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Mind the Gap - reasons behind Euroscepticism
by Marko Kananen
2009-02-25 09:54:41
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One characteristic feature of the past fifty years of European integration has been the gap between pro-European political establishment and a more sceptical public opinion. Due to this gap the EU has – more than once – find itself in a situation where the governments have negotiated a substantial leap forward in the integration process, while a large part of the European population have been unprepared to follow them along this path.

This scepticism is painfully visible also in European Parliament elections, where the voter turnout has been on a steady downward track. In 1979 it was still 63 percent of the electorate who cast a ballot, but in the latest elections of June 2004 the voting rate had already sunk into 45 percent. Characteristic for this ‘Euro-gap’ is that in many member states the voter turnout in European elections is as much as 40 percent lower than in the national ones. 

But where does this Euroscepticism come from? When going through Eurobarometers and post-referendum surveys it is noticeable how the EU is often criticised from a national point of view. For example, in the French, Dutch and Irish post-referendum surveys the rejection of the Constitution was commonly motivated by interests that were merely national. It was considered to have “negative effects on country’s employment and economic situation” and lead to “loss of national sovereignty” and “weakening of traditional values.” The general tone behind the rejection was that country’s “own problems should be settled first”.

Hence, among the ‘no’ voters the Constitution was judged by its effect on a nation state and not on the European Union. This is a significant difference to those with a more positive attitude towards the EU. The people voting in favour of the Constitution justified their decision through the positive impact it has for the Union. It “makes the EU more effective”, it is “important for the European construction”, and “essential for the smooth running of the European institutions”. 

From the Eurosceptical perspective the EU does not appear as a common enterprise with shared interests and values; rather, it is a battlefield of competing national interests all trying to make the best out of it. One of the reasons why national interests have become so dominant can be traced back to the way roles are divided between the EU and nation states. The European Union has political and economic power, but it has hardly any powers in those areas (culture, education, social sharing) that are crucial for creation of loyalty and solidarity. That is why the only possibility for the EU to strengthen its position in the eyes of Europeans seems to be to emphasise the political interests and benefits. 

This is not a problem as such; it is, indeed, possible that interests and benefits can create enough commitment to keep the integration process rolling. Perhaps Europeans do not feel personally connected to the EU, but they can still learn to appreciate its policies. This phenomenon has, in fact, emerged due to the ongoing global financial crisis. The EU is generally perceived to have better chances to cope with the situation than a nation state, and that is why in several member states the overall attitude towards the EU has changed into a more positive.

However, when interests play such a crucial role, it is apparent that Europeans will keep a record of plusses and minuses of the integration process. For this end, it would be important that there is a general awareness of the differing interests inside the EU and the challenges of bringing them constructively together. The official EU-language does not, unfortunately, support this awareness. Instead of differing interests, the EU generally talks about our interests – the common interests of Europeans.

The trap is that our interests automatically imply my interests: if something is good for us, then it is also good for me. That is why the EU is so commonly assessed from a personal or a national point of view. When the EU promotes European interests, we all expect to benefit from it. This image of ‘win-win integration’ also explains why the national outbursts of criticism are so common: by delivering ‘bad news’ or causing disadvantages to a certain member state the EU fails its promise – instead of our interests it is taking care of their interests.

The European Union thus lacks a strategy for dealing with a situation in which benefits are distributed unevenly or when interests inside the EU stand in conflict. Because of the ‘win-win integration’ emphasizing our common interests, the EU can not ask Europeans to sacrifice their private interests for a fellow European or for a common cause. This is a big shortage considering that although the European interests on a superficial level are similar (peace, prosperity and stability), the realization of these interests is bound to treat Europeans from time to time unevenly, and that is why the willingness for sacrifices and compromises would be extremely important for EU’s functioning. 

Through the image of win-win integration the European Union creates expectations that it can not live up. In order to make these expectations more realistic it would be necessary to add responsibilities, compromises and sacrifices more clearly to the common European vocabulary.  It has to be emphasised that the European Union can not be a place for national cost-benefit calculations and that in the Union of 27 states compromises can not be avoided. Although a discourse change alone can not solve the problem of Euroscepticism and the dominance of national interests, it can help to adjust the expectations and through that make the ‘bad news’ more bearable and compromises conceivable.

In general, political interests have been taken to be the only possibility to claim unity among Europeans, and that is why to talk about colliding interests and need for sacrifices has been perceived as a risk diluting its appeal. But this is a risk which the EU will have to take. It is an often repeated fact that European unity grows out of diversity. However, it should be borne in mind that unity can grow out of diversity only when there is respect for difference and willingness for mutual compromises. That is why the European Union has to become a place where not only different cultures, but also different interests have a right to exist and to prosper.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 11:44:24
“In general, political interests have been taken to be the only possibility to claim unity among Europeans…”

Indeed, I would add economic interests too. As Klaus Held aptly put it in his lucid article titled “The Origins of Europe and the Greek Discovery of the World”: “A European community grounded only in political and economic cooperation of the member states would lack an intrinsic common bond. It would be built upon sand.” (See http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/1822).

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 12:05:10
(continued from above)
It seems to me that a viable Constitution is one that promotes the vision of the common good and of shared cultural values which act as a cultural cement of sort to overcome cultural centrifugal forces. When that vision is not there you are left with a mere commercial treaty. The EU bureaucrats decided to solve the problem by simply changing the name from Constitution to “Lisbon Treaty,” which is indeed what it is, a treaty, but the people were not fooled by the trick, for one can fool some of the people all of the times and all the people some of the times but one cannot fool all the people all the times. What the people desperately need is a vision, and that can be provided only by visionaries, the likes of Schumann, De Gasperi, Monet, Eidenauer, the giant founding fathers of the EU who would certainly have advocated a constitution with common cultural values and not one centered on a common bank and common soccer games. Unfortunately, those running the show nowadays are bureaucratic midgets and crass politicians. The results are obvious to most perceptive observers.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 17:45:38
(continued from above)

In my book A New Europe in Search of its Soul I attempt to explore this religious/ secular puzzle: Why do Europeans believe that to be modern requires them to be secular and to leave their old religion behind? Which is more exceptional, the vibrant religion of America or India or the radical secularity of European societies? In global terms Europe is a relatively secular part of the world; why is this so? I don’t claim to have found a satisfactory answer to that kind of inquiry, but I suspect that until the issue of religion vis a vis secularity is brought into the equation the answer will forever elude us.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 18:18:37


For some pertinent reflections on the theme of secularism/Religion theme open to the above link.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 18:30:15
(Continued from above)

Here is a prophetic statement by the late John Paul II uttered before the EU Parliament on 11 October 1988. It is even more relevant today:

“If the religious and Christian substratum of the continent is marginalized in its role as inspiration of ethical and social efficacy, we would be negating not only the past heritage of Europe but a future worthy of European Man—and by that I mean every European Man, be he a believer or a non believer.”

AP2009-02-25 19:32:28
Why not quoting a Muslim or Buddhist European religious leader, for a change??

AP2009-02-25 19:46:44
You know what's the problem with the European Union?
Unfortunatelly to be a part of it, you don't just need to be a rich country. There are (or there should be) other requirements: almost as important as that, you should have the right democratic spirit. Your openness of mind, willingness to develop deep collaboration with the neighbouring countries, flexibility and common vision for the future of the whole, that's the most important thing. As long as we are SECTARIAN, Europe won't go anywhere. We don't have strong leaders around which we can unite (and I mean all of us, or the large majority of us) and identify with. We know this will end up as a confederation sooner or later, or that would actually be the best alternative for everybody, but some very conservative and selfish minds have deep trouble accepting or supporting such idea.
Euro-educate the citizens, and demand proper leaders for a united Europe.

AP2009-02-25 20:00:42
you can only do this:

"It has to be emphasised that the European Union can not be a place for national cost-benefit calculations and that in the Union of 27 states compromises can not be avoided."

WHEN you solve this:

1. "The European Union has political and economic power, but it has hardly any powers in those areas (culture, education, social sharing) that are crucial for creation of loyalty and solidarity"
(I should highlight that this creates TOO DEEP unbalances inside Europe)

AND this (which is connected with 1.):

2. "it should be borne in mind that unity can grow out of diversity only when there is respect for difference and willingness for mutual compromises".

AP2009-02-25 20:07:52
I mean, maybe when everybody has similar social benefits, education chances and culture access opportunities, when the salaries and cost of life are leveled inside the Union, and everyone is respected in their racial, ethnic, religious and human differences, maybe then you can start demanding sacrifices or fidelity to everybody. Until then... it's all a selfish and highly hypocritical game to preserve the hegemony of some.

AP2009-02-25 20:11:38
And at least SOME people who idealized the Union decades ago had more than mere "economic cooperation" in mind... It's not fair towards those, their dreams of a more fair Europe and a more fair world.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 20:29:40
Very well Ms. Pereira, let’s quote a Muslim European leader. Her name is Pola Manzila Uddin, the first Muslim in Britain to enter the House of Lords and remains to date the only Muslim woman in Parliament:

“The almost total denial for decades of our identity based on our faith has been devastating psychologically, socially and culturally and its economic impact has been well demonstrated. For years Britain’s two million or so Muslims have been totally bypassed even by the best-intentioned community and race relations initiatives because they have failed to take on board the fact that a major component of their identity is their faith. Such an identity demanded more than just the stereotypical and lazy imposition of simple cultural labels based on race categorizations. British Muslims, consisting of 56 nationalities and speaking more than 1,000 languages, have never been and shall never be happy about an existence and understanding that rarely goes beyond somosas, Bollywood and bhangra.”

Much food for thought there for the "enlightened" intelligentia of Europe. What Ms. Uddin may be suggesting in the above statement is an astonishing paradox found mainly in secular Europe; that in the name of freedom, individual autonomy, and cultural pluralism, religious people—be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or Buddhists—are being asked to keep their religious beliefs, identities and norms “private” so that they do not disturb too much the project of a modern, secular, “enlightened” Europe.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 20:39:42
Perhaps what is desperately needed is a not only a post-modern, but a post-secular Europe. There are signs that such a social phenomenon is already on the horizon; that being a secular humanist (an oxymoron if ever there was one) is no longer at the cutting edge of modernity. That of course keeps the same awake at night.

AP2009-02-25 22:22:50
I don't think that was what she was saying. She was saying nobody likes to be reduced to somosas, Bollywood and bhangra, nor to slums, violence, misery and garbage (even if that gets them an Oscar).
She didn't mention secular or enlightened, atheists or Jewish people (and in this she was congruent with the fact that she doesn't like to be reduced to junk herself). Who likes that after all?

AP2009-02-25 22:25:25
But for once, nice to see you quoting someone else than just the Pope.
Now go and get an European Hindu, then an Agnostic. And don't stick just to religious groups, find all the diversity inside Europe.

AP2009-02-25 22:26:14
If you can, that is...

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-25 23:18:15
And yet, it is right there, staring in your face. She is talking about an identity based on faith which is frowned upon in Europe as it is nowhere else in the world. That is the phenomenon that you need to honestly come to grip with. Here are her words repeated once again:

“The almost total denial for decades of our identity based on our faith has been devastating psychologically, socially and culturally and its economic impact has been well demonstrated. For years Britain’s two million or so Muslims have been totally bypassed even by the best-intentioned community and race relations initiatives because they have failed to take on board the fact that a major component of their identity is their faith."

AP2009-02-25 23:49:37
British people
72% - Christian
15 % - No religion (inc. Jedis)
2,7% - Muslim
1 % - Hindu
0,7% - Jedi Knight
0,6% - Sikh
0,5% - Jewish
0,3% - Buddhist
source - census 2001

So PLEASE don't try to connect so any type of xenophoby or integration difficulties with not having a religion or secularism or whatever... that's pure speculation.

AP2009-02-25 23:52:46
errata - "connect any type of xenophobia"

AP2009-02-26 00:02:04
1. To separate the powers of religions and State does not mean that you won't respect the identity of different people - on the contrary
2. "Frowned upon as it is nowhere else in the world" - you must be joking!
3. The problems of Europe have very little to do with religion and very much to do with other disputes
4. But if you want we can go deeper and talk about the attack to the civil rights of our citizens in some member states, promoted by the Vatican - which has been lately convincing and blessing Berlusconi to go a long way back in topics such as gay marriage and divorce, abortion and euthanasia. For example, who decides about the rights of the Italian citizens? The Vatican, of course! Not the EU!

AP2009-02-26 00:07:10
It is also a shame that you try to turn every topic analysed here into a nonsense discussion about religion and no-religion. Besides very over-simplified and tremendously manichaeist, that topic has very little to do with the Euroscepticism inside Europe.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-26 00:14:48
So let's forget the deliver of the unwelcome news and let us look at another postman; an intelligent European, perhaps the best known philosopher of modern Europe, JurgenHabermas,very much involved in the debate on the EU identity. In 2005 he delivered a lecture on the occasion of the Holberg prize which then became an article in 2006. See “Religion in the public sphere” by J. Habermas, in European Journal of Philosophy 14: 1-25; also available on line at htpp://www.holbergprisen.no/downloads/diverse/hp/hp_2005/2005_hpjurgenhabermas_religion in the public sphere. pdf. The core of that article is that secular citizens in Europe must learn to live, the sooner the better, in a post-secular society and in so doing they will be following the example of religious citizens, who have already come to terms with the ethical expectations of democratic citizenship. So far secular citizens have not been expected to make a similar effort. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-26 00:15:23
Habermas addresses the debate in terms of John Rawls’s concept of “public use of reason.” At the beginning of the article Habermas introduces two closely linked ideas: on the one hand the increasing isolation of Europe for the rest of the world in terms of its religious configurations, and on the other hand the notion of “multiple modernities.” He challenges the notion that Europe is the lead society in the modernizing process and invites his fellow secular Europeans to what he calls “a self reflective transcending of the secularist self-understanding of Modernity,” and attitude that goes beyond mere tolerance in as much as it necessarily engenders feelings of respect for the world view of the religious person, so that their pronouncement don’t automatically engender derision and contempt. In other words, Habermas is advocating reciprocity but even more he is proposing a new challenging question: Are religious issues simply to be regarded as relics of a pre-modern era, or is it the duty of the more secular citizens to overcome his or her narrowly secularist consciousness in order to engage with religion in terms of what Habermas calls “reasonably expected disagreement”? That of course assumes a degree of rationality on both sides. It is indeed a challenging argument and constitutes an interesting response by an eminent philosopher to a fast changing global environment, one in which the relative secularity of Europe is increasingly seen as an exceptional, rather than prototypical case.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-26 00:27:08
P.S. I'm afraid that at this point, Ms. Pereira you will have to carry your protest and accusations of "shame" and "nonsense" to your fellow Europeans Jurgen Habermas and Ms. Huddin whom I have quoted; or are they also "unenlightened" and politically incorrect? One wonders...

Alexander Mikhaylov2009-02-26 01:30:01
'Why not quoting a Muslim or Buddhist European religious leader, for a change??'

The last I've heard Europe is neither Buddhist nor Muslim region

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-26 04:12:10
Indeed Mr. Mikhaylov, the descendants of Voltaire wish to do is do one better on Voltaire: while Voltaire satirized and often infairly caricaturized Christianity he was willing to give Christians a voice in the public square and defend their right to disagree with him in the public sphere. What today’s “enlightened” secularists wish to do, as Habermas intimates in the above mentioned article, is to relegate the voice of persons with a faith identity, any faith, to the private sphere and muzzle their voice in the public sphere; that is to say, to have a Europe cleansed of religion, period; and all this done in the name of “enlightenment,” tolerance, multi-culturalism, and free speech. For shame and quite paradoxical, wouldn’t you say? Habermas for one, intimates that the Enlightenment needs to still enlighten itself and I agree.

AP2009-02-26 05:20:48
"Europe is neither Buddhist nor Muslim region"
So we have "regions" now.

AP2009-02-26 05:25:36
Mr. Paparella, you're not Habermas nor Huddin, you're just you - you should be the one assuming the responsibility for and defending the things you write, instead of throwing them to the hands of "authorities" when they start to bother you.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-26 11:28:34
Ms. Pereira, that I or you are not Habermas or Ms. Huddit ought to be quite obvious, but having been gratuitously charged, once again, with writing nonsense because not in sinc with the politically correct posture, followed by the intimation that I ought to be even ashamed of those views, I thought I’d also mention the “nonsense” of both those individual which is in sinc with my own views. I assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that at least you’d accord them a respectful hearing. Alas, not only it gave you no pause but you obviously wish to carry on the ad hominem argument. Sorry to disappoint you once again but I will not descend to that level but I remain ready to further discuss the issue as outlined by Habermas and Ms. Huddit. On the issue of responsibility for one’s writing, let me simply say here that in general terms I would agree that those journalists who get on their horse to defend an ideology and in the process confuse interpretations for indubitable facts ought indeed take some responsibility for what they have written and at the very least retract it and apologize to the readers.

Alexander Mikhaylov2009-02-26 19:30:43
"Europe is neither Buddhist nor Muslim region"
So we have "regions" now. '

Yes, really.

AP2009-02-26 23:28:11
And "regions correspond to religions"... So I suppose my neighbours should all be Christians. Hummm... What's wrong with these logics?...
It's a pity that people still think like you - in Europe or whatever "religion region".

Mr. Paparella
identity = victim
moment = convenient
duration = 5 minutes
purpose = practical
so are you going to retract and apologize?

AP2009-02-26 23:29:19
Or not really?

AP2009-02-26 23:38:24
ps - these guys also agree with "there are regions for religions and races":


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