to as the sixteenth Soviet republic before 1989, the latest trends in the European Community’s evolution remind very much of the USSR.

Why the USSR and not the USA?

Because, unlike the United States of America at the time of their foundation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a conglomerate of cultures and religions so different that they were actually opposite poles; nevertheless, they were mechanically joined and smelted into a superstate in an attempt to remove their national identities. The head of this federal superstate, regulating its citizens’ every breath from birth to death without giving them a choice or the chance to object, was the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Communist Party in Moscow.

Likewise, the culture of the various Member States currently forming the European Community is too different to allow for easy integration into a federal superstate that would reproduce the evolution of the USA: in Europe we speak more than 30 languages and have three major religions (Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism) that have not been able to come to terms with each other since ages and that still have a powerful influence in national politics in many Member States. The head of the European Community is the European Commission in Brussels, and these Eurocrats prescribe to Europeans what to eat, drink, breathe, and, most recently, what to buy [9] and even how to listen to music on their own players [10].

And, just like the USSR Communist Party, the Eurocrats seem to need the rest of the people only to have someone to bully. Democracy and freedom is exactly what the Community has been short of in the last decades: whereas in the early years of its existence the opinion of its citizens on issues related to the future of the Community (e.g. amendments to the treaties, accession of new Member States) was not only sought but also respected, in the past decade there is a heavy deficit of democracy resulting from the fact that the people’s opinion is seldom asked, and even when it is asked it is not respected.

The most recent example is the attempted circumvention of the will of the Europeans: first by ignoring their explicit will against an ever closer Europe expressed in the Constitutional Treaty referendum in 2005 and, second, by forcing the Irish people to repeat their referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon [11].

The growing crisis of confidence between Europeans and the European Community is clearly demonstrated on the example of the elections for the European Parliament (the institution representing “the peoples of the States brought together in the Community” and “expressing the political will of the citizens” [12]), where a stable trend in decrease in turnouts has been observed in 10 of the 15 states that have been members of the Community prior to the 2004 enlargement [13] (the states that have joined the Community since 2004 have not been taken into consideration due to insufficient data series). The turnout decrease in 2009 in comparison to 1979 (or the year in which the first regular parliamentary elections in the respective country took place) exceeds 10% in six of these Member States [13] or in 40% of the Member States in question.

It is a fact of common knowledge that many Europeans do not want to lose their national identities by being smelted into a federal superstate. Moreover, it is not uncommon that there are separatist regions even within the national boundaries of Member States. Therefore, drawing on the USSR’s example, I argue that any further pushing for “an ever closer union” [12] threatens the integrity of the European Community by invoking the Newton’s third law of physics, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

As a matter of fact, the constantly decreasing turnout at the European Parliament elections is a distinctive manifestation of Newton’s law – since the European Parliament is the only institution of the European Community on which Europeans have a direct influence, the citizens demonstrate their resistance to the way that the Community is ruled by not showing up at the ballot boxes on the election day.

In the light of the above it is my opinion that Europe is not ready to become the European USA yet, and I most strongly hope that tomorrow Irish voters will make the choice that will be right for all of us!

Sincerely,

Svetoslav Apostolov

REFERENCES:
[1] Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States. 2007. Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community. Official Journal of the European Union C 306, p. 1.
Available online:
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/JOIndex.do?year=2007&serie=C&textfield2=306&Submit=Search&ihmlang=en (site last accessed on 21.01.2009).

[2] Hayes, C. 1919. A political and social history of modern Europe. Macmillan (New York).
Available online: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/7hsr110.txt (page last accessed on 04.09.2009).

[3] Kant, I. 1795. Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf. [online]
URL: http://philosophiebuch.de/ewfried.htm (page last accessed on 30.09.2009).

[4] Kant, I. 1795. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. [online]
URL: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/kant/kant1.htm (page last accessed on 30.09.2009).

[5] Ellensburgh Capital, The. Jul 8, 1915. Victor Hugo’s Vision.
Available online:
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=869&dat=19150708&id=ro0KAAAAIBAJ&sjid=x0sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4866,1128286 (page last accessed on 01.10.2009).

[6] European Commission. The Schuman Declaration web site:
http://europa.eu/abc/symbols/9-may/decl_en.htm (page last accessed on 01.10.2009).

[7] High Contracting Parties. 1957. Treaty establishing the European Economic Community.
Available online: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/index.htm#founding (page last accessed on 04.09.2009).

[8] EUR-Lex. Directory of Community legislation in force web site:
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/legis/20090901/index.htm (site last accessed on 30.09.2009).

[9] European Commission: FAQ: phasing out conventional incandescent bulbs. MEMO/09/368.
Available online:
http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/09/368&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN (page last accessed on 01.10.2009).

[10] European Commission. 2009. Consumers: EU acts to limit health risks from exposure to noise from personal music players. Press release IP/09/1364.
Available online:
http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/09/1364&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en (page last accessed on 01.10.2009).

[11] Apostolov, S. 2009. The member states – all equal, but some are more equal than others. [online]
URL: http://euractiv.blogactiv.eu/2009/09/07/the-member-states-%E2%80%93-all-equal-but-some-are-more-equal-than-others/ (page last accessed on 04.09.2009).

[12] High Contracting Parties. 1992. Treaty establishing the European Community.
Available online: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/dat/11992E/tif/JOC_1992_224__1_EN_0001.pdf (page last accessed on 01.10.2009).

[13] European Parliament. 2009. Turnout at the European elections (1979-2009) web site:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/parliament/archive/elections2009/en/turnout_en.html (page last accessed on 01.10.2009).

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Comments

  1. I, as a European citizen, wouldn’t like EU to look like either USSR or USA. I would like EU to look like itself: what its citizens want it to be and what time (history) requires it to be.
    Besides, I don’t think there are any direct parallels that could be drawn between EU and USSR, nor USA. I may assure you that I have personal experience from both Pax Russiana & Pax Americana and didn’t appreciate either.

  2. Dear Alex,

    I also do not want the European Community to become either the USA or the USSR. And I also want the Community to be what it citizens want it to be.

    But you know what? Nobody is asking the citizens any more what future they want for their Community! The decisions are just imposed on them. Certainly, there is an option of submitting a petition to the European Parliament. But can you name me one piece of Community legislation, development policy or other initiative resulting from a petition? Personally I do not know a single one.

    For me the latest trends in the Community’s development are a clear direct parallel between the EC and the late USSR. Of course, this is my personal opinion and I accept that there may be people who will not agree with me on this issue.

    Regards,

    Svetoslav

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