By Adriano Mancinelli
It does not seem to be a good time for the European Union. During the last 5 years, the Euro-zone and the whole Union has been facing an economic crisis that has brought Greece to ruin and – some say – to give up democracy. A month ago, David Cameron announced that he wants to have a referendum on the membership of the United Kingdom in the EU. A few days ago, during messy national elections, the majority of the Italian people voted for anti-European candidates. Yet, at the beginning of this year, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize 2012, a decision which has been heavily criticised.
Who’s right, then? People in Italy, the UK and Greece, who see Europe as a big evil and a risk for democracy to be halted as soon as possible? Or is it the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which thinks that the EU ‘for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’?
Maybe surprisingly, I stand with the Nobel Committee: the European Union fully deserved the prize. In order to understand why, it is necessary to start from two crucial observations.
1) The debate on the European Union, both in the press and the pubs, is incredibly narrow-minded and poorly informed. The vast majority of the public considers the EU as some (imperfect) economic organisation – even in the UK, which is not part of the Euro-zone;
2) Because of this narrow view, the vast majority of the public forgets that the EU is much more than that, the EU being a great – perhaps the greatest in history – political experiment, and quite a successful one.
The first European Community was created to overcome Franco-German bitterness and suspicions in 1951. Since that moment, the political project for a more united Europe developed quite steadily until the birth of the European Union proper in 1992 and the re-negotiation of the Treaties between 2007 and 2009. The process has been successful for so many reasons that it is easy to miss some of them.
After 30 years of total war (1914-1945), Europe is experiencing the longest period of peace since the Peace of Westphalia. At the same time, the members of the EU experienced incredible economic growth, and improved their standards of living at an unprecedented pace. Europe has become the biggest market in the world, and there is even more: it has become the most democratic region of the world, and its member states are usually in the first positions on the lists for freedoms and human rights. Since its creation, the EU has attracted more and more states: from the 6 founders, there will be 28 member states this summer; all of which freely joined the Union. Europe was able to control and help the re-union of East and West Germany, to dialogue first and then to welcome the post-communist countries, making stable democracies of them. Thanks to Europe, millions of young people – I myself being one of them – have been able to study, live, and fall in love in different countries; 350 million people are accorded more civil, social, and political rights than any other part of the world, thanks to the European court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. No other individual or organisation that has received the Nobel Prize can claim to have achieved so much, hence deserving the price more than the European Union – certainly not Obama, I daresay.
The EU comes with deficiencies and ineffectiveness, it would be unfair to conceal that; nonetheless, there is no future in leaving Europe, or dismissing it as a (failed) economic entity. The future lies in recognising EU’s countless merits, and working to change its several flaws. It is not realistic to address the economic problems of the Euro-zone in such an article, but it must be clear that the major reason for the situation is that there is not enough Europe. Moreover, Europe needs stronger political links with regard to foreign policy; in order for the EU to become a real international actor, the member countries must find common objectives and shared interests to pursue – and stronger legal mechanisms to abide by those objectives and interests.
These challenges require action and uneasy changes. The necessary measures and steps needed to strengthen the Union must be explained clearly to the European citizens: one crucial tasks is to create a system of effective information and communication to EU citizens, in order to destroy the idea of obscure technocrats working in Brussels’ bubble. It is fundamental to (re)create legitimacy in the European institutions; it is fundamental that the peoples of Europe know that the EU cannot be dismissed, and that nobody should raise eyebrows at the EU winning the Nobel Peace Prize.